OCEANSIDE — The Planning Commission voted 5-1 to deny a zoning change that would allow a live-in drug and alcohol treatment facility to be built next to the Mission Montessori School. Commissioner Louise Balma opposed the zoning denial.
Hours of passionate testimony for and against the zoning change for The Fellowship Center preceded the Planning Commission decision. Individuals who had recovered form alcohol and drug addiction or watched family members struggle with addiction shared personnel accounts that underlined the need for the facility.
“My son, who was born and raised in Oceanside, is the reason I’m here this evening,” Susan Buchton, an Oceanside resident, said. “If it weren’t for The Fellowship Center he might not be alive today. He has been clean and sober for over 10 years and is giving back to the community.”
“I am a father of four sons,” an Oceanside dad said. “They don’t have drug problems at this point. I hope they have a place such as this to go to if they need it.”
It was also shared that recovered alcoholics and drug addicts are productive members of society.
“They don’t want to bother your children, steal your belongings, or be a burden to you or to the community,” Buchton said. “That’s why they’re at The Fellowship Center, so they can get clean and sober, have jobs, families and be productive citizens of this city just like you.”
“I am a recovered alcoholic,” an Oceanside mother of two said. “I live a successful life of sobriety. Alcoholics are still stigmatized as bad people. We are not, we are just sick people trying to get better.”
The AlAnon Club, which borders the Mission property, has held support meetings for recovering alcoholics for more than 30 years. The recovery support facility has not caused problems or generated complaints. The Fellowship Center that houses recovering addicts is more strictly regulated. A successful program is run in Escondido.
“This is the ideal location for the type of service we plan to give Oceanside,” Paul Savo, The Fellowship Center executive director, said. “We have owned the property over 10 years. It meets all relative property and neighborhood values.”
“We have control of the gate,” Savo said. “We cannot take registered sex offenders — it’s against the policy. Residents at the facility attend job training, are going to school. They’re too busy, they’re not going to be roaming the streets.”
Parents of children who attend Mission Montessori School, which is located 69 yards away from the proposed facility, expressed their safety concerns and reported a 50 percent drop in school enrollment due to the proposed facility.
“I have two children who attend Mission Montessori School,” Melissa Galepsy said. “What the map doesn’t show you is the facility is 69 yards from our preschool, and 50 yards from our PE field. What they will see is our children. It is directly impacting our enrollment.”
“What if something goes wrong?” a father of two children who attend the school asked. “They are homeless, convicted felons. What if they don’t obey the rules?”
A low 20 percent recovery rate in most rehabilitation programs and an anticipated drop in property value for homes in the area were also concerns.
The commission majority prioritized the safety of children over the benefits of the recovery facility. “The concern for me is it’s in such immediate proximity to the school,” Planning Commissioner Claudia Troisi said. “Without a 100 percent ratio of recovery it’s a little too dangerous.”
“There is no question The Fellowship does great work,” Commissioner Tom Rosales said. “With the mood of the general public right now, we need to be a little wary how we handle things. General plan amendments are lofty, well-received projects. This one doesn’t fit the bill.”
Commissioner Louise Balma stood alone in her support for rezoning. “I’ll be the lone duck,” Balma said. “What these people do is a big deal. It’s such a benefit, I’m not going to support the staff. I support the rezoning.”
It was not determined that facility residents would be a danger to children, but it was decided that the risk of potential danger was too high.
“Condemning residents of The Fellowship Center is the worse kind of bias,” Dennis Cleary, an Oceanside resident, said. “For men who have alcohol and drug disabilities, it’s hard enough without this vile prejudice. It’s a reputable program with a reputable experienced provider.”
Planning Commission recommendations to not change zoning will be passed on to City Council.