The City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to uphold a Planning Commission decision that denied approval of a proposal to counsel thousands of parolees each year at a rehabilitation center in Lemon Grove.
While expressing support for the Community Transition Center—a program designed to help keep offenders from being locked up again—council members agreed locating it at the McAlister Institute was wrong for the community.
Resisting the top guns of San Diego County law enforcement, council members sided with the Planning Commission's decision, as well as residents who expressed a number of concerns.
“Enough is enough,” Councilman Jerry Jones said. “The neighbors in this neighborhood have shouldered the burden long enough.”
Set back from the street behind Sungarden Terrace nursing home, the Skyline Drive facility sits in the middle of a dense single-family residential neighborhood. Over the years, the 180-bed rehabilitation center has grown as it increased the number of beds available in its drug and alcohol treatment program for adults, and a long-term residential recovery program for mothers and children.
A crowd of about 80 people attended the meeting at the Community Center, including District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, Sheriff Bill Gore, Chief Probation Officer Mack Jenkins, and Health and Human Services director Nick Macchione, who were on hand to support the appeal being made by the institute’s CEO, Jeanne McAlister.
More than a dozen residents spoke to council members in opposition of the project. Those speaking in favor of the proposal included a local business owner, a registered nurse and a resident who regularly addresses council members to advocate for the homeless. The supporting minority appealed for compassion.
“Instead of saying ‘not in my backyard,’ which doesn’t show compassion, we said ‘there but for the grace of God,’?” one commenter stated.
Council members were unmoved.
Howard Cook put himself in the shoes of residents who live near the facility.
“How would I feel if it were across the street from my house? I wouldn’t want to live there,” he said.
Mary England said she supported the institute in 2009 when they expanded their services to create the residential Kiva program for mothers and children.
“We were compassionate as council members at that time,” she said. “Unfortunately this project just doesn’t fit into where we need to have it.”
George Gastil agreed.
“I have a lot of respect for the McAlister Institute—and no shortage of compassion,” he said. “It really comes down to the question that [the program] doesn’t belong in a residential neighborhood.”
The Planning Commission rejected the institute’s proposal at its July 23 meeting, citing potential harm to the general welfare of the community and incompatibility with surrounding land uses.
The Community Transition Center would have been the site of a first-time program in the county to assess about 2,085 parolees each year immediately following their release from jail. The program is an effort to reduce recidivism by getting to offenders before they have a chance to enter the community and reoffend, by evaluating them for needed services such as drug treatment, housing assistance and job training.