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Simi Valley neighborhood upset with planned drug detox house

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By Mike Harris of the Ventura County Star

Jan. 30, 2016

A planned drug detoxification house in a Simi Valley neighborhood is drawing stiff opposition from residents.

About 100 of them packed City Council chambers last week to protest the project on Cisco Court on the city’s east end.

But under state law, as long as the house has no more than six residents, the city essentially has no authority to regulate it.

“The state about 10 years ago pretty much exempted six or less people staying in a house from any extraordinary land-use controls by local government,” Peter Lyons, Simi Valley’s environmental services director, said Friday.

Under state Health and Safety Code guidelines for alcohol and drug programs, “the city cannot regulate ‘group homes’ of six or less if they’re just living there and physically not changing the house,” Lyons said.

The residence is being bought from Simi Valley businessman Sandy Bass by Shawn Miller, a former heroin addict who spent nearly 24 years in prison for crimes including armed robbery and car theft before being released a few years ago.

Miller, who recently founded the for-profit Set Free Drug and Alcohol Centers of America, said he plans to have no more than six clients at the Simi Valley location at a time. It will be his company’s first center and be fully licensed by the state, he said. Most clients’ stays will be covered by medical insurance, he said. The uninsured can pay out of pocket.

Simi Valley High School teacher Russ Martin is one of the more outspoken critics of the detox house in the city’s Texas tract neighborhood. He, his wife and three children live next door.

Martin, 56, said Friday that the project will degrade the neighborhood’s quality of life.

“There’s not only going to be drug addicts there wanting to dry up, but my girls’ bedroom is within, I would say, 60 feet of the front porch where these guys will be hanging out, detoxing from heroin,” he said.

“Shawn Miller has asked me to trust him that he will manage six heroin addicts at a time,” Martin said. “I said, ‘I don’t know you. I have to figure out who you are.’ So I figured out who he was” — an ex-convict.

Miller said he can understand the community’s concerns.

“It’s a quiet neighborhood with good people with children,” he said. “They have some perceptions that drug addicts are going to be running all over their streets and things like that. But I think most of their fears will go away after we’ve been there a couple of months.

“This is something that Simi Valley needs,” Miller said, although he conceded that some of his clients could come from out of state, as critics of the project have charged.

Like many other communities throughout the country, Simi Valley has grappled with heroin use in recent years, especially among young people, sometimes with deadly results. A local grass-roots organization, Not One More, was formed in 2012 to tackle the problem.

Its vice president, Krissy McAfee, said Friday that Simi Valley needs the detox house and that the group supports it “as long as they’re good neighbors and not causing any problems and following all laws.”

Bass, meanwhile, said the residents’ outcry is “unfortunate. They (drug abusers) have to go somewhere. And everybody says, ‘not in my backyard,’ and I understand that. But they’re entitled to rehabilitation and to try to be a functioning part of society.

“What are you going to do with them?” he said. “Kick them to the street?”

Simi Valley Councilman Glen Becerra said he has contacted the city’s assemblyman, Scott Wilk, R-Santa Clarita, “to look at helping us address some legislation on the state level, because I have grave concerns about this.”

Wilk said Friday that he’s coordinating with the city to schedule a joint community meeting at which residents can voice their concerns. He said he has also contacted the League of California Cities, which he believes is going to propose legislation to address the issue. The city has also reached out to its Sacramento lobbyist.

“This particular issue is problematic across the state,” Wilk said.
About Mike Harris

Mike Harris is the Star’s Simi Valley, transportation and one of its land-use (Price of Paradise) reporters.