In response to Joan Walston’s letter (“Not happy with NIMBY,” Letters to the Editor, April 21-22) about Step Up on Second, Common Ground, and Friends of Sunset Park, here are a few facts:

Ms. Walston’s comments regarding Step Up on Second are misleading and inaccurate. Step Up on Second opened Daniel’s Place on Ocean Park Boulevard in Sunset Park in 1998. The city-recognized neighborhood organization, Friends of Sunset Park (FOSP), has never received any complaints about this facility from residents.

Step Up later looked into purchasing a Sunset Park home. The FOSP board did not take a position on this, but Step Up backed out of the deal when the city’s Housing Division turned down their application for a grant to fund the purchase. Currently, the organization operates Step Up on Second, Step Up on Fifth, Daniel’s Place, Daniel’s Village on Santa Monica Boulevard, and Michael’s Village on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood.

Now for some facts about Common Ground (CG), which is currently refurbishing its new facility at 2401 Lincoln Blvd. in Sunset Park:

The FOSP board and residents living near 2401 Lincoln (the Cedar Community Coalition) support the CG mission of HIV testing and prevention. The city of Santa Monica requires social service agencies, such as CG, that receive city funds for providing homeless services, to enter into Good Neighbor Agreements with the surrounding neighbors. After talking to public safety officials, Human Services staff, and residents and businesses near CG’s former location at 2012 Lincoln, the FOSP board and the Cedar Coalition asked for five basic things to be included in the agreement.

Those include moving CG’s needle exchange and homeless youth (HYPE) programs away from residential neighborhoods, limiting operations to normal business hours (the homeless youth program had been operating three days a week until 8:30 p.m.), improving security, and signing a legally binding Good Neighbor Agreement. We have been meeting with CG and city officials since February to negotiate the agreement, and the next meeting is scheduled for April 25 at 7 p.m. at Olympic High School.

Meanwhile, on April 18, the CG board president informed FOSP that while CG had decided to relocate the homeless youth program to Venice and is operating its needle exchange program off site, as required by the L.A. County Department of Public Health, the CG board refuses to commit to make these decisions permanent. In other words, CG insists on reserving the right to reverse these decisions. In addition, CG refuses to commit to limiting hours of operation, or to signing a legally binding Good Neighbor Agreement.

He also stated that City Hall had approved CG’s latest version of the Good Neighbor Agreement before it had been submitted to neighborhood representatives for review, and that if FOSP won’t sign it, since our requests have been rejected, he has 20 residents who will sign. When asked how many of those 20 live within one block of 2401 Lincoln, the answer was “one.” This came at a time when more than 200 residents, who actually live near 2401 Lincoln, had expressed their concerns about CG in writing to the City Council.

Why did the FOSP board and the nearby residents make those five requests to begin with?

The Santa Monica Police Department told us that, in response to neighborhood complaints, they had held four community meetings to discuss ongoing problems at CG’s former location at 2012 Lincoln. The Human Services Division told us they had submitted an information item about Common Ground to the City Council in 2005, which included complaints from neighbors and CG’s request that the city help them find a new location for the homeless youth program that was not adjacent to a residential neighborhood.

A video posted online showed CG staff recruiting homeless youth from Venice Beach to come to its former Santa Monica location. Residents and business owners near 2012 Lincoln talked to us and wrote letters describing the behavior of some of the participants in CG’s homeless youth program: used syringes, condoms, women’s underwear, and human waste left outside the facility; homeless encampments in the parking lot; public urination in front of neighborhood children; harassment of nearby business customers; burglary; a gun left on a resident’s front lawn; and an incident in which a youth assaulted a resident with a stolen hammer and then hid in the CG facility until he was arrested. In the last few years, the Santa Monica Fire Department reported that they sent paramedics 12 times to 2012 Lincoln, and the police department was called 26 times.

In addition, when Common Ground announced its move to 2401 Lincoln, the L.A. County Department of Public Health declined to certify the county-funded free needle exchange program because the new location is only a few hundred feet from three preschools and Olympic High School. County guidelines prohibit funding such a program within 1,200 feet of schools. Common Ground subsequently announced that the needle exchange and homeless youth programs would be located elsewhere. But there is no commitment to make those new locations permanent.

The FOSP board and residents have been negotiating a Good Neighbor Agreement with Common Ground since February, and we were looking forward to getting closer to an agreement at the April 25 meeting. We will be there, ready to talk. It remains to be seen whether Common Ground officials want to talk, or just play games.

The Board of Directors for Sunset Park can be reached at FriendsofSP@yahoo.com. For more information on the group, visit www.friendsofsunsetpark.org.

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