The Sad Saga of Gramercy Court
Gramercy Court is a nursing home located in the Cottage Creek neighborhood. Its establishment was approved via a Use Permit issued in March of 1987 after a series of contentious Planning Commission and Board of Supervisor meetings. The neighborhood felt the project posed significant harm to the neighborhood, to the point that it stimulated the formation of the neighborhood association. The facility is the only nursing home in Sacramento County completely surrounded by RD-5 single family homes. It lacks an internal perimeter road -- commonly used at similar facilities as a buffer for adjacent land uses in addition to the obvious circulation function. The Association sought to minimize the intrusive effects of the project on the neighborhood and cited concerns about the way the County let the buildings play havoc with setback requirements, visual impacts and traffic/parking. Of course, the impacted neighborhood was accused, by the developer and non-resident camp followers, of NIMBYism and vilified for hatred of old people. Eventually the Neighborhood Association was successful at getting the buildings reduced to single-story construction. But it was unable to convince the County to require the usual concrete masonry unit perimeter wall. A 6-ft high wooden fence was allowed instead because it would be "better looking". By now the fence has been in place for over a quarter century -- and shows its age.
At the time of construction, the County had not provided sidewalks along the northern side of Cottage Way between Gramercy (renamed from Parkwood) and Weldon. Because the project effectively cut one side of the neighborhood off from the other and had made walking to/from school awkward and unsafe, the Use Permit stipulated that E-W through-access for pedestrians would be maintained. The Use Permit also stipulated that the facility was limited to 175 convalescent hospital beds consisting of 120 convalescent beds and 55 assisted living beds, plus an adult day care center and an outpatient physical therapy center that would serve no more than 10 patients per day.
The California Department of Public Health regulates nursing homes. From the facility's complaint file, one might glean that Gramercy has not been the best place for your Mom or Dad. It has been cited or fined for things like patient deaths, falls and sexual abuse. And it's federal slate hasn't been exactly stellar: Gramercy Court was issued a federal deficiency in 2014 after a nurse failed to properly report that a resident had threatened to shoot the facility’s administrator. Still, the facility has existed for many years now, and it has arguably fulfilled some needs, given the overall shortage of such facilities vs. the ongoing growth of the elderly population. Its current rating from Medicare says the health care is below average, the staffing is above average and the quality of resident care is average.
Over the years the neighbors have come to mostly tolerate the facility. The noise from ambulances and heavy equipment backup-beeping remain troublesome, as does the facility's failure to maintain the wooden fence (in 2017 a large section of the fence fell down onto the lawn of an elderly neighbor). For the most part, the neighbors have accepted that they got burned and have realized there is little or nothing they can do about it. Life has moved on.
But the situation has not been static. Not long after the facility opened, the County somewhat magically found money to build a sidewalk along Cottage, such that the need for pedestrian through-access went away -- not that anyone walked the twisting, confusing path through the site anyway. Eventually the school district made Cottage School a district-wide Montessori School, thereby eliminating the rationale for pedestrian through-access at the site. Nowadays, sometimes the gates just sit there wide open, giving full view to "no trespassing" signs in the facility. Apparently due to neighbors' complaints, facility management locked one of the gates shut; some high weeds are now growing up through the asphalt at that part of the fence.
By 2016, the ownership of the facility had changed hands. Along the way some mission creep had occurred such that the facility was offering 30 more assisted living beds than allowed under the use permit. (In a 7/19/2017 letter to neighbors, the Administrator, Mr. Dan Bushnell, said the facility served an average of 200 patients. The Use Permit only authorizes 185.) The new owners also added an unpermitted function at the site, specifically clinical education classes for students seeking to become Licensed Vocational Nurses. Those additional factors resulted in severe parking problems for the adjacent neighborhood. Instead of handling its parking needs on site, the facility has let staff and students and other customers park on neighborhood streets. Some of those streets turn out to be quite narrow when cars are parked on both sides, which has led to vehicular circulation difficulties for neighborhood traffic -- including emergency vehicles and largish delivery and utility vehicles. Parking in the neighborhood by workers and students also resulted in litter (lunches, smoke breaks and medical waste) and even a few somewhat-theatrical shouting matches among facility staff having relationship issues. The workers have been observed changing their clothes at their cars -- perhaps understandable, but not necessarily what residents deserve to see out their front windows. Given that the facility created dead-end stubs at five streets, with open gates at three of the stubs and no barrier at a fourth street, these have not been trivial problems. The facility has acknowledged the problems and offered to encourage staff and students to not park in front of certain houses if the neighbors so request, but that "solution" has merely moved the parking problem to other parts of the neighborhood.
Clearly the remaining two pedestrian gates need to be restricted to emergency use only and/or a neighborhood parking program needs to be instituted to allow residents and their visitors to freely park on the residential streets while restricting parking by staff of, students at, and visitors to the facility. Such a parking program has been established at the Del Dayo neighborhood near William Pond Park at the end of Arden Way, so there is no reason why the County could not do something similar for the residences around the facility.
Meanwhile, the County has been reluctant to engage over Gramercy and the neighbors have been losing patience. The Neighborhood Association's initial written request for a meeting with Susan Peters' staff was turned down. The Parking Police have told neighbors they cannot leave their waste cans on the street (an anti-parking tactic) day in and day out. As the situation has been progressing, staff of some County departments have met with some neighbors, but not with all immediately impacted neighbors or with the Neighborhood Association. Ms. Peters' office has been keeping its distance. An ultimate resolution to the problems is not in sight.
When you think about how the facility was established and has evolved, it is plain to see this has been no way to treat a community. It is clearly not respectful of the neighborhood. The County's actions have consistently accommodated the business while always treating the neighborhood as immaterial. A real case can be made now about the facility having created a public nuisance -- which would require invalidation of the Use Permit. One could also argue that continued operation of the facility in this manner is impacting the value of people's homes. You wouldn't see this kind of thing be allowed to happen -- let alone drag on so long -- with the public held at arms' length, if the elected-official-to-constituent ratio was more like 1/20,000 (if Arden Arcade was a city) instead of the current 1/306,000 under municipal rule by the Board of Supervisors. This blog will try to keep readers abreast of the situation as it proceeds. Stay tuned.