Controversial Narconon facility to face public hearing Tuesday
This story appeared in the Antelope Valley Press on Saturday, July 22, 2006.
By LISA WAHLA HOWARD
Valley Press Staff Writer
The head of Narconon International says Bouquet Canyon is a great place to
open a drug rehab center. But some neighbors strongly disagree, citing state
records to back up their opposition.
The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors will have a public hearing
Tuesday morning in downtown Los Angeles on plans for the Scientology-based
drug rehabilitation program in Leona Valley.
Narconon Southern California plans to turn an abandoned boarding school on
Bouquet Canyon Road into a rehab center for 66 people, people Narconon
refers to as "clients." Stays at the facilities typically last several
months and cost some $20,000.
Clark Carr, president of Narconon International, said the Bouquet Canyon
location is well-suited for what would be the first Narconon facility in the
county in 10 years, after another facility moved to Orange County.
"It is a very good location to do drug rehabilitation, both for people
wanting to spend three to four months studying, taking vitamins and getting
healthy, and we feel it's right in terms of how the neighbors are spread
out, in a relatively isolated location," Carr said.
Treatment consists of studying life, communication and learning skills, as
well as taking vitamins and using a sauna for "sweating toxins out of the
body," he said.
But nearby resident Andria Witmer and others say the location is wrong, and
find past state violations at other Narconon centers troubling.
After the Los Angeles County Regional Planning Commission OK'd Narconon's
conditional-use permit application in March, county Supervisor Michael D.
Antonovich, whose 5th District includes the Antelope Valley, requested the
Board of Supervisors review the project.
Antonovich aide Norm Hickling said the supervisor's action was propelled by
the amount of discussion in the community and questions about the adequacy
of the conditions put on the project by the commission.
"Many things have been talked about regarding public safety, traffic safety,
access to emergency medical care, accessibility of emergency medical care
during times of inclement weather," Hickling said.
On the commission's conditions, Hickling said, questions related to, "Were
they adequate, do they need to be enhanced and added to, and looking at the
size of the population that could be at the facility at one time, what kind
of security measures need to be in place?"
Traffic conditions related to winding Bouquet Canyon Road also came up, he
said, regarding the possible need for a deceleration lane and turning
Witmer, who lives not far from the site, said her research into Narconon's
other facilities show it would be a bad fit for the neighborhood.
Through public records obtained from the state Department of Alcohol and
Drug Programs, Witmer uncovered numerous violations substantiated by state
investigators, including findings of alcohol on the premises and a lack of
tuberculosis testing of staff and clients.
"Complaints found substantiated by ADP included operating without a license,
staff members and addicts leaving the facility to go drinking, staff members
and addicts having sex, storing alcohol on the premises, male and female
addicts being housed together, addicts not being tested for TB and having
nonqualified staff," said Witmer, who has organized the state documents into
a coded binder.
The alcohol storage violation was noted in January 2003 at the
organization's Newport Beach facility, which also was the subject of
violations regarding improper handling of drugs and opening an adjacent
location without a license.
The violation regarding staff members and clients leaving the facility to
obtain alcohol came from a February 2003 investigation of Narconon's
The Northern California location also was found to house male and female
clients without adequate privacy, in June 2004 and August 2004; and staff
members were found to have had sex with clients in an April 2004
In addition, the Watsonville facility was found to be providing care to
adolescent males at an unlicensed facility.
Violations relating to a lack of tuberculosis testing were found at the
Newport Beach and Watsonville locations.
"With all these past violations, we're supposed to expect them to be good
neighbors and follow the CUP rules?" she asked. "They're not credible."
Carr, however, said all violations were quickly resolved and the
organization passed two recent unannounced inspections with flying colors.
"Every Narconon center in California and in the United States is licensed
and in full compliance with the law," he said. "We have a very good working
relationship with the Department of Alcohol and Drug programs for decades
here. When deficiencies are found sometimes, we comply quickly. We're
working really hard with our management of Narconon, and within the last
month, two surprise inspections found zero deficiencies."
Of the specific violation regarding staff members drinking with a client,
Carr said the staff members were dismissed immediately, and the facility's
executive staff was disciplined.
"We take this very seriously," he said.
Witmer also believes Narconon failed to reach out to residents of Bouquet
Canyon, as the group was instructed by the Planning Commission. Narconon
staff members attended local town council meetings, but Witmer said some
residents of upper Bouquet Canyon have Saugus mailing addresses and work in
Santa Clarita or Los Angeles and do not follow the activities of the town
Carr said that residents don't need to worry about the clients of the
facility because the high price tag ensures residents choose to come.
"It's a voluntary admission program. They may have had a DUI or something,
but they are not court-ordered to attend the program," he said.
"People who come here have to pay $20,000 to $25,000, … This is the program
they want to do, so we have a very good success rate."
Carr said three out of four clients who graduate from the program stay off
drugs or alcohol "permanently."
He said that statistic is based on one- to two-year studies done by the
center staff members, and Narconon hopes in the future to do longitudinal
"I definitely stand by that statistic," he said. "This is not theoretical
Based on the ADP documents, Witmer doubts the truth of the idea that
Narconon clients pay their own way and come by their own choice.
Documents show numerous examples of disgruntled parents complaining about
the treatment received by their children, whose stays they paid for. Other
documents show evidence of clients who came in to the treatment centers high
on drugs or who were "oppositional" to coming.
Carr said that if a client's family paid for the stay, the client would
still feel an obligation to attend to the treatment.
"Supervisor Antonovich expects a very long and lively debate at the Board of
Supervisors' hearing come Tuesday," Hickling said.