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Sylmar shelter to open

Critics of Hope Gardens fail to appeal approval by county planners.

June 16, 2007|Cara Mia DiMassa | Times Staff Writer

A spokesman for Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich said Friday that Hope Gardens, a planned 71-acre facility for homeless women, children and seniors outside Sylmar, could move forward, after a deadline to appeal the facility passed.

The facility, to be run by the Union Rescue Mission, has long been seen as a litmus test for other efforts across the county to decentralize services for the homeless and spread the problems of skid row to outlying areas.

The Union Rescue Mission proposed moving about 228 people out of downtown to the facility, where they would be offered apartments and support services on the site. Opponents had until Friday to appeal last month's decision by the Los Angeles County Regional Planning Commission to grant the mission a conditional use permit for the facility. But no appeal was filed.

Estela Lopez, director of the Central City East Assn., which represents businesses and merchants in the downtown area that includes skid row, said she was elated. She said she believed that in time, Hope Gardens would prove to be "a validation of how you can move services and the people who need them away from skid row and house and treat them in another location.... Hopefully, it will begin to chip away at the notion that other communities can't embrace, and be a part of, the rehabilitation of people's lives."

The Union Rescue Mission bought the property, an abandoned retirement community near Sylmar, for $7.5 million in late 2005, to use as a center for homeless women and children.

But the mission encountered opposition from residents of nearby Kagel Canyon. Opponents worried, among other things, about the risks of having teenagers on the property and potential fire danger. The residents, who mounted fierce opposition before the planning commission, apparently decided not to appeal.

Andy Bales, president of Union Rescue Mission, said the news that the mission's long struggle to open the facility was finally over was like "a world of weight off of our shoulders. It's an incredible release, financially and in terms of our mission."

The mission intends to begin moving residents into the facility in phases, beginning later this month.

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cara.dimassa@latimes.com

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