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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

Garden Manor Makes Deal in Court

May 16, 2000|HOLLY J. WOLCOTT | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Operators of one of the county's largest and oldest private group homes for the mentally ill agreed to keep the facility closed as part of a deal reached Monday in Ventura County Superior Court, officials said.

Instead of starting a scheduled trial, five people affiliated with Ventura Garden Manor Inc. pleaded no contest to charges of housing residents in a structure that fire officials said was on the verge of collapse.

Although the defendants were originally charged with 14 misdemeanors related to safety problems at the home on Santa Clara Street near downtown Ventura, the charge each pleaded to was an infraction, officials said.

The corporation that owns the facility, which pleaded no contest to a single misdemeanor, also agreed to pay the city $3,000 in fines and surrendered its city-issued conditional use permit that allowed it to run a care facility, said Assistant City Atty. Karl Berger.

"By surrendering their [permit] they are no longer able to use the property for that purpose," Berger said. The company had lost its operating license last month after state officials learned of the safety violations.

In fact, none of the five buildings that make up the one-acre facility can be used to house patients, the prosecutor added. The site has 62 beds, a quarter of the county's bed space for mentally ill patients.

The plea agreement doesn't preclude the company from requesting another conditional use permit in the future, but city officials would have the right to reject such a request, Berger said.

The prosecutor would not speculate on the viability of such a request, but said the company would have no trouble selling the buildings as single-family homes.

Dominador Nicolas, the corporation's chief executive, did not return a message left at his home, but authorities have said the owners have agreed to a renovation plan to correct problems at the facility with hopes of reopening. It is unclear how long those repairs will take, but they are needed on at least two homes at the site that were used to house patients.

According to authorities, the company got in trouble after a February inspection revealed one of the facility's main homes was on the verge of collapse.

Problems with the foundation occurred when the company decided to dig out a dirt basement in the building to make room for a new dining hall. Four day laborers and three diagnosed schizophrenics who lived at the facility were hired to do the work.

By the time the crew shoveled out 75% of the home's foundation, one of the walls inside the house began collapsing.

"The city's allegation was that the foundation was undermined to an extent that threatened the health and safety of human life," Berger said. "The danger was real."

*

In the weeks after the inspection, all of the residents of the facility, about three dozen people, were permanently relocated.

In addition to Nicolas, the chief executive, the others who pleaded no contest Monday were his wife and company co-owner, Loretta Ordanel Nicolas; co-owners Oscar and Nerida Ancheta, and facility manager Ariel Aguilar.

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