Categorized | Your Community, Culture, Education

A New Neighbor in El Cerrito

Student kayak trip to Angel Island.


El Cerrito residents may soon have a new neighbor. The Living Skills Center for the Visually Impaired, currently located in San Pablo, is considering moving to the city of El Cerrito in order to provide a higher quality of life for its students.

“El Cerrito is a community on the move,” says the center’s director Patricia Williams, who has been involved with the organization for 36 years.

A former instructor, Williams says that she’s wanted to build a new site since she became director in 1995. For over a year now, the organization has focused on El Cerrito because of its central location plus its safe and friendly community.

On Sept. 15 the El Cerrito City Council voted for a mixed-use project on Portola Drive between San Pablo and the Ohlone Greenway. This project, managed by Resources for Community Development, a non-profit affordable housing development company, would combine the Living Skills Center with 57 affordable rental apartments, according to the organization’s proposal.

El Cerrito officials chose the Living Skills Center’s project over another proposal from Satellite Housing, Inc., which would have catered to a developmentally disabled population. That proposal would have built affordable housing at the Connor’s Doors site on 10919 San Pablo Avenue.

The city council approved a $100,000 loan to Resources for Community Development to assist the organization with predevelopment expenses. Both Resources for Community Development and Living Skills Center must work on securing funds, as well as final approvals from the City Council and Planning Commission, before they can begin projected construction in October 2010.

According to Williams, partnering with an affordable housing developer allows Living Skills Center to provide the best quality of life to its students, while the major task of maintenance will be left to Resources for Community Development.

For Living Skills Center, the joint agreement means, “still having part ownership and some control over accessibility issues, safety, and student rents,” according to the organization’s proposal.

Living Skills Center was founded by Dr. Philip Hatlen in 1972 to assist blind youth in their transition from home into the outer communities. It was his vision to form a program where students live by their own means to learn independence. Classes like cooking, adaptive technology, cane travel skills and Braille fill up each student’s day so at the end of their year-long stay, the students can handle daily tasks with little assistance.

Currently, the organization operates out of a complex in San Pablo where it rents nine apartments to house its 18 students, who come from around the country.

According to the organization, 87 percent of students “move on to live independent, fulfilling lives.”

Now, after 36 years, Williams says that the organization needs a change and more importantly, its own property in order to have more control over the quality and maintenance of the services it provides to its students.

The site on Portola drive is ideal, says Williams, because it’s “tucked away a little,” but still has access to two BART stations as well as Safeway and Longs Pharmacy.

Williams says she will go door-to-door to meet her El Cerrito neighbors if the city council gives final approval for their move. She says the Living Skills Center “will make a concerted effort to be good community citizens.”

If all goes well, Living Skills Center will move into to their new home in January 2012.

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