Nancy Reagan Drug Center OKd; Critics Vow to Appeal

Times Staff Writer

A Los Angeles zoning administrator granted a permit Wednesday to allow the Nancy Reagan Center for drug rehabilitation to open in Lake View Terrace, sparking a barrage of criticism from area residents who threatened to appeal the decision.

Associate Zoning Administrator Darryl L. Fisher said he issued a two-year permit, with the potential for an automatic extension of three more years, to keep the center operators “honest . . . they’ve got to prove themselves.”

After reviewing the proposal for more than a month, Fisher said he concluded that security is the neighbors’ most significant concern about the center opening at the former Lake View Medical Center.

Fisher said he tried to address neighborhood worries by requiring--among 22 conditions for the permit--that a seven-foot-high, wrought-iron fence be built around the facility, that a security guard be on duty day and night, and that video monitors be installed inside buildings.


Hospital Went Bankrupt

Fisher acknowledged that a residential neighborhood may not seem the perfect location for a 210-bed, live-in treatment center, but he said the facility will be far less intrusive than was the hospital, which closed three years ago after declaring bankruptcy.

“This is probably as good a thing as the neighborhood is going to get for that site,” he said.

But representatives of two Lake View Terrace homeowner associations said they will appeal the decision to the Board of Zoning Appeals by March 23 and, if necessary, to the City Council.


When the drug center proposal was announced last spring, neighboring residents attempted to woo another hospital to the location. They recently began trying to persuade the city to turn the 14-acre property into a library, senior citizens center, youth center or child-care center.

Councilman Ernani Bernardi, who represents the northeast San Fernando Valley, said he too will appeal Fisher’s decision.

Bias of ‘Worst Sort’

“This is discrimination of the worst sort,” Bernardi said. “It would never have been permitted in the Santa Monica Mountains, in Encino, in Brentwood or in Bel-Air.”

Phoenix House, the national nonprofit company proposing the center, also has reservations about Fisher’s decision, particularly the security requirements, said Vice President Larraine Mohr.

Phoenix House staff members say they have avoided security problems at 10 other centers by employing a well-trained staff and by controlling residents with peer pressure and an honor system.

Phoenix House is also displeased that it received only a two-year temporary permit when the center will cost an estimated $10 million to buy and renovate, Mohr said. She added that the company has not decided whether to appeal.

The former First Lady agreed to lend her name to the center and said she will have an office there so she can continue her crusade against drug abuse. However, she has not become involved in the community dispute over the project beyond saying--through press aide Mark Weinberg--that the neighborhood objections are unfortunate “because drug abuse is such a real problem.”


Opponents said the long list of conditions did little to allay their greatest fear: that some of the 150 adolescents and 60 adults undergoing treatment might stray into nearby neighborhoods and steal to buy drugs.

“I just don’t trust Phoenix House one inch as far as following those conditions,” said Lynne Cooper, president of the Lake View Terrace Improvement Assn. “We can make strategic arms agreements with the Russians, too. But until you have a way of verifying, it doesn’t mean anything.”

The high fences would be ugly and not necessarily effective, said Lewis Snow, vice president of the Lake View Terrace Home Owners Assn.

“I have never seen a seven-foot-high decorative wrought-iron security fence that cannot be gotten over,” Snow said. “Mr. Fisher feels that by making this a fortress, he can make it acceptable to the community. . . . I think that was the easy way out.”