The Eli Home was to be a haven for victims of domestic violence when it opened 14 months ago. Instead, the shelter in affluent Anaheim Hills has become a war zone.
With photos and videos in hand, neighbors have complained constantly to the city about noise and traffic around the three-story house in the middle of a canyon, where about 20 women and children now live. They have hired lawyers and private investigators to prove their case.
Last month, the city listened. The council voted 3 to 2 on May 19 not to renew the shelter's operating permit. But the nonprofit agency has no plans to leave town. Founders Lorri and Michael Galloway have called in the Feds.
For the last two weeks, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has been investigating Galloway's complaint that the council's decision violates fair housing laws by discriminating against women, children and minorities.
Investigators at the agency say they are at least several weeks away from coming to any conclusions on the merits of the complaint. Meanwhile, the Galloways say they are not going anywhere.
"We don't want to be in defiance of any type of city ordinance, but we have children who need our help," Lorri Galloway said. "We have abused children with no place else to go, and we have a full house."
City officials deny their decision was motivated by anything but concern for the quality of life in the neighborhood. They say the shelter is a bad fit among the area's large homes and quiet streets.
"It's a land-use decision only, and has nothing to do with the merits of the Eli Home as an institution dedicated to helping children," said Jack L. White, the city attorney. "The location is inappropriate. It needs more parking and better access."
The complaint to HUD about discrimination against minorities caught the city off guard, he said. "No one at the city was aware of any so-called racial issues until Lorri Galloway raised them."
Gene Secrest, who lives across the street from the home on Santa Ana Canyon Road, has led neighborhood resistance to the shelter. He says the home's operators have violated their operating permit by allowing residents and visitors to park on nearby streets.
"I am not against helping abused children," Secrest said. "But the Eli Home has not been a good neighbor."
The city has yet to enforce the council vote. Officials say they are waiting for HUD to conclude its investigation.
If HUD investigators find in favor of the shelter, the agency could take the matter to court, HUD spokesman Larry Bush said. If the vote is upheld, city officials could bring a civil or criminal complaint against the shelter's operators for violating city zoning codes.
But the city does not have the authority to close the shelter down or to force its residents to move without a court order, White said.
Three years ago, HUD responded to a previous complaint filed by the Galloways by ordering the city to lift four of the shelter's 30 operating regulations.
The agency said that the restrictions--that no children older than 12 live at the home, that all children be inside the shelter after 7:30 p.m., that they be supervised at all times and that a high concrete block fence be built around the property--violated federal fair housing laws because they discriminated against children.
After fighting the orders for a year, city officials in 1996 complied with the department's directive. But since those restrictions were removed, they said, the conflict between the shelter and its neighbors has grown.
"For this type of a facility to fit into a residential neighborhood, it needs to operate in a low-key manner without calling attention to itself and without being a disturbance to the neighborhood," said Mayor Tom Daly, who voted not to renew the operating permit.
"Unfortunately, all those features were present in this case. It's simply not a good fit in the neighborhood," he said.
But the Galloways say the city is taking the neighbors' side against them. So do some powerful supporters of the shelter, including Orange County Supervisor William G. Steiner.
"They are meeting such an important community need," Steiner said. "These are our children and our families, and we need to take responsibility for them in our own communities and not shove them somewhere else."
He's upset that the neighbors are getting their way.
"I've been watching this from the beginning, and I thought they were going to try to discredit Eli Homes, and that's exactly what they did--and successfully," Steiner said. "They made their life miserable."