City Council further restricts parolee housing with increased buffer zone

By Tamara Steiner on September 3, 2018

Angry residents packed the library meeting room at the Aug. 21 meeting when the city council once again wrestled with the thorny subject of how to regulate—or not—parolee group homes in the city.

There is currently nothing in the Municipal Code that addresses parolee housing.

Prompted by a 2016 email inquiry from a non-profit interested in opening a parolee home in Clayton, the Council declared a moratorium, temporarily banning parolee group homes while city staff considered the options—do nothing, pass regulations or ban parolee housing altogether. That moratorium expires Oct. 3. If the Council does nothing, after October a parolee group home can open anywhere in the city with no use permit or notification required.

Parolee housing has become a pressing issue since the enactment of AB109, Public Safety Realignment Act, which aims to reduce the number of incarcerated individuals by early release and transfers responsibility for managing and supervising parolees to the local level.

At its July 17 meeting, the Council introduced an ordinance limiting possible parolee homes to four areas zoned for multiple family, high density and requiring a conditional use permit and public hearing. That ordinance prohibited parolee housing from locating less than 500 feet from schools, parks or other sensitive areas.

Opposition was fierce from the residents attending and from Councilman Jim Diaz, who wanted an outright ban.

According to the city’s attorney Mala Subramanian, an outright ban would open the city to potential civil rights lawsuits.

Although the Council passed the ordinance for a first reading with the 500-foot buffer recommended by Subramanian, it asked Community Development Director Mindy Gentry to prepare maps showing the effect of 750- and 1000-foot buffer zones and bring them to the next council meeting.

At that meeting after more than two hours of public discussion and flaring tempers, the Council agreed to amend the ordinance with a 1000-foot buffer. This reduces the possible parolee housing locations from four to only two—condominiums in Keller Ridge and Chaparral Springs. Subramanian said she did not believe that would cause a de facto ban.

Diaz and city council candidate Brian Buddell were still calling for an outright ban, regardless of potential exposure to lawsuits. Buddell, an attorney, called the city’s fear of litigation “ridiculous.”

Diaz called for a 1500- or 2000-foot buffer. “If moving the buffer creates a de facto ban, let’s test it.”

Council members Tuija Catalano and Dave Shuey, also attorneys, both warned of the cost to the city of a civil rights lawsuit.

“Litigation is only appropriate if you think you’re going to win or have other options,” Shuey said. “The state has already trumped local law, so if we win, we lose. If we lose, we lose big. I’m not willing to put the city at risk for a lawsuit and bankruptcy.”

“No one wants parolee housing in Clayton,” said Councilmember Julie Pierce. “The disagreement is on how to keep them out.”

The amended ordinance requires the owner of a property to be a signatory on the conditional use permit, and calls for public notification including publication in the local newspaper and on the city’s website.

“How many owners would be willing to sign the use permit for a parolee home?” Pierce asked.

“I want to make it as ugly a process as we can legally so they go somewhere else.”

The Council will vote on the amended ordinance after a second reading at this Tuesday’s meeting.

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