Residents protest new care facility

DOWNEY - Several homeowners living on the 9200 block of Lubec Street in Downey are speaking out against their newest neighbor. "We're unhappy with how the front of the home looks. It's like something you'd go see in Downtown LA. It doesn't fit our city," said resident Helen Lara, who started to ask questions when she noticed the remodeled home on her street. "They're putting four internal doors on the outside of the house - it looks hokey."

Similarly, when Downey resident Maryann Gonzalez first saw construction at the recently-sold home, she was confused, unable to figure out exactly what the new homeowner was doing.

"There's a wheel chair ramp and multiple doors on the front of the house. We thought it might be a transition house," said Gonzales, who later discovered the home is being converted into a residential care facility.

"I am not against people in wheelchairs, but they're running a business in our neighborhood. There could be parking issues; it could affect our property values. We want to maintain the quality of life."

Although city officials say they have limited authority in the matter, nearly a dozen residents in the east Downey neighborhood are protesting the new care facility, which will soon house several bed-ridden adults.

"We understand residents are concerned, but the state supersedes the city on it," said David Blumenthal, Downey's senior planner. "The facility is for bed-ridden adults who must have access directly outside."

Construction at the single-story house, located at 9294 Lubec St., includes the installation of handicap ramps in both the front and back of the home, an interior remodel to increase the number of bedrooms from four to five, and the installation of four exterior doors, which face the street.

Resident Mike Galvin said he's concerned the aesthetics of the residential care facility does not fit the character of the neighborhood.

"I understand the public policy and that the state's mandate overrides city code, but in this situation, the home looks like an apartment building, not a single-family home," said Galvin. "The house is supposed to still look like a house. I'm a little concerned with the precedent being set here."

Last Monday, Brian Saeki, director of community development, sent out a letter addressing residents' questions while conceding the city is preempted in the matter.

"I wanted to take a moment to ensure you that the city has looked into your concerns and comments," he wrote. "However, under California law, the city has limited legal authority in this circumstance."

"State law requires the city to allow the facility in any zone that a single-family home is allowed," said Saeki. "Our records show that the applicant has obtained all proper permits for the construction."

In fact, once renovations are complete, the Lubec home will become Downey's 17th residential care facility.

Councilman Fernando Vasquez, who received several calls and e-mails concerning the new care facility, acknowledged the angst of the homeowners, but maintained that the city's hands are tied.

"We take these matters very seriously," Vasquez said. "When I heard of this matter, I instructed staff to look into this, inform residents and explore what legal options were available to us. In doing so, per the city attorney's advice, the state law exempts these types of uses from our local municipal laws."

Nonetheless, residents are determined to petition the city regarding the aesthetics of the Lubec residential care facility, which they believe the city can regulate.

"The city really failed to inform us before this thing got approved," said longtime resident Tony Cousimano. "It upsets us that the city has allowed a contractor to do what is not normally done. It's really disconcerting. Downey is very strict - I couldn't put four doors on my house."

********** Published: May 24, 2012 - Volume 11 - Issue 06