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San Gabriel Valley Cities Balk at Accepting State Parole Offices

April 26, 1989|MIKE WARD | Times Staff Writer

The search for a site in the western San Gabriel Valley for a state parole office reminds some people of the barge filled with trash that was at sea for weeks because no city would let it dock.

State parole offices are so unpopular in the western San Gabriel Valley that the cities of Alhambra and Monterey Park are going to pay up to $100,000 each to get rid of one.

The prospect of a replacement site in Pasadena was so unsettling to some residents that 4,324 of them signed petitions to keep an office out of their neighborhoods.

There is no doubt, said one state parole official, that it has become very difficult to find a suitable location in the area that will not generate opposition since the state agreed to close an office on the Alhambra-Monterey Park border.

"We're sort of on the run," said Robert B. Pomerenke, deputy regional parole administrator.

Nevertheless, Edward Veit, the Department of Corrections deputy director in charge of parole and community services, said he is hopeful that the state will find a suitable office in the Pasadena area soon. "The city is working with us," Veit said. "We're looking at several sites."

Agree on Costs

The state has promised to close the Alhambra-Monterey Park office by October, and those two cities have agreed to help pay the costs of moving to the Pasadena area. Parole officials said Monterey Park and Alhambra will pay about $100,000 each for relocation benefits and to pay off the lease. That amount could be reduced if the vacated building is rented to a new tenant.

But before the site is closed, the Department of Corrections must find a new location. The site that was first selected by the department is in the Hastings Ranch area of Pasadena, but homeowners have organized a campaign to block that proposal, contending that an influx of felons would endanger their neighborhood.

Pomerenke said the suggestion that parolees are likely to commit crimes while they are on their way to or from parole offices is unfounded.

"Parolees will tell you, 'We're crooks, but we're not stupid,' " he said. " 'We're not going to screw up around the parole office where parole agents are going in and out constantly. That's a ticket back to prison.'

"A person is probably safer having a parole office next door in terms of safety from parolees than living far away."

Persuasion Difficult

Nevertheless, Jerome DiMaggio, regional administrator who oversees parole offices throughout Los Angeles County, conceded that persuading people that parole offices are good neighbors is difficult. "We're convinced that parole offices are pretty quiet places," DiMaggio said, "but it's hard to convince other people of that."

DiMaggio said the state has operated a parole office not far from Alhambra High School for 10 years without complaint; while an office on Garvey Avenue at the Alhambra-Monterey Park border was added last year to handle a growing parolee population. Together, the offices supervise 2,000 parolees.

Pomerenke said parole officials became aware of neighborhood concern about the Garvey Avenue office last summer after a woman was beaten and robbed in her back yard and relatives blamed the attack on the presence of the parole office. Parole agents checked the description of the attackers against parolees, but found no match, he said .

Nevertheless, a community campaign to close the office got under way and before long the parole office was being depicted as the law enforcement equivalent of a toxic waste pit.

DiMaggio, who lives in Alhambra, said the community opposition was overwhelming. Even priests, who might be expected to show some compassion, came forward at community meetings to denounce the parole office for bringing unkempt people to the neighborhood, he said.

Hits a Low Point

DiMaggio said the low point was reached when the PTA at Monterey Highlands School "decided they would have kids draw pictures of people being strangled and stuff, with little notations saying, 'Don't let this happen to me,' and mailed the whole package off to the governor."

William Carroll, principal of Monterey Highlands School, said the PTA organized the letter campaign to the governor, but did not control what the children wrote or drew.

Carroll said he shared the concern of parents and residents about a parole office in the middle of a residential neighborhood and only two blocks from his school.

At the same time, he said, he appreciates the state's difficulty in finding a suitable site.

Carroll said the fact that the school has experienced no problems with parolees since the office opened may be due to increased patrolling by police.

Source of Friction

But the patrols have been a source of friction between police and the parole office. According to DiMaggio, Monterey Park and Alhambra police have acted unprofessionally, stationing their patrol cars across from the parole office and harassing parolees.

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