Alhambra Heeds Protest Against Parole Office Site
Responding to a public outcry against a parole office in a residential neighborhood, this city has hired a real estate agent to find another site for the facility.
Officials in Alhambra and adjacent Monterey Park said they became aware of the office’s existence only after residents complained about strangers in the neighborhood.
Last month, about 1,700 Monterey Park residents signed a petition protesting the location of the office and delivered it to their City Hall. Copies of the petition were sent to Gov. George Deukmejian, state Sen. Joseph Montoya (D-Whittier) and Assemblyman Charles Calderon (D-Alhambra), Monterey Park City Manager Mark Lewis said.
Earlier in August, the city managers of Alhambra and Monterey Park flew to Sacramento to meet with Montoya, Calderon and representatives of the State Department of Corrections to protest the facility, which opened in late February. The corrections department has agreed to move the office if a suitable site is found.
Police patrolling has been intensified in the area, which has seen an increase in loiterers and graffiti on bus benches, according to Alhambra Police Chief Russell Siberling.
Located on a commercial lot in a residential area on West Garvey Avenue, which divides the cities, the 2-story office building at the center of the controversy houses 20 armed parole agents who monitor 1,075 parolees from the southern San Gabriel Valley and parts of Los Angeles.
“We don’t want this level of people coming to our town,” Alhambra City Manager Kevin Murphy said.
“Parolees bring other people with them, too. It changes the quality of life in that district,” Siberling said. He added that while the number of reported crimes citywide from May to July went up 15% over the same period last year, the increase was 60% in the police beat that includes the center.
Six parolees from the center have been arrested in Alhambra since May 1, out of 288 people arrested in that city, said Siberling.
Monterey Park created a special 15-block police beat around the Garvey Avenue facility in July in response to a 37% increase in reported crimes in the area since the parole office opened, said Capt. Joseph Santoro of the Monterey Park Police Department. Crime in the rest of the city went up 2% in the same period.
Five parolees have been arrested in Monterey Park in the past three months, he said.
The Monterey Park Police Department has conducted two child-safety programs for parents of students at Monterey Highlands Elementary School, a block and a half from the parole office.
Parents have expressed concern for their children’s safety, said Highlands Principal Pat Carroll. He has sent mailers to students’ homes telling them to be careful and to stay clear of the trolley stops outside the office.
Michael Conway, manager of the parole office, said the corrections department searched for more than two years before settling on the site, which was selected because of freeway access and the availability of public transportation.
“The embarrassing thing is people say we tried to sneak (the office) in, and we didn’t,” Conway said, adding that the former Alhambra police chief had been informed about the facility.
Murphy acknowledged that city officials were aware that the corrections department had applied for an occupancy permit last year, but said they were not aware that the office would serve as a parole office.
Conway said the public outcry comes more from fear than from knowledge of how the facility operates. “It becomes emotional,” he said.
The office is open during regular business hours, he said, and caters mostly to parolees reporting for drug tests. Others go to the office for vocational rehabilitation or counseling or to request permission to leave the area.
“Most (residents) don’t realize that these people are coming from the community,” Conway said, pointing out that about 80% of his caseload lives within five miles of the center. Records of all parolees, who have convictions ranging from petty theft to murder, are available to local police, he said.
According to the Department of Corrections, of the parolees who report to the Alhambra office, 85 live in Alhambra and 98 in Monterey Park. The vast majority--394--come from Los Angeles. The remainder come from the surrounding communities.
A parole office in north Alhambra and two in Covina are responsible for the rest of the 3,000 parolees in the San Gabriel Valley.
Jerry DiMaggio, regional director for the corrections department, said the Alhambra-Monterey Park community has been more vocal in its opposition to a parole office than any other in Los Angeles County. “Our experience has been that (parolees) are very contained when around the parole office,” he said.
But many residents don’t see it that way.
Monterey Park resident Edna Ramirez said she “flipped” the night her 15-year-old daughter matter-of-factly told her that a man who had walked out of the facility had badgered her to accept a ride from him.
The student was waiting for the trolley at a nearby stop when the stranger approached her.
“He was kind of persistent,” Ramirez said, adding that her daughter told her he walked back into the office after she repeatedly refused his offer.
A worried Ramirez helped circulate the petition to relocate the office.
About 53 residents responded to a flyer circulated by Peggy Moody, inviting neighbors to an informational meeting at her home last week that Siberling attended.
Moody, a Neighborhood Watch block captain who lives two blocks from the parole office, said she became alarmed when she found two sleeping bags under an elm tree at the end of her street.
“It’s never happened before,” said Moody. She recalled that the discovery “scared the dickens out of me” and that she promptly threw the bags into the trash.
“I’m sorry, but we’re scared,” Moody said, adding that a neighbor is putting in an electric garage door after being startled by a panhandler in her driveway.
Moody said she was flabbergasted that the office had opened “in a neighborhood surrounded by families,” with a school and three churches within three blocks.
“We feel like we’ve been stabbed in the back by the state,” echoed Maxine Vogeler, president of a homeowners association several blocks from the office.
“People that do not belong walk through here--we’re afraid they’re casing the joint,” she said.