Rude 911 Dispatchers, Animal Control, Group Homes Subject of Tuesday Community Meeting

Officials from the state Assembly, the county Sheriff's Department, and the county's Animal Control agency spoke to various concerns brought to ACONA's attention at Tuesday night's meeting

By Justin Chapman, Altadena Patch, 5/26/2011

A community meeting held by the Altadena Coalition of Neighborhood Associations (ACONA) Tuesday covered three major topics: group homes, dispatch issues at the Altadena Sheriff's station's temporary headquarters in La Crescenta and animal control.
Elliot Gold and Holly Rundberg started ACONA last June in an effort to pull all the various community and neighborhood organizations and associations together to create a more cohesive community.  Tuesday's meeting was attended by 32 Altadenans.

Group Homes
The first presentation regarding concerns about the presence of group homes and residential facilities in Altadena was given by Tanganica Turner, the Field Representative of Assembly member Anthony Portantino.
Turner was unable to provide a lot of data about the homes, such as how many are present in Altadena and where they are located, but she said she will let Gold know as soon as that number is available. She was also asked about the density limit regarding these facilities.
"As far as the amount of group homes in one area, the county will allow one home every 300 feet," she said. "If there is more than one in that 300 foot radius what they'll do is they'll ask you to apply for a particular license, but once all of your T's are crossed and your I's are dotted you're able to have that facility there. The process for licensing is very difficult and complicated."
On the state level, she said, if someone is providing care that is licensed by the state there are particular requirements and there is a process they must go through to obtain a license. For instance, if they're offering substance abuse treatment or psychiatric treatment or medical treatment, then they would of course have to obtain a license and that comes through the state of California. With that licensing the state is then able to regulate the actions and the activity of that particular home.
But in Altadena there are homes that are not licensed by the state of California because they are not providing a service that is required for a license. There are homes in Altadena that are boarding homes and sober living facilities but they're not offering a particular care that needs to be licensed by the state, by the county, or by the health department, according to Turner.
"They're kind of sliding under the radar as far as regulation is concerned because they're running them as private businesses for nonprofit organizations," she said.
However, she admitted that she works more with state level issues regarding these types of homes and so some of the Altadenans' questions about the county's regulations went unanswered. But she did offer to facilitate having experts and officials from the county regulatory agencies appear at the next ACONA meeting.
She also suggested that if residents feel certain homes in their community area are becoming a public safety issue that they should contact their public safety officials (in this case the ), which would put it on record and give residents a much stronger case should they choose to go to the county with their concerns.

911 Dispatchers
Next up was the second in command of the Altadena Sheriff's station, Lt. Roosevelt Johnson, who attended the meeting to address concerns that were brought to Capt. Steve MacLean's attention at the last ACONA meeting regarding what Altadenans see as rudeness on the part of the Altadena Sheriff's dispatchers, which are usually the first impression a resident receives from the station.
On the meeting's agenda, it stated that the dispatchers should "communicate concern, empathy, clear information, and a speedy response" and that this is not happening on a regular basis.
Lt. Johnson said there is no excuse for poor service, community service, and professional service on the part of the Sheriff's Department. He added that if any resident has concerns they can call Lt. Joseph Dempsey or himself directly. Johnson also addressed confusion pertaining to the fact that the Altadena Sheriff's station, which is still undergoing renovations, is currently operating out of the La Crescenta Valley Sheriff's station.
"Our current situation is a little unique because of the renovations going on," he said. "We know you expect a certain level of professional service and we at the station have that same level of expectation. And we will hold our personnel accountable for delivering that level of quality service."
He said that the department takes complaints seriously.
"I want you to know that every single complaint that comes in from you guys about our dispatchers comes across my desk," Johnson said.  "I read and approve every single complaint and subsequent investigation related to those. And the captain also reads and has to approve every single complaint and the result in terms of what we do to the personnel."
He added that Altadena is the only station in the county that does not have its own dedicated watch commanders. Their shift watch commanders work out of the La Crescenta station.
"So if you have a problem, generally, with service that's being delivered to you in the community, you are asked to speak to the watch commander, which means you're speaking to someone from the Crescenta Valley station," said Johnson. "Out of the complaints that we've received, I can tell you that personnel have been reprimanded for not speaking to the public in the manner that they're supposed to, not taking the call seriously, not dispatching cars when it's required, and per our department policy, if you call and ask for a squad car to come to your house, you will get a Sheriff's deputy car responding to your house."
He explained that once the Altadena station lost its jail, it also lost its watch commander because that was one of the main responsibilities of a watch commander. When construction is done at the station, there still will not be an on-site watch commander just yet.
However, 911 calls will go to the Altadena station instead of the La Crescenta station, which has not been the case in the past. He suggested that residents bring their concerns of not having an on-site watch commander to the Altadena Town Council and Supervisor Michael Antonovich's office.
Renovations on the Altadena Sheriff's station began last May and in July of last year they moved all of their communications equipment to the La Crescenta Valley station. Although he said construction was supposed to be completed last September, the only completed wing so far is the lobby of the station. If the inspection of the lobby area is approved, they expect to have dispatchers working out of the lobby as well as have that lobby open to the public once again within two weeks.

Animal Control Issues
Before the fairly sparse audience got their chance to ask the speakers some final questions, Lance Hunter, the Animal Care and Control Manager of the Baldwin Park Shelter, gave the floor to Sgt. Zeke Morales to speak to the concerns raised by ACONA folks on animal control in Altadena, including the slow response time.
"Most of the concerns that get called into our office are barking and noise complaints," said Morales, who has been assigned to Altadena. "When we respond to a house we normally do the full investigative work to prosecute and educate. A lot of times people believe the notice to appear are citations where they have to go to the Pasadena Courthouse, but it's actually a notice to give them time to get to our shelter to license their animals. I try to explain this process to every resident I interact with."
He added that he embraces the work he does because he knows Altadenans require a higher level of service. He mentioned that he regrets that there is not a closer unit to Altadena, but that residents do have 24 hours of service. There is always someone working even graveyard shifts in case of animal emergencies.
"We deal with household pets, horses, livestock, and other domesticated animals," he said when asked if animals such as coyotes fall under their jurisdiction. He added that they rarely pick up animals in Altadena and get more complaints about barking dogs and noise issues than anything else. "Very seldom do we get humane cases."
The next ACONA meeting will be held in either August or September and will be announced by Gold in the next few days. Meetings start at 7 p.m. at the Altadena Library. All are welcome to attend. To suggest or request items to be put on the agenda, contact Elliot Gold at