Chowchilla passes ordinance to deter “halfway houses” | The Merced Sun-Star The Merced Sun-S tar

City Council put restrictions on group homes, or so-called “halfway houses,” in town last week with a unanimous vote, an effort to deter anyone looking to open one.

The decision came Tuesday, just weeks after neighbors near what was going to be a group home in the area of Plum Way near Santa Cruz Boulevard in Chowchilla expressed their ire to council on April 28. The residents said they were unhappy that low-risk offenders would be living so close to where their children play every day.


Councilman Richard Walker

The ordinance requires that anyone looking to open a home, which are used to try to help a person on probation learn to become a productive citizen, must gain approval from the city’s Planning Commission. The commission could decide if the home qualifies for a conditional use permit, which the city can revoke.

Laura Crane, Chowchilla’s city attorney, said the city cannot legally prohibit all group homes. She said the homes that cater to people who have drug problems are protected, because recovering drug users are considered disabled.

“There are state laws protecting people from being discriminated against, so we’re not allowed to touch that,” she said.

The Plum Way house was part of a plan from a Merced pastor, who said he has since pulled the plug after the neighbors objected. His group home, like others, would have been for men released under Assembly Bill 109, also known as the State Prison Realignment Act.

Passed in October 2011, the realignment act transferred responsibility for nonviolent, nonsexual, less serious offenders from the state to the counties to reduce overpopulation in the state’s prisons, authorities have said.

Funding for homes and the programs they provide was approved by voters in 2012 as part of Prop 30. The money is funneled through the counties in the state.

Chowchilla’s ordinance puts a number of restrictions on where the homes can go, assuming they are the type of home that is not protected by state law. Under the permit process, homeowners within a 5,000-foot radius of the group home would be notified.


Shannon Smith, 31, of Chowchilla

Councilman Richard Walker said the council made the ordinance as restrictive as possible to deter group homes that cater to people on probation.

“The best we can do is regulate these types of homes so that we can mitigate any real damages that they might do to our community,” he said. “Make it difficult for them to come to this community.”

Shannon Smith, 31, of Chowchilla was one of several homeowners who pushed council to put restrictions on group homes. She said she wished the council could further restrict group homes, but understood that state law prohibits that.

She supported the council’s decision. “I’m as OK as I can possibly be with it,” she said.

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