Council approves ordinance
to restrict parolee housing

Parolee Housing for websiteFaced with downward pressure from the county to find places to house parolees released from prison under AB109, the City Council voted to limit possible parolee housing to four locations in Clayton with multi-family zoning: (1) Keller Ridge, (2) and (3), Chapparal Springs 1 and 2; and (4) Marsh Creek Rd. and High St. across from Stranahan. (Map courtesy of City of Clayton).

The issue of where to house released inmates is rumbling through the City Council chambers and on social media as Clayton wrestles with the state law regarding parolee housing.

At the regular July 17 meeting, council members Tuija Catalano, Jim Diaz and Julie Pierce and Mayor Keith Haydon unanimously approved a municipal ordinance that will restrict where a parolee residence can locate within the city limits. Councilmember Dave Shuey was absent.

The contentious meeting, lasting more than two hours, pitted Clayton residents who want no part of parolee housing in the city against a council determined to protect the city from costly lawsuits.

In her report to the council, Clayton Community Development Director Mindy Gentry summarized the three options the city had on approaching parolee housing as it relates to state law AB109:

•    They can do nothing and let a two-year moratorium on parolee housing passed in 2016 expire in October.
•    They can pass an ordinance that regulates and limits the locations where parolee housing can go.
•    They can institute an all-out ban on parolee housing, which, according to City Attorney Mala Subramanian would open the city up to lawsuits by the ACLU and other civil rights groups.

The council voted for regulation and to limit parolee housing to four locations within the city. All four are zoned high-density, multi-family.

“I would personally want to know if a parolee home was being proposed in my neighborhood and so would you,” Pierce said at the meeting. “Without this ordinance, I won’t know and neither will you.”

The city passed the moratorium in 2016, prompted by an email from a non-profit inquiring about the city’s policy on parolee housing. Prior to the moratorium, a communal parolee house could locate anywhere in Clayton with no restrictions and no use permit required.

If the city takes no action before the moratorium runs out in October, those wishing to create parolee housing can “fly beneath the radar,” Gentry says, moving into the city at will.

Pierce said the new ordinance would control how these homes are noticed, permitted and conditioned. “We can put them on a broadly seen radar, so everyone in town knows and weighs in,” she said. “Without this ordinance, we won’t have that ability.”

The issue stems from a mandate by AB109, the Public Safety Realignment Act, to reduce the number of incarcerated inmates. It transfers the responsibility for managing and supervising parolees from the state to the counties. This puts downward pressure on counties to find places for them to live under supervision.

The ordinance approved by the Clayton council restricts parolee housing to four locations zoned for high density and will require a conditional use permit and public hearing.

Parolee homes cannot be within 500 feet of a daycare, school, library, park, hospital, group home or any place that sells alcohol, nor within 1,000 feet of another parolee home. They must be supervised around the clock.

There are four designations in Clayton with those buffers: Keller Ridge, Chaparral Springs 1 and 2 and on Marsh Creek Road across from Stranahan.

The council directed city staff to prepare maps showing permitted locations with wider buffer zones of 750 feet and 1,000 feet. for the Aug 21 council meeting. The only area that would be accessible with a 1,000-foot buffer would be Keller Ridge. This could be viewed as a “de facto” ban and could open the city up to lawsuits, said City Attorney Mala Subramanian.

Clayton is one of the only cities in the county without restrictions. Nearby Concord allows “group housing” that is prohibited in single-family districts. Clayton’s ordinance would be more restrictive.

Still, many residents want no part of parolee housing anywhere in the city regardless of potential civil rights lawsuits.

“I think the council is taking the easy way out,” attorney Brian Buddell said of the new ordinance. “You’re not fighting for my safety, or my family’s safety.”

He vehemently urged the city to ban parolee housing and fight a lawsuit if it were filed. “I think the council needs to man up.”

Many speakers at the meeting viewed the ordinance as encouraging parolee housing rather than restricting and regulating it.

“What will this do to our property values?” asked resident Nancy Ahern.

After the council vote, the anti-parolee housing sentiment was echoed online on Nextdoor. “Clearly, we need some people willing to fight, not bend over,” wrote Buddell’s wife, Kendra. “It is not unreasonable to add a protective border of 1,000 feet (two city blocks) around our schools and daycares.”

Gentry said two California cities, Newport Beach and Colton, have instituted a complete ban on parolee housing and have not been sued. “But that was before AB109,” she explained, “and their bans could be legally challenged.”

As for the brouhaha playing out on social media, Haydon said he believes people don’t truly understand the issue.
“I don’t think the residents of Clayton would want us spending our surplus money on defending a court case when the money can be used to improve infrastructure or protect against another recession like the one in 2009,” ­Haydon said.