The Sacramento County Planning Commission on Thursday rejected a controversial plan to place a halfway house for federal parolees in one of the region's most crime-plagued neighborhoods.
The panel voted 3-1 to deny a company a conditional use permit to place a "residential re-entry center" at Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and 43rd Avenue in the west Lemon Hill neighborhood of south Sacramento.
Commission Chairman Alex Laiewski said the company, Behavioral Systems Southwest, failed to properly address concerns of residents who feared the facility would be a bad fit for a neighborhood saturated with gang activity, drug dealing and gun violence.
"The formal process has been followed to the 'T,' " he said. "The flaw is informal. The community deserves to be part of the planning, and I just feel there was a lack of that in this process."
The vote, which came after a second public hearing on the matter, prompted cheers from residents who presented vigorous arguments against the center.
The facility would have temporarily housed and provided services to 50 inmates with criminal backgrounds ranging from drug trafficking to bank robbery.
Behavioral Systems Southwest, which runs eight similar programs in Southern California and Arizona, would have received funding from the federal Bureau of Prisons to run the center. No other such federal facility exists in Sacramento County, officials said. The closest centers are in the Bay Area.
The social services company, along with representatives of several federal agencies, argued that such facilities are vital for helping inmates transition back to society. Parolees have a better chance of succeeding in the outside world after learning skills ranging from job searching to anger management, they argued. They said security would be tight, and federal law enforcement would regularly visit the center.
"In my view, this program will benefit the community," said Tim Zindel, a federal public defender.
Before the vote, neighborhood residents lined up to talk about life in a community where random gunfire, gang violence, carjackings and other crimes are a way of life. The halfway house, they predicted, would only make it more difficult to attract economic development to the area and might increase crime and negatively affect property values.
They also pointed out its proximity to an elementary school and a park where children play.
Company Vice President Bari Caine-Lomberto told the panel that its other facilities have been "good neighbors," have not resulted in increases in crime and have not negatively affected property values.
She apologized "if I made an error in judgment and did not go door to door" to explain the project to neighborhood residents. "But that doesn't make us a bad neighbor or a bad agency."
After the vote, Caine-Lomberto said residents were "talking from an emotional place" and ignored data that showed the center could be an asset to the community.
"Honestly, it is a blow to Sacramento," she said of the rejection. "It's a shame, really."