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Sobering Center Falls Through

By Olin Ericksen
Staff Writer

April 29 -- Plans for a clinic near Brotman Medical Center in Culver City that would provide regional services to chronic alcoholics and the mentally ill fell through last week after drawing fire from concerned residents and Los Angeles City Council member Cindy Miscikowski.

The proposed site for the project -- which Santa Monica had cut a $10,000 check to help lease -- was rejected after it was discovered it was actually zoned in Los Angeles and within 600 feet of a school, a violation of Los Angeles zoning codes, according to Santa Monica City officials.

Although plans for the proposed site could have moved forward with the proper permits, officials said, the non-profit that would have run the proposed joint sobering center and urgent care facility for the mentally ill, Exodus Recovery Incorporated, decided to withdraw the site after the project drew flack from residents, police and at least one politician.

"When I met with Micsikowski, I was advised that we would not be successful in moving forward with the facility," said Exodus CEO Luana Murphy.

"There was a big outcry about it being so close to a school, but really, it was a misunderstanding that appeared to be a result of a story that appeared in a Santa Monica newspaper, probably yours, about the facility attracting homeless from around Los Angeles County," said Murphy.

Murphy said she felt that community resistance was "not insurmountable with community education."

Murphy said Exodus officials "were discussing" new site locations for the urgent care facility, but she doubted it would be paired with a sobering center in the future, a recommendation that many County experts have been pushing.

"We're still going to do it, itís just unlikely another site will be available for both a sobering center and an urgent care center, which is unfortunate because there is a lot of overlap between people who suffer from alcoholism and mental illness," Murphy said.

Exodus Recovery returned a $10,000 check Tuesday to Santa Monica, one month after the City Council approved the funds in order to get the ball rolling for a sobering facility.

Area hospitals and emergency officials say the center is needed to help absorb hundreds of thousands of dollars spent every year assisting chronic alcoholics.

"It was very disappointing news after we put down $10,000 in good faith to back the sobering center," said Santa Monica Council member Kevin McKeown.

"This is a small setback, but we're still committed to working in the region to find a place for the facility," McKeown said.

Though there have been no replacement sites named, McKeown said he was against the new facility being located in Santa Monica.

"We all recognize that our neighborhoods have done their share in caring for the homeless and we'd now like to share privilege with our neighbors," he said.

The episode, McKeown said, highlights the difficulties in finding sites for a regional solution to homelessness, mental illness and alcoholism.

"Finding places to put these facilities is always a challenge," he said. "Everyone wants to solve the problem somewhere else."

The move comes as surrounding cities -- such as Culver City, Beverly Hills, and Westside Los Angeles -- are considering approving an historic draft document on dealing with homeless within a regional context.

Santa Monica is the first, and only, City to approve the draft thus far, however, City officials in the Department of Human Services believe the other cities will vote on the draft in May.

In the meantime, there has been discussion of using Samoshel near the City bus yards as a sobering center exclusively for Santa Monica.

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