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Richmond Says Plan For AIDS Home Will Stand
December 18, 1998



Friday, December 18, 1998
Section: news
Page: A07
David Ferris
Caption: Photo. This 100-year-old house in Richmond has been approved as a group home for women with AIDS and their children. (Eddie Ledesma/Times).

RICHMOND Overruling protests from residents, the City Council has approved a group home for women with AIDS and their children in the Park Plaza neighborhood.

The council Tuesday heard the anger of residents who don't want to add another group home to the 11 already in and around the south-central Richmond neighborhood. Residents complained the home would reduce property values and the area's residential character. Some of the women also may be former drug users, and they will be moving to an intersection known as one of the top 10 drug-dealing sites in the city, residents said.
Others said that since Richmond has the highest per-capita incidence of AIDS in the state, it is obligated to take care of its own. A housing expert told the council that rejecting the home might result in legal charges of discrimination.

"This is one of the few times I've been on this council that I feel in a real moral dilemma," said Councilman Tom Butt.

After nearly two hours of discussion, the council voted 6-2 to reject an appeal by the Park Plaza neighborhood council to overturn the council's November approval of a conditional-use permit for the facility. Council members Richard Griffin and Nat Bates voted against the permit Tuesday, while Butt abstained.

The seven-bedroom Williams New Hope House, at the corner of South 43rd Street and Wall Avenue, would be the first home for women with AIDS in Contra Costa County.

The 100-year-old house has broken windows and furniture piled up in the entryway. But local AIDS activist Betty Blackmore-Gee and Shelter Inc. of Concord want to turn it into a dormitory-style home for 10 women and up to four children.

About 20 Park Plaza residents attended the meeting. Earlier this year, 72 residents signed a petition against the project.

Park Plaza resident Jeannie Guzman put the issue in terms of her mother, who scrimped and saved to buy a house in the area three decades ago.

"She bought into a promise she would be moving into a community of homeowners," Guzman said. "Thirty years later, the promise is being broken."

Despite assurances that the women would be drug-tested, some residents questioned the wisdom of moving the women, some of whom might be former users, into a drug-infested area.

Some worried that there would be no full-time medical care at the home.

Others argued the city has a social and legal obligation to permit the group home.

Wanda Remmers of Housing Rights Inc. in Berkeley warned the city could be in legal hot water if its rejection of the home even hinted of discrimination.

"We live in a city with lots of problems, and we don't just ship them off to the Arctic or Alaska," said Councilwoman Donna Powers. "We deal with our problems."