JOSÉ LUIS VILLEGAS / jvillegas@sacbee.com

Janell Schindler, Cindy Robinson, Paula Woodward and Debbie Webb Bunker last week pass the planned site of a halfway house that they are working to prevent.

Editorial: Is Lemon Hill right locale for parolees?

Published: Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 14A
Last Modified: Tuesday, Jun. 11, 2013 - 9:51 am

The Sacramento County Planning Commission was right to postpone a decision Monday night on whether to permit a halfway house in one of Sacramento County's most troubled neighborhoods.

Lemon Hill residents and business owners are asking appropriate questions about a private firm's proposal to convert a dilapidated apartment complex into a halfway house for federal parolees. Before the Planning Commission takes any action on the re-entry facility, residents deserve some answers.

The commission staff has given a tentative go-ahead to build a facility for 50 ex-felons at the corner of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and 43rd Avenue. This is one of the most gang-infested and crime-ridden neighborhoods in the region.

Opponents do not question the need for such a facility. But why, they ask, build it in their struggling neighborhood? The North Franklin District Business Association represents 600 businesses in the area. Executive Director Marti Brown says unemployment in the district vacillates between 14 and 20 percent. And with the area's largest employer, Campbell Soup, closing soon, the job picture is likely to get worse.

Halfway houses stand the best chance of success if they are located close to where parolees can find jobs, and away from neighborhoods where they could be tempted to rejoin a life of crime.

There is an active illegal drug trade in the area and an inadequate public transportation system, neither of which are conducive to successful re-entry for ex-cons looking for opportunities to turn their lives around.

In its letter to the commission, the business association notes that 83 percent of residents are non-white; 36 percent of families earn less than $25,000 a year; 39 percent of adults have not completed high school.

Because they are poor and mostly people of color, residents of Lemon Hill – or "The Avenues," as many of them call the area – feel like they have become a dumping ground for the county. High concentrations of state parolees and county probation clients already live in the neighborhood.

If the county is going to approve this re-entry facility, the county and the applicant – Behavorial Systems Southwest, which hopes to use federal funding to create the facility – need to make a convincing case it will be a benefit, not a detriment, to the neighborhood. That means county officials need to ask some tough questions. For example, what is the company's track record on recidivism? What has been the impact of their other facilities on the neighborhoods where they are located? Specifically, did property values drop? Did crime rates go up?

Lemon Hill is already a deeply distressed community. Residents should not be forced to accept another land-use decision that will further damage their neighborhood or endanger their families.

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