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State Drops Its Plan for Rehab Site

Officials say a home for the developmentally disabled in Phelan will not house anyone with a criminal history. Neighbors remain wary.

March 31, 2004|Hugo Martin | Times Staff Writer

The state has abandoned a plan to house four developmentally disabled sex offenders at a group home in Phelan, handing a hard-fought victory to neighbors who had protested the proposal, officials said Tuesday.

The decision comes only two weeks after state officials responded to loud community protests over the home by promising to meet with Phelan residents about their concerns before opening it.

After meeting with a group of residents two weeks ago, state officials announced that the group home would include no one with a criminal background.

News that the state had killed the plan prompted the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors to announce Tuesday that it would suspend plans to sue the state to halt the opening of the home.

County officials promised to file the legal challenge if the state tried to house developmentally disabled sex offenders anywhere else in the county.

The home -- the first of its kind in the state -- was to be run by Phoenix Programs Inc. of the Bay Area city of Concord. The firm received a contract from the Inland Regional Center, a state-funded nonprofit organization that works to rehabilitate developmentally disabled children and adults.

Developmentally disabled sex offenders are already housed in group homes throughout the state.

But the Phelan facility would have been the first group home to house that type of sex offender exclusively.

State officials have declined to describe the offenses committed by the proposed residents of the home.

The Inland Regional Center works to increase independence of people with such disabilities as mental retardation, cerebral palsy, epilepsy and autism.

Assemblywoman Sharon Runner (R-Lancaster), who has proposed legislation to impose restrictions on group homes for sex offenders, said she met Tuesday with the director of the Inland Regional Center and was assured that the Phelan home would not be used to house anyone who had a criminal background.

But Runner said she would remain vigilant to ensure that residents of the home did not pose a threat to neighbors.

Phelan residents also remain leery.

Representatives of the Inland Regional Center met two weeks ago with the Tri-Community Citizens Watch, a Phelan citizens organization, to discuss the future of the group home.

Corina Deleon, chief of community services for the center, wrote to the group last week, saying the facility had "elected not to place the proposed clientele nor any registered sex offenders in the home."

Lisa Cullinane, spokeswoman for Tri-Community, said she still worried that the Inland Regional Center might try to use the Phelan home to house developmentally disabled people who had committed criminal acts but had not been convicted or were not registered sex offenders.

"They can still put non-registered sex offenders there," Cullinane said. "Those are the ones that are even scarier, because they don't have to be tracked by police."

She said her group would feel safe living near the home on Flowerfield Street only if the state agreed to sell it for use as a private residence.

"The ideal solution would be for them to get out of Dodge and leave us alone," she said.

The group home, off a dirt road, was scheduled to open March 8 but has remained empty since the protests began. Phelan residents, sitting on lawn chairs and sleeping bags, continue to watch the home and say the proposed residents would pose a threat to their children and families.

The county had threatened to sue the state Department of Developmental Services and Phoenix of Concord, charging that the proposed home was in fact a "criminal detention facility" and should not be opened using a state law meant to establish group homes for the disabled.

Under state law, local counties and cities are barred from requiring a special permit or variance for a group home serving six or fewer people.

Runner's legislation would bar two or more sex offenders from living together and require the owners or operators of any group home that housed a sex offender to notify the local city or government agency.

The Assembly's Public Safety Committee is scheduled to consider the measure April 13.

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