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Planned luxury rehab center in West Hollywood has neighbors concerned

Some find the center's proximity to Santa Monica Boulevard's bars and clubs a paradox. Others express safety worries. The treatment center's backers underscore the advantages of an urban setting.

December 24, 2009|By Alexandra Zavis

Plans for a 27-bed West Hollywood rehab center have neighbors demanding to know how a luxury facility offering drug and alcohol treatment to an elite clientele could end up within blocks of one of the city's most famous nightlife scenes.

"We're half a block from all the bars and clubs on Santa Monica Boulevard, and there are drug dealers that trawl the neighborhood, especially at the weekend," said Norma Sandler, who has lived in an apartment on the same street as the proposed Klean West Hollywood treatment center for more than 30 years. "To put a drug facility right near all that is ridiculous."

Klean Chief Executive Andrew Spanswick said he and many of his staff live in West Hollywood and want to help find solutions to the city's methamphetamine and alcohol problems. Up to three beds will be available free of charge to people who cannot afford the fees, which will run up to $28,000 a month, he said.

Spanswick also argued that locating a treatment center within an urban setting could offer advantages over Malibu, Palm Springs and more isolated locales, which have been magnets for celebrities seeking 30-day detox programs.

"What happens when they come home?" Spanswick asked. "This idea that somehow treatment shouldn't be integrated into the community, I think is just a misnomer, and I think is one of the main reasons why there have been such poor quality outcomes. . . . It's a long-term chronic illness, and there has to be long-term, quality care."

High-end rehabilitation is a burgeoning business in a number of California cities. The trend is causing anxiety among residents, who fear declining property values, and increased crime and congestion -- not to mention paparazzi. In many cases, city officials say their hands are tied by state and federal regulations.

When Newport Beach passed an ordinance last year seeking to curb the number of sober-living homes in the densely populated waterfront community, several operators filed lawsuits accusing the city of discrimination. Recovering drug and alcohol users are considered disabled under the Americans With Disabilities Act and federal fair housing laws. The largest rehab outfit, Sober Living by the Sea, eventually agreed to cut the number of beds at its facilities by a third to settle its suit.

Klean's neighbors in the Norma Triangle section of West Hollywood said they were not informed that a treatment center was moving into their residential neighborhood until the company opened for business a month ago.

"Clearly there was a guerrilla game plan here, and then they get to hide behind the Americans With Disabilities Act," said Judson Greene, who has owned a home on nearby Dicks Street for 15 years.

Spanswick said Klean approached City Hall and offered to meet with local residents months ago, when it learned of their concerns.

Darryl Booth, Klean's operations director, said three recovering addicts are already living at the property, which is currently being run as a sober-living home. They occupy some of the nine leased apartments that share a shaded courtyard in the 800 block of Hilldale Avenue. On a recent tour of the premises, Booth showed off several renovated units, with sleek furnishings, flat-screen TVs and modern art on the walls. Klean has applied for a license from the California Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs to begin offering treatment at the location, Booth said. The company already offers outpatient services from an office on Santa Monica Boulevard near La Cienega Boulevard that it hopes to move into a building that backs up onto Hilldale Avenue. The state only requires licenses for group homes that provide treatment on site.

West Hollywood officials met with Klean representatives Wednesday and will be reviewing the company's plans to determine what local codes apply, said Anne McIntosh, the city's director of community development.

Although Klean eventually hopes to fill 27 beds, Booth argued that it should be considered a residential property because no more than three people will occupy each apartment. According to state law, sober-living homes and licensed treatment centers that do not accommodate more than six people are to be treated as single-family residences. But in that case, Klean may need to comply with West Hollywood's rent-stabilization ordinance, McIntosh said.

Residents have called a community meeting on Jan. 10 to discuss their concerns with city officials.

Some neighbors worry that the center will change the tone of the Norma Triangle, which, despite its proximity to Santa Monica Boulevard and the Sunset Strip, is made up of leafy streets with million-dollar homes.

Joel Rothschild, who owns a next-door town house, said he was most concerned about the possibility that outpatient services could move into the area. He worries such a development would bring drug users and dealers into area streets.

"These people who are outpatients, a lot of them are court-ordered," he said. "I feel really unsafe."

Spanswick said three drug dealers had been living on the premises before his company took over, one of whom apparently committed suicide.

"We are actually bringing solutions to the neighborhood instead of just ignoring them and pretending that our neighbors don't have problems," he said.

Some residents welcomed the news.

"I think we need more of these kinds of facilities," said Katie Andrew, who has rented an apartment on Hilldale Avenue for almost four years. "I am going to graduate school in social work and I am a very big supporter of social services and helping people out."

alexandra.zavis@latimes.com

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