The aggrieved residents of Dublin flocked to last week's city council meeting to make their case against that most irritating, if helpless, of foes: small children.
For more than two hours, neighbors of Dina Yaroshevskaya, who runs a day-care facility for one-to-five-year-olds out of her home, took turns telling city leaders why her plan to increase the number of kids she cares for from six to twelve should be stopped.
With a statewide day-care shortage of some 2.8 million spots, it is a scene played out every few months at local public meetings throughout the East Bay and beyond: In-home day-care providers seeking permission to look after more kids are confronted by angry neighbors who accuse them of harming their quality of life.
By state law, anyone can care for up to eight children at home without a land-use permit or business license. But a day-care proprietor who wants to accept more kids has to get local permission, in the form of a conditional-use permit.
And so, like alternating soloists in a grand choir, Yaroshevskaya's neighbors stood last week before their elected officials, who were hearing her appeal of the city planning commission's earlier denial.
They offered variations on a few simple themes: Think of the noise. Think of the parking. Think of the traffic. And think of the strangers coming into the neighborhood, compromising our safety and driving down our property values. "It will be very difficult to sell my house with a large day-care center next door," Sheila Brandes lamented.
Allowing Miss Dina's Day Care to expand, neighbor Jing Firmeza went so far as to claim, would be a violation of Article 12 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. "I want you to think about that before you vote," he implored the council.
Sitting near the front and taking it all in was Ellen Dektar of the Alameda County Child Care Planning Center, for whom this spectacle was nothing new. When her turn came to speak, Dektar approached the podium and laid out her set of facts with cool bureaucratic detachment.
First, she explained, Dublin has a disproportionate number of two-parent households with children under the age of six who require childcare. According to a report published by her agency in June, Alameda County is short 3,100 day-care spots for infants and toddlers, and that number is projected to increase to 3,600 by 2010.
As for questions of traffic and parking, Dektar pointed out that the average pick-up and drop-off times for children are in the range of five minutes in the morning and seven minutes in the evening.
Dektar's position in government precludes her from out-and-out endorsing any particular facility. But her talking points, along with support for the daycare from a minority of Yaroshevskaya's neighbors, were not lost on Councilwoman Kasie Hildenbrand, herself the mother of an eight-year-old whose struggles to find a good place to leave her daughter during the workday a few years ago are still fresh in her mind.
Picking up where Dektar left off, Hildenbrand pointed out that finding space at places like Miss Dina's where children are taught, as opposed to simply babysat, is no easy feat. She then gave the assembled crowd of constituents a good old-fashioned shaming. "It is really unfortunate that you are putting this woman through all of this grief for providing a service to the community that is absolutely essential," the councilwoman said. "This is a Not in My Back Yard issue, and it's really unfortunate."
Although Hildenbrand's view carried the day, with the council voting four to one to approve Yaroshevskaya's expansion, the intensity of the fracas demonstrated the work Dektar and others will face in convincing prickly neighbors that childcare in their midst is a good thing.
Patty Siegel, executive director of the California Child Care Resource & Referral Network, says low profit margins associated with caring for kids in the home makes expanding a six-to-eight-child facility into a twelve-to-fourteen-child one tempting to many providers. But given the bureaucratic hurdles and neighborhood scorn some choose to stay as they are. This keeps supply limited, and causes some smaller providers to go belly-up for lack of income. "Neighbor fear is something that we've all been trying to figure out, how to deal with it," she says.
For Yaroshevskaya, a native of Russia with the strong accent and bottomless appreciation of the democratic process to prove it, the story is a happier one. The day after the meeting, she said, two neighbors came by to express support and wish her luck.
She is taking steps to win over the rest by complying with the council's requests to add a parking space in her driveway, clear out room for more parking in her garage, and have the kids play in her backyard in shifts. "I am going to do what I can for them not to be angry with me," she said of her neighbors.
Regarding property values, she acknowledges, "I can't help them with this issue." However, she muses, "Maybe some parents will buy their house and have kids and be happy I am here."
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