Culver City is known as one of the best cities in the nation for the disabled to live in because of its dedication to special services.
But recently those who want to build group homes for developmentally disabled adults in the city have been facing strong opposition by residents who fear that the homes will lower the value of their properties, become eyesores in the neighborhood and lower their quality of life.
Mary Rollins, director of client services at Westside Regional Center, a state agency that places disabled citizens in group homes, has been surprised by the blockades thrown up by worried residents.
"I was taken aback," Rollins said after hearing the opposition. "I really never expected that sort of animosity. . . . I was very frustrated."
Ora Hyatt, a resident of one of the neighborhoods where a group home is proposed, said that he'd been living in the area for more than 40 years and that he simply didn't want a group home there. He didn't want anything to "change the quality of living," he said.
Culver City traditionally has offered special services to the disabled population and has allocated a large part of its redevelopment purse to services for the disabled, said Debbie Rich, deputy director of redevelopment for Culver City.
In 1990, the City Council, acting as the Redevelopment Agency, selected four nonprofit groups for financial assistance to establish group homes for developmentally disabled adults, Rich said. So far, not one of the four has been set up.
But, because the group homes are to be paid for with city funds, Culver City requires that its residents have the opportunity to know about such as project before it goes before the City Council for approval, Rollins said.
In order to meet that requirement, the regional center, along with the nonprofit group selected to run the home, invites neighbors to a meeting to answer questions that they might have about the home, she said.
Mike Danneker, director of the Westside Regional Center, said he has been appalled at some of the reactions that residents have expressed about the development of group homes.
"About 40 people usually showed up to these meetings, and you wouldn't believe the hostility they brought with them," Danneker said. "It was like the 1950s--the attitudes--it was unbelievable."
The residents raised concerns about their property values, whether they will have to disclose the presence of a group home when they sell their houses, and what kinds of disabilities their new neighbors would have, he said.
"A lot of it is a fear of the unknown. . . . People don't know what to expect," he said.
Some contend that the opposition is not rooted in discrimination against the developmentally disabled, but rather it is the homeowners' protective response to economic threats to property values.
Danneker said the objections to group homes, in the cases he has seen, tend to be in affluent areas where property values are a prime issue.
The physical appearance of the group homes also seem to be at issue.
"Their concern is that (a group home) would not enhance their neighborhood," said Barbara Cull, director of the Educational Resources and Services Center, the first group to receive funding for a home in Culver City under the project.
About a month ago, residents' protests delayed construction plans for a $390,500 home in east Culver City. Residents voiced concerns that the boxlike two-story structure and six-car garage being proposed would not blend in with the single-family clapboard homes lining Caroline Avenue.
Council members took to heart complaints that other group homes run by Jay Nolan, an agency that is set to run the Caroline Avenue home, were consistently "the worst-looking buildings on the street," and the council delayed approval for funding until an architectural design compatible with the neighborhood is presented.
After the vehement opposition confronting the Nolan home, Rollins and the regional center decided that they needed to take a new tack to gain approval. The next home to go up for council approval was a two-unit facility for six adults, slated for Jasmine Avenue. About half a dozen homeowners showed up at the council meeting Monday to protest the establishment of the group home, arguing that it would hurt their property values.
Rollins said she provided the council with an exhaustive report proving that in no case had property values gone down because of a group home.
But the most persuasive arguments came from potential residents of the home.
Six developmentally disabled adults, their neighbors, parents and Chamber of Commerce President Steve Rose spoke in support of the home. They told the audience that they feared that discrimination against the disabled is growing.
"I live next door to three young men in one of the group homes, and they make fine neighbors," said Maryanne Brooks, who lives on Canterbury Avenue. "I even went to their holiday party. It was wonderful."
Christine College, one of the women who will live in the Jasmine Avenue home, extolled to the council the virtues of living independently.
"I love living in my apartment because it has a Jacuzzi, a sauna, and I cook dinner," said College, who will soon have to move from her current home.
The council approved the $412,250 project.
Although Danneker said the city funds are appreciated, Culver City's process for getting permission to build a group home often ends up hurting the disabled adults. He said he disapproves of the way each home has to undergo public scrutiny before it can be approved.
Though the process is difficult, once the adults are placed in homes, Danneker said they are usually accepted and welcomed.
"We have never had a complaint call about one of the group home residents," he said. "The only calls we get may be because a neighbor is concerned (whether) our residents are getting proper care."