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Neighborhood Council System Misfires on Eldercare Facility Bill

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VOICES - With little fanfare, the Eldercare Facility Ordinance became effective In December of 2006. The City Council had responded to a concern over the future needs of the aging populace. It was easy to make the case for fast tracking elder care facilities in a time where the C zone was in diminishing supply. Maybe this is why the ordinance went under the radar of concern.  At the time, it seemed reasonable.
However, everything changed when 2007 rolled in and a real estate melt down reared its ugly head.

In 2008 foreclosures and unemployment ruled supreme. Followed by 2009 bank and auto bail outs. So when 2010 brought stock market crashes and the dollar devaluation no one was surprised. I watched 2011 lay to rest major businesses and small businesses that have been around all my life. I know recovery is out of reach, despite rosy "election induced" speculations and projections. None of the contributing factors in the meltdown have been addressed.

When the first application attempting to use the Eldercare Facility Ordinance came to my neighborhood council and my neighborhood, I expected much more than I got.

I expected the neighborhood council system to weigh in on it collectively. After all, it will impact every neighborhood council district directly and particularly if the least dense zone RA is approved for elder care facilities.  That did not happen.

I expected the case to be heard in another district due to the fact that the applicant was a current Tarzana Neighborhood Council board member. That did not happen.

I expected to receive information on the case in a timely manner. That did not happen. No minutes were made available. Only one packet on the project  was made available at the land use meetings or the governing board meeting, marked "do not remove" for which the attending community could not gather sufficient information to remark on the various aspects of the case.

I expected  the Tarzana NC to supply the proper address of where the final meeting was taking place. That did not happen. Instead we were sent to the "open school night"  at the local school only to realize the meeting was not there and through a process of elimination we found the meeting mid way through its presentation. We also were forced to pay $8.00 in parking to attend.

We expected the community to be heard by the Tarzana NC. That did not happen.  Many were denied the opportunity to speak if they had spoken before on the issue, even though we still did not have the necessary information. In fact we never got to hear or speak about the deviations requested by the applicant because they were all included six months after the ZA hearing.

I expected transparency. That did not happen. After the community asked for the project to be rejected, they left, and the board member/applicant asked to speak on the matter again.

I expected the TNC to base their decision on community input, reflecting our concerns, protecting our neighborhoods. That did not happen. Instead new members, who had never even attended a prior Tarzana NC meeting,  scold us for being "nimbys" and old members vote for  "what's best for us". Hmmm this sounds familiar doesn’t  it … can't quite put my finger on it. Oh Yeah ... post neighborhood council system era!

I expected our Councilman Dennis Zine to accept the neighborhood council’s recommendation to approve the project. That did not happen. Instead he responded to the community and denied the project, championing the cause to protect low density as he always has, knowing that the Eldercare Facility Ordinance was not intended for low density.  Finally, a reasonable response.

I expected the Zoning Administrator to deny the application based  on the lack of the legal 5 findings necessary to grant the variance. That did not happen. He looked at "economic feasibility" and "benefits to community" and "convenience of proximity". He threw out the Baseline Mansionization Ordinance aspect that could have reduced the impact on communities.

He ruled that "strict adherence to the density of the underline zone classifications could have the unintended consequence of the City falling short of its goal of providing special needs housing" even though he states, "research by the zoning administrator did not find empirical evidence on the city wide demand for long term elderly housing, medical services, and social services."

His recommendation that the owner shall "self police and enforce conditions" and "self govern"  as a "fair, effective and efficient " way, is to turn a blind eye to the conditioning process.

Consider too, that the  Eldercare Facilities Ordinance did not have definable bench marks. How much elder care housing is desirable? What’s the threshold? When does it expire? Will it just continue and destroy neighborhood after neighborhood?  As sure as the day I was born, it will change the landscape of Los Angeles for the worse.

Ask yourself what will become of those large elder care facilities when they are not economically feasible for patient or owner. What use shall follow? Drug rehab? Half way House? Private schools?

Now I expect the Appeal to right many wrongs.

I believe that when the facts that shaped the City Council's decisions have changed, you must correct your course.  Los Angeles has a surplus of appropriate zoned lots now. These should be exhausted before elder care facilities drop into a lower and non conforming zone. A meaningful census on needs should be done  before implementing this ordinance. An inventory should be taken on supply and demand. I would hope that our Councilman would take the lead on this matter.

The Agency  for Healthcare Research and Quality states that "Most people - nearly 79% - who need Long term Care  live at home or in a community setting, not institutions," In Los Angeles and around the country, we have had an "organic growth" to "needs met" ratio, in  institutional care.  

The proliferation of elder care facilities will only undermine existing, appropriately placed, elder care facilities. With cut backs in Medicare, as well as, stock  and home devaluations, our seniors are struggling economically, and paying for the high cost  of care is not always feasible or desirable. Instead, in home service providers have sprung up all over the country, and our seniors and their care givers are benefiting from this current trend. This industry is the fastest growing, it's more economical and it doesn't destroy our neighborhoods!

Our community is the first community to have this dumped in our lap. The second community is also RA and in Walnut Acres. Our communities plan to fight this every step of the way, but we expected the neighborhood councils to fight alongside.

(Lisa Cerda is a community activist,  Chair of Tarzana Residents Against Poorly Planned Development, and former Tarzana Neighborhood Council board member.) –cw

Tags: Eldercare, Eldercare Facility Ordinance, Tarzana Neighborhood Council, ZA, Councilman





CityWatch
Vol 10 Issue 9
Pub: Jan 31, 2012

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