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Phoenix House Downplayed Drug Plans, Critics Say

Times Staff Writer

The president of a Lake View Terrace homeowners group and a Los Angeles City Council aide Thursday accused Phoenix House, the organization behind the proposed Nancy Reagan Center, of trying to gloss over the project’s drug abuse treatment aspect in information provided to the city’s Planning Department.

“We have a very severe credibility problem with Phoenix House right now,” said Lewis Snow, president of the Lake View Terrace Home Owners Assn. “We feel that they are attempting to go in as a school, not a drug program.”

David Mays, aide to Councilman Ernani Bernardi, said an environmental review form submitted earlier this month to a planning committee was misleading. Mays said Phoenix House described its plan “in the most optimistic way. . . . Whether it’s deceitful is open to interpretation, but I don’t think it’s accurate.”

Environmental Report

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On the basis of that review, the committee recommended Wednesday that no environmental impact report be required for the center. Mays said Bernardi will demand a complete environmental report in hopes of showing a more accurate picture of the project.

But an official of Phoenix House, which runs 10 drug rehabilitation centers in New York and California, said the nonprofit company was honest about its intentions for use of the bankrupt Lake View Medical Center.

The environmental review form described a “24-hour academy for former drug abusers,” said Larraine Mohr, Phoenix House vice president. “That painted a picture of exactly what we do.”

Senior City Planner Albert Landini said the form described the center as two operations: a boarding school for up to 150 “special students” who are former drug abusers and may require some counseling, and a more intensive treatment center for 60 young adults, which will be housed in a separate building.

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Mays and Snow said Landini’s interpretation shows that the committee did not receive accurate information from Phoenix House.

“What they seem to say they’re opening is a school with some other things going on,” Mays said. “We think that’s just ridiculous, being that a school is secondary certainly to their main function, which is a drug treatment center . . . where many of the people are referred by the court and the criminal justice system.”

Opponents Seek Delays

Landini said the committee decided that while some measures would be needed--such as 24-hour security, limits on outdoor activities and a wall separating the property from nearby houses--the center appeared to have far fewer environmental effects than the hospital that preceded it.

Within the next 3 months, the committee recommendation will be reviewed by a city zoning administrator as part of the center’s application for a conditional-use permit.

John Parker, associate zoning administrator, said the zoning administrator usually follows the committee’s lead. From there, appeals can be made to the Board of Zoning Appeals and the City Council, he said.

Through appeals, opponents hope to cause delays that will force Phoenix House to return to federal bankruptcy court to ask for an extension of their option to buy the property for $7.7 million, which expires at the end of January. Snow said several other organizations, including a hospital and an entertainment company, may come forward with bids at that time.

But attorney Rick Seidenwurm, who represents the bondholders who invested in the hospital, said the original purchase agreement allows Phoenix House to extend its option another 2 months without a court hearing.

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