West Hollywood planning officials have begun research to determine whether the City Council should encourage development of residential care centers for AIDS patients, handicapped residents, infirm senior citizens and runaway youths in the city.
At the request of Councilwoman Abbe Land, city planners are looking into the potential effects of such centers, their legal implications and licensing hurdles.
The research began after Land last month asked the planning staff to furnish the City Council with information and policy alternatives on care centers.
Officials also hope to gauge the impact that residential care centers might have on the city's affordable housing stock. An ongoing case involving a care center that wants to occupy apartments in a Norton Avenue apartment building has sparked concerns that the development of care centers might displace tenants from limited low-cost housing.
"We have a lot of needs in this city," Land said. "I thought it was important that we find out what kind of alternatives we might provide."
Land, a tenant activist who is on the steering committee of the Coalition for Economic Survival, the city's politically powerful rent-control support group, added that she would be reluctant to sacrifice any affordable housing for care centers.
"I don't want to take away any housing," she said. "What we're trying to do is find locations where these services could be provided without losing any affordable housing."
Land said that during her successful campaign for a council seat last fall, she was approached by several social service providers who were interested in developing residential care centers in West Hollywood. Among them, Land said, were supporters of a shelter or hospice for AIDS patients.
Shortage of Facilities
"There appears to be a real shortage of facilities for people who are ill but do not necessarily need to be in a hospital," Land said. "The entire council is acutely aware of the needs of people with AIDS."
Land said that infirm elderly residents also might benefit from those types of shelters. "The thing about AIDS patients is that they have many of the same care problems that seniors have," she said.
Land suggested that residential care centers also could be used to provide shelter and care for disabled people and for runaways, who often congregate along Santa Monica Boulevard, the city's commercial hub.
Jeff Lambert, a city planning technician who is involved in the research, said the city will "look at all the available statutes and legal ramifications" of care centers. "We want to see what are the options are and what they would require," he added.
Lambert said a primary reason for the city's interest in care centers is the continuing controversy over the Norton Avenue building.
The Independent Center is trying to set up living facilities for learning-disabled young adults in eight of the building's 19 apartment units. The group has placed six clients in four apartments. But facilities that serve more than six clients must obtain a conditional-use permit from the city.
Mark Winogrond, director of the city's Community Development Department and the official who handled the permit application, ruled on April 2 that the group could not occupy more apartments.
"The problem is that you had two uses (rental housing and health care) existing in the same building," Winogrond said. "I think my decision would have been quite different if the center was in a self-contained building where there weren't any fearful tenants."
Winogrond sees the case, which is now before the city's Planning Commission, as a difficult situation that has thrown two major City Council goals into conflict.
"On the one hand, the city feels it has the responsibility to provide care for people in need," Winogrond said. "But on the other hand, the city doesn't want to bring fear into its neighborhoods by creating the possibility that people might be displaced. It's a real dilemma."
Stephen Goodman, a co-director of the Independent Center, said he considered the fears of tenants of the two-story Norton Avenue building when he applied for the additional apartments.
"We didn't plan to kick anyone out," he said. "We planned to take over the apartments through attrition."
However, he acknowledged that many of the apartment's elderly tenants were fearful.
"We tried mediation, but many of the tenants are worried about any changes. Being a social worker, I understand that," he said.
Goodman said the apartment building is owned by one of the group's founders and the parents of one of the group's clients. He added that the group sought out a West Hollywood location because of the city's "reputation as a progressive place."
Although city officials doubt that the city will have a policy on residential care centers before the Independent Center case reaches the Planning Commission, Land hopes that a policy will be incorporated into the city's revision of its General Plan, expected to be completed by this fall.
"If we decide to encourage these kinds of uses, we could do it through zoning changes in conjunction with the new plan," Land said.