The Zoning Administrator held a Public Hearing for a Large Family Day Care on Ensenada Drive last Thursday. A group of residents from Ensenada and surrounding streets attended the Public Hearing to protest the permit. Despite their objections, the Zoning Administrator granted the permit.
I didn't attend the Public Hearing but I already knew that there are very few reasons the City can prevent a family day care for 8 children from expanding to 14. The State Assembly has very strong code supporting family day care and opposing almost all opposition. Here's a section of Health & Safety Code 1597.40 (a).
"It is the intent of the Legislature that family day care homes for children should be situated in normal residential surroundings so as to give children the home environment which is conducive to healthy and safe development.
The Legislature declares this policy to be of statewide concern with the purpose of occupying the field to the exclusion of municipal zoning, building and fire codes and regulations governing the use or occupancy of family day care homes for children, except as specifically provided for in this chapter, and to prohibit any restrictions relating to the use of single-family residences for family day care homes for children except as provided by this chapter."
The State not only licenses day care facilities for young children, it issues licenses for a variety of what it calls, "Community Care" facilities. These include group homes for teens and elderly. There is no restriction on the number of different group homes that can be located in a single neighborhood. There is a 300' radius limit between homes of the same kind, but not homes of different kinds. So a child day care could be located next to a hospice or a teen group home.
Even though family day care services are located in residential houses, they are still businesses. They may be operated by non-profit organizations, or by for-profit individuals. There is no requirement that a family day care service be non-profit. With the cost of housing and the need for day care in the Tri-Valley, it's no wonder that more and more family day care facilities are springing up, and why those that began for 8 children are applying to grow to 14.
One of the rare times the city rejected an application for a large family day care was in 2007 when residents of Mesa Vista Court appealed the increase of a day care facility on their block from 8 to 14 children. This was in a neighborhood with little street parking, a narrow section of road, and in addition, a blind cul-de-sac.
A friend of mine who lives on Mesa Vista Court recalled their appeal to the City Council in a recent email to me, "We already have a large family day care at the top of our court and this one was to be at the very bottom of the court. It was 10 feet over the footage limit. We also showed the council that it could be a safety issue cause we're a dog-legged court and there are blind corners and we have children that play on the court."
There were several conditions in the Mesa Vista Court decision that don't apply to the house on Ensenada. Ensenada is a through street not a cul-de-sac. It's a wide street with enough parking for parents to drop off children in the morning. There's a nearby group home that might be within 300', but it isn't another day care. So there's little reason to believe an appeal would change the decision.
My neighborhood is one of the older parts of San Ramon, build in the early 1970's. Many of the residents are the original homeowners, and as another friend on Estero pointed out, they are retired and don't want a lot of noisy children running around next door.
I told her that just because the permit allows up to 14 children doesn't mean there will be 14 children. The Large Family Day Care permit allows more than 8 children, but there are additional requirements on the number of children of a certain age or educational level for 12 or more.
Health & Safety Code 1597.46 (2) also requires day care homes to meet local noise abatement laws, "Any noise standards shall be consistent with local noise ordinances implementing the noise element of the general plan and shall take into consideration the noise level generated by children."
My friend thought the owners of the day care should meet with the neighbors and go over their plans. She thought the opposition was mainly because the neighbors don't know these new people yet, and the situation could be improved with a meeting to get to know each other and get their concerns out in the open.
That sounds like a very good idea, and I hope the owners of the large family day care will work with their neighbors to ease their fears. Often the fear of change increases resistance to it and learning more about what the real changes are rather than fearing the worst can help reduce the fear and opposition.
I also believe the State laws on large family day care should be tightened up a little more. As my friend on Mesa Vista Court said in her email, "I think the law needs to be re-written to only allow one on a cul-de-sac but unless someone takes that on, it will never happen."
I would add that there should not be more than one family day care, group home, or community care facility of any kind in the same 300' radius. These changes must happen at the State level, so the question is who will take it on?