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Parolees, Ex-Drug Addicts Living in Torrance Hotels Raise Concerns

August 17, 1989|HUGO MARTIN | Times Staff Writer

Torrance City Councilman Dan Walker has asked city staff to find out how many parolees and former drug abusers are living in hotels in Torrance while enrolled in government-run rehabilitation programs.

Walker, who made his request at the council meeting Tuesday, said he is reacting to half a dozen complaints from residents.

The councilman said he also wants the staff to find out where parolees and people on drug rehabilitation programs are living and what government agency is providing the housing.

Several council colleagues later said they shared Walker's concerns that hotels in Old Downtown are being used under programs that assist ex-convicts and drug abusers.

No Programs in Torrance

Although there are no such programs based in Torrance, state and county officials said, parolees in government programs can live in Torrance because they receive housing checks and are free to choose their own accommodations. Government shelter assistance is also available for the homeless, who receive vouchers that can be used at hotels in Old Downtown, they said.

Torrance police said that residents have called to complain about parolees living in the city, but that they have had no reports of violence or other criminal acts by parolees or others in rehabilitation programs.

Sgt. Ron Traber, spokesman for the Police Department, said police officials have already studied whether the department can regulate such parole and rehabilitation programs and found that "we can't do a damn thing about them." Such state or county programs need not provide local officials with information, he said.

City Atty. Kenneth L. Nelson said he needs to study Walker's request further before he can say whether the city can take any action.

Residents' Complaints

In an interview, Walker said that in the past two months he has heard from residents who fear that "hardened criminals" are being housed in the city under state and county programs.

"If you have a bunch of what can only be described as hardened criminals, for lack of a better word, . . . I think it's incumbent upon us to get the numbers.

"If we have some derelict hotels being utilized for this purpose, I think we can do something about it." Determining where the parolees are housed is necessary so that the city can "eliminate them," Walker said.

Harold White, the deputy regional administrator for the state Department of Corrections, said the state operates no rehabilitation programs in Torrance, though it does run several work-furlough programs in unincorporated areas of the county.

Checks for Parolees

However, he said, the state does give parolees checks that allow them to temporarily stay in hotels until they can find a job and raise enough money to find other living arrangements.

Such assistance is usually provided for a period of less than a month, he said. The checks are also given to disabled ex-convicts who are in the process of applying for state or county financial aid, he said.

Maria McNeill, the South Bay unit supervisor for the state Department of Corrections, said that the checks can be used at any hotel and that there is no way to know where they are spent.

White said parolees usually spend the checks on low-priced hotel rooms near where they work or where family members live. The criminal history of such parolees varies, he said. "They could have been convicted on any number of things."

Vouchers for Homeless

The Los Angeles County Department of Public Social Services provides homeless people with vouchers that allow them to live temporarily at the Brighton Hotel on Cabrillo Avenue, according to Colleen Moskal, a spokeswoman for the department.

She said people in the process of obtaining other housing assistance from the county are allowed to stay at the Brighton Hotel for about a week. The Brighton Hotel houses an average of about 12 such people a day, she said.

Raul Solis, a spokesman for the Los Angeles County Probation Department, said the department has a work-furlough program in South-Central Los Angeles but offers no housing assistance that involves Torrance hotels.

A spokeswoman for the Los Angeles County Drug Abuse Program said the county operates no drug rehabilitation programs that provide housing in Torrance hotels.

Councilman Bill Applegate said he is concerned about parolees living in these hotels. But, he said, he does not feel it is a problem severe enough that "an average citizen should fear walking down the street during the day or at night" in Old Downtown.

Shift Began in '50s

Old Downtown was the center of business and civic activity until the early 1950s, when the city center rapidly expanded to the west. Civic activity began to move out of the area after 1956, when City Hall was moved to a new and larger location on Torrance Boulevard and Maple Avenue. The public library on Post Avenue and the civic auditorium on El Prado followed soon after.

Much of the business activity that once thrived on streets such as Craven, Post, El Prado and Marcelina eventually moved toward the malls and shopping centers along Hawthorne Boulevard, which is now the city's commercial hub.

Some of the aged storefronts downtown are now occupied by thrift shops, small restaurants, bookstores and pawn shops. Many of the hotels have become run-down.

Mayor Katy Geissert said she shares Walker's concern about parolees living in the city, but added: "It's something that I think would happen in any low-rent area."

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