By Jason Islas
September 19, 2012 -- After nearly eight months of controversy and anticipation, Santa Monica's only nonprofit organization offering treatment for those living with HIV will open its new location Monday.
Common Ground -- which provides medical services and psychological support for thousands of individuals, many of them poor -- closed its doors at its location on Lincoln Boulevard at Bay Street in February as it prepared to move a few blocks south to Cedar Street.
“The place is beautiful,” said Common Ground's interim Executive Director Jeff Goodman. “We're proud of it.”
The new location at 2401 Lincoln Boulevard -- the former site of the Skin Paradise massage parlor -- is much more spacious than the previous location, Goodman said.
“We have more than double the space,” he said, which will include a “very large” lounge where clients can wait for their appointments and services.
Goodman said that he is excited for the new location to be fully operational after providing services from sereral sites in Venice and Santa Monbica. “It's been stressful not having everyone under one roof,” he said.
Aside from the stress of moving, Common Ground's relocation has been fraught with controversy.
A series of community meetings shortly after the old location closed brought out dozens of residents who claimed that Common Ground's clientele -- especially those who participated in the Homeless Youth Peer Education (HYPE) program -- had been a major source of trouble in the area.
A flyer, circulated by residents of the Sunset Park neighborhood for one such meeting in April read, “CG is unapologetic about the ten years of havoc and terror they created at their previous location on Bay Street.”
At the meetings, residents complained that large groups of people associated with the HYPE program would gather in front of the Bay Street location.
One resident complained about finding human feces on her lawn and another said she once found a gun on her property that she believes was cast there by a Common Ground client.
Community Resource Officer Artis Williams compiled crime data from the ten years before Common Ground moved to the Bay Street location and compared it to the 11 years the nonprofit worked out of the Bay Street location.
“It appears that there was no change in reported crime in that area -- 133 reported crimes from 2001 to 2011 (11 years) and 124 reported crimes from 1991 to 2000 (10 years),” Williams wrote in an e-mail dated May 21.
Goodman said that Common Ground's move will have a positive impact on the area.
The new building is “a well-lit, polished, professional-looking, secure building,” he said. He also added that there will be CCTV surveillance of the site.
As part of a good neighbor agreement, Common Ground has also agreed to “educate our clients how to be better neighbors,” said Goodman.
There will also be security patrols of the area in the evening, seven days a week, he said.
In addition, the HYPE program -- which Goodman said was a big factor in the loitering complaints -- has been relocated.
Another major concern residents had was the needle exchange program run out of the old site, but Goodman has said, on several occasions, that Federal law prohibits a needle exchange program at the new location due to its proximity to several schools.
On September 24, the new location will be open to clients. On September 27, Common Ground will host an open house from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Those interested in attending should RSVP to email@example.com.