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Unwelcome Mat for Expansion of Women's Drug Recovery Shelter

July 07, 2001|ANDREA PERERA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

On Willo Lane, the kind of quiet Costa Mesa street where tire swings hang from trees, there are signs of discontent: sturdy red and white ones that read, "Wrong Direction for New Directions."

New Directions for Women is a drug treatment facility occupying four houses across University Drive. The not-for-profit group, which treats and shelters single women recovering from drug and alcohol addictions, is using donated money to purchase a fifth house on the other side of Willo--near the 15 homes with the protest signs.

Opponents say the expansion will endanger their children's safety, increase traffic and make selling their homes difficult.

New Directions' staff counters that the need for the home--intended for 12 recovering women and their children--is great. The current facility has beds for 30 single women, but none for mothers.

"They're trying to keep it a 'family neighborhood,' but we think that's ironic because we're trying to keep families together," said Jan Christie, executive director of New Directions.

Allison Carracino, a recovering alcoholic and volunteer with New Directions, said that for many women, inpatient treatment provides the most effective road to recovery. "It's a way to detach yourself from the moment--to center yourself and get yourself back to who you basically are and were before you let the addiction take over," she said.

Willo residents agree that New Directions provides a valuable service. They just want those services to remain on the other side of the street.

Because the neighborhood is in an unincorporated area, the group needs to secure a use permit from the county, a process that could take 10 to 12 weeks. Even if the permit isn't granted, Christie said, New Directions can and probably will use the new home to house six single women, which the zoning allows. The group has not yet applied for the permit.

If the county's planning department approves the use permit, opponents say they will appeal to the Board of Supervisors. No decision has been made on whether to pursue legal action if the board decides against them.

Kim Newett, who has lived on Willo for nine years, holds block meetings twice a week to update neighbors on their fight against the use permit New Directions needs.

She said the street's close family environment, which some residents liken to the fictional Mayberry of "The Andy Griffith Show" TV show, can't be duplicated and shouldn't be compromised.

"I like what [New Directions is] doing. Keep up the good work. But don't invade our good family values," Newett said.

The No. 1 concern, she said, is the safety of the children already living on the block. On any given day, kids roam in and out of neighbors' yards and houses, their balls and scooters littering the street.

Having New Directions as close neighbors would mean introducing strangers to the street, Newett said, adding, "It goes without saying why our kids can't associate with that house. We don't abuse drugs and alcohol, and we don't want our kids to, either."

Neighbor Jennifer Crandall has a different worry: the extra foot and vehicle traffic. "How much is one community supposed to absorb?" she said. "It would be as if a fraternity moved in."

If Willo residents ever want to sell their homes, some said, the drug treatment center will be an issue. "We'll have to disclose that the house is in the neighborhood," said Jim Mofett, who has lived on Willo for 41 years. "It could make the difference between our house selling or not."

But Susan McCullough, who lives nearest to the current New Directions houses, said she doesn't quite understand what the fuss is about. She is one of a handful of neighbors without a sign on her lawn. "I don't think it will be a big issue," McCullough said. "The women seem very nice. They mind their own business."

New Directions' Christie agrees that there is nothing for residents to worry about. She said the women in the program are not allowed to drive, so there will be little additional traffic. And since their children would most likely play in the home's backyard, she doesn't believe there will be much interaction with other children in the neighborhood.

"It's not like we're child molesters," she said.

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