Common Ground’s decision to move its facility to 2401 Lincoln Blvd. in the Sunset Park area brought a large group of neighbors together Monday night to voice their concerns to officials from the City of Santa Monica and the non-profit.
Common Ground works with people HIV and strives to reduce the spread of HIV by targeting high risk groups through outreach programs.
The residents who attended the community meeting at Olympic High School fear that the presence of the agency will cause their neighborhood to deteriorate. Neighbors of Common Ground’s previous location at 2021 Lincoln added fuel to the new neighbors’ fears by describing the problems they had with agency clients.
Ernesto R.. who lived next door to the old site for 10 years, noted, “The source of the problem is the youth are hard to control.” While he was their neighbor there were break-ins, fights, intoxicated clients on the nearby streets and drug use on Common Ground’s patio.
A letter read at the meeting from Kathy Mittel from the Mittel’s Art Center stated, “No amount of asking politely, calling to report problems, having meetings attended by the community and liaisons of the police force did any good. The parking lot was full to overflowing on their ‘give away’ days. Our customers would have to double park, and who knows how much business we’ve lost by those who didn’t want to deal with all the problems, fights, yelling/screaming, and unsavory people hanging out all day and into the evenings in front of our store.”
The non-profit’s Executive Director, Lisa Fisher, said, “We are invested in making a safe environment for our clients and our neighbors. Our new location has a larger indoor space so there will be no loitering and we will install cameras to help monitor some the areas around our facility. We will not have a needle exchange program at the new site because of our close proximity to several schools as required by the county. We have also drafted a good neighbor agreement.”
Common Ground, a grantee of the City, is “required to have a good neighbor agreement,” according to Julie Rusk, the city’s human services manager. The agreement is designed to ensure that the services that are delivered are compatible with the neighborhood, and that Common Ground addresses the neighbors’ concerns. The agency receives about seven percent of its annual budget from the city.
Rusk also emphasized that social agencies are permitted in the C4 district of the City so the City “doesn’t have a tool to say Common Ground can’t move there. They are an independent non-profit and they went out and looked at the market and leased a facility.”
Rick King of Cedar Street responded to Rusk by stating,” When you have demonstrated over 10 years that you can’t control something and you cannot protect the neighborhood then coming here and saying that’s the law. I think that’s outrageous.”
The residents also heard from Santa Monica Police Neighborhood Resource Officer, Artis Williams. He reported that between October 2008 and February 2012, there were 26 calls for service from the police when Common Ground was at 2021 Lincoln. However, only one of those crimes was linked to a Common Ground client.
After the meeting, Jeff Goodman, president of the board of directors of Common Ground, told the Dispatch that his board will meet as quickly as possible to help develop the good neighbor agreement. He hopes the agreement will be a “living document that will be frequently reviewed so it will be alive with responsiveness.”