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Methadone clinic angers residents of Modesto neighborhood

Modesto residents along a well-kept, tree-lined street near downtown say there is one neighbor they wish would move: the methadone clinic at the end of the block.

They say some of the clinic's clients have blocked driveways with their cars, dumped trash into their gutters and sideswiped parked cars as they race down the narrow street.

Residents also are tired of the congestion that comes from the 100 to 150 cars that drive to the clinic daily, the occasional fights and bad language.

Aegis Medical Systems, which runs the clinic at McHenry and Modesto avenues, says it's addressing the concerns and wants to be a good neighbor. And while the clinic is looking for another facility with more parking, it's not moving anytime soon.

"We'll be there until we move to a different place," said Stephen Maulhardt, executive vice president of Aegis, which operates 25 clinics statewide. "What we call this is NIMBY: not in my back yard."

But the Modesto Avenue residents have at least one ally at City Hall. Councilman Dave Lopez said he was touched by the appeals from the clinic's neighbors at a recent council meeting.

He visited the neighborhood on two mornings after the meeting and was appalled by the traffic, large numbers of people milling in front of the clinic and parents telling him they didn't feel safe letting their kids play in their front yards.

"The methadone clinic is creating a nuisance in that neighborhood, and we're responsible for that neighborhood," he said.

Seeking solutions

Modesto Police Chief Mike Harden has set up a meeting next month for the neighborhood and Aegis to see if they can come up with some solutions.

Aegis has operated its narcotic treatment program at the site for at least a decade. Besides dispensing methadone to recovering heroin and drug addicts on a daily, weekly and biweekly basis, it provides them with counseling, case management and therapy.

"We really do a lot of good work here," clinic manager Steven Dekok said.

His comments were echoed Thursday by several clients.

"It saved my life," said Turlock resident Charlene Keeton, who said she was a heroin addict for 30 years. "I'm not sick. I don't have to run the streets. I don't have to steal. I can buy a car. I have credit. I live a normal life except I need to take medication. My medication is methadone."

But the clinic has become busier in the past year as the number of clients has grown to 520. It also is offering more services to its clients. But Dekok denied rumors that the clinic is going to add 200 more clients, saying the clinic is authorized to serve as many as 550 clients.

Modesto Avenue residents don't deny the clinic's value, just that it doesn't belong at one end of a short, narrow residential street of 17 homes.

The clinic is open seven days a week and serves 200 to 300 patients a day, Dekok said. It's open from 5:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. weekdays and 6 to 9 a.m. weekends. Its client parking lot has 28 spaces.

"Over the course of the years, sadly to say, I've gotten used to it," said Julie Hazelbaker, who has lived on Modesto Avenue for 9½ years. "Not that I like it. I can't stand it. They should have never been in a residential neighborhood in the first place."

Modesto Avenue resident Fred Manuel had a hit-and-run driver plow into his father-in-law's 1998 Lincoln parked on the street April 6. The impact was so great that the Lincoln smashed into the rear of Manuel's Jeep.

Modesto police cited Mo- desto resident Tommy Padilla, 72, on suspicion of misdemeanor hit-and-run and driving under the influence.

A police spokesman said Padilla told officers he had been at the clinic 20 minutes to take his methadone before they stopped him. The spokesman said officers found a prescription bottle of valium in Padilla's pocket and he exhibited signs of being intoxicated from alcohol.

Aegis officials say privacy laws bar them from confirming or denying whether someone is a client so they would have no comment.

Four other Modesto Avenue residents said they have had their cars damaged by hit-and-run drivers heading to or from the clinic. At least twice, the clinic security guard found the driver and brought him to the homeowner, residents said.

The manager of the Midas auto shop across the street from the clinic is towing the cars of clinic clients who park in his lot, often blocking the entrance. He also has banned them from his bathroom.

"They get indignant," Mike Kotowski said. "They are trying to fix their drugs in my bathroom."

Could others be to blame?

Aegis' Dekok and Maul- hardt questioned whether all the problems fall on their clients. They said low-income residents from nearby Section 8 housing could be to blame.

Dekok, who has been at the clinic for nearly three years, said residents have not kept him fully informed, and Aegis is taking action now that he's aware of their concerns.

Aegis has rented nearby parking for its 27 workers so clients can use the Aegis parking lot, and the security guard is asking clients not to park in front of homes and to enter and leave the clinic from McHenry and not from Johnson Street, which takes them past the homes.

"I'm a very solution-oriented person," he said. "That's what good neighbors do. I can't take action if someone does not bring something to my attention."

Bee staff writer Kevin Valine can be reached at kvaline@modbee.com or 578-2316.

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