By Miriam Raftery
Updated Dec. 4 with quotes from the state's Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and La Mesa City Manager Yvonne Garett
December 3, 2018 (La Mesa) – Residents are raising objections over a proposal by the state to open a parole office at the base of Mt. Helix next to the Brigantine Restaurant in a mostly residential neighborhood near Grossmont High School.
The city of La Mesa received notification in a letter dated November 5th from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Division of Adult Parole Operations about plans to lease a building at 9400 Grossmont Summit Drive for use as a parole office. The facility would have 65 staff members, including 52 parole agents meeting with potentially hundreds of parolees a month who served time in state prisons for serious crimes. The building has only 41 parking spaces, according to the city.
A petition opposing the project has been started online at https://www.change.org/p/mr-steve-lamirand-stop-adult-parole-operations-from-opening-in-mt-helix-la-mesa. So far, 186 people have signed. An analysis (p. 1, p. 2) created by project opponent Daniel Boethin, a real estate consultant at Trifold Properties claims the site is incompatible with allowed uses under current zoning, is incompatible with surrounding residential and business uses, and would endanger minors due to the close proximity to schools.
Boethin told ECM, "Nextdoor has already deactivated my account as soon as I named the owner/developer (Duaine Dubbs) and the leasing agent/broker (Mark Robak with San Diego Commercial Real Estate) that are most likely the two to gain from this transaction. Not that I personally care - great, make a few million - but the problem is the nature of people and business that will not necessarily fit or do well in this location with a huge negative externality to the local community."
Photo, right: Map prepared by Boethin shows location of multilple schools in proximity to the proposed parole facility and nearest transit station that parolees could use to access the site.
The property is zoned residential-business and is located directly across I-8 from Grossmont High School, with many students walking to school and driving across the Grossmont bridge located one block from the proposed parole facility.
Neighbors on the Next Door Mt. Helix online forum have voiced concerns over bringing convicted criminals on parole after release from state prisons into a predominantly residential neighborhood, where some purchased properties in part due to safety, since the Mt. Helix area has a low rate of violent crime. Others voiced concerns about parking. Many voiced worries over safety of students walking to Grossmont High School as well as two other schools in the vicinity, the Mt. Helix Academy
La Mesa City Manager Yvonne Garrett told ECM, "Staff and the City's Attorney are reviewing and considering all of the options related to this potential lease agreement and will be responding to this notification in a timely fashion once our review is complete."
An attorney who represents criminal defendants spoke on background to East County Magazine. “This is a terrible location for this,” he said of the parole facility proposed. He indicated that parolees sometimes stash knives and drugs in bushes outside a parole facility before speaking with a parole officer, and stand outside smoking while awaiting appointments.
Neighbors near the facility say they received a letter hand-delivered on or about December 1st. The letter does not list a formal protest or comments process and states ithat if recipients have questions they should contact Steve Lamirand, District Administrator of the San Diego Parole District in Chula Vista at (760)737-7925, a North County phone number. But when ECM called that number, the person who answered said he has never heard of Lamirand. He suggested we call (909)468 2300 ext. 311 in Diamond Bar, CA. That numberh rang to a voice mail stating it’s full with no way to leave a message. ECM then looked up the phone for the Chula Vista facility and called there at 619 476 3700, where the person who answered referred us again to the Diamond Bar phone, suggesting we ask for public information officer John Stern, but the message machine was still full with no option to reach an operator or leave a message.
This raise questions over whether proper notification procedures have been violated since the public has not been properly informed in a timely manner of their right to submit comments or protests. Eventually after multiple calls we were told that Mr. Lamirand is at the 619 476-3700 at ext. 285. However voice mail at that extension states it is for “Agent Ryan.”
Update: This evening we received an email from Luis Patino, spokesman for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. He states, "CDCR’s Division of Adult Parole Operations improves public safety by supervising and helping to reintegrate parolees back into their neighborhoods through rehabilitative programs. This proposed new office location will not bring new parolees to east San Diego County. The men and women who will be served at this office lived there before they were incarcerated and have returned to the community. There are ongoing lease negotiations at this time that are being discussed with the city, and those have not been finalized."
He provided this phone to call and leave comments: (916) 445-4950 and ask for the Office of External Affairs.
You can also provide a written record with an email to Brittney Falcon brittney.falcon.cdcr.ca.gov.
Mark Robak is the leasing agent representing the building’s landlord. Asked the status, he said, “We have an agreement in principal” but adds that there are contingencies in the agreement and “a lot of work remains to be done.” Robak says use as a parole facility is allowed “by right” at the site, adding that the location is at the end of a cul-de-sac. “They are looking for someplace private, where they won’t be disrupting people,” he adds on why this location was chosen by the state. He says he is not aware of problems caused by parole or probation offices in other areas such as El Cajon or Chula Vista.
Another problem is that the facility lacks access to public transit, a need for many parolees who lack vehicles. According to the Metropolitan Transit Service, the nearest bus stop is a 20 minute walk away from the site. Parolees who opt to take the trolley would get off at either the Grossmont or Amaya trolley station. From Grossmont they would have to walk past a regional shopping mall, a hospital, medical facilities, a gym and homes to reach the parole office. From Amaya, they would walk past a public park, Grossmont High School and athletic fields, crossing the same bridge over I-8 taken by teens walking to or from the high school.
ECM has contacted Assemblyman Randy Voepel’s office, where a staffer is working to get information from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation on who the appropriate contact is for public comments, along with the deadline. Members of the public may also wish to reach out to State Senator Brian Jones, who was sworn into office today, and.to Assemblymember Shirley Weber, since impacts of this project would affect constituents in all of their districts.
La Mesa Councilman Bill Baber says there was no discussion of a parole facility when the city approved construction of the building, adding that he just learned of the proposal and is not certain whether the use is allowed by-right or whether the city may have the power to take action.
Supervisor Dianne Jacob has no jurisdiction over the project, which is not under county control, but has sent a letter to a concerned constituent indicating she will be sending a letter to the Department of Corrections voicing concerns over the project.