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Wednesday, March 20 , 2019, 3:32 am | Overcast 54º

 
 
 
 
Advice

Santa Barbara County Mental-Health Crisis Unit Site OK’d by Santa Maria Planners

Neighbors expess concerns about West Agnes Avenue location for stabilization facility

A Santa Barbara County facility for people in the midst of mental-health crises will be housed in this building at 116 W. Agnes Ave. following approval this week by the Santa Maria Planning Commission.
A Santa Barbara County facility for people in the midst of mental-health crises will be housed in this building at 116 W. Agnes Ave. following approval this week by the Santa Maria Planning Commission. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

A Santa Barbara County facility for people in the midst of mental-health crises narrowly received the blessing of the Santa Maria Planning Commission on Wednesday night.

The panel voted 3-2 to determine a Santa Barbara County Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Services facility at 110 and 116 W. Agnes Ave. conforms with the city General Plan.

However, a neighbor and other residents spoke out against the proposed location and its potential effects on the homes nearby.

County staff said the facility would house as many as eight mental-health clients on a short-term basis — up to 23 hours each — on a voluntary basis, in addition to staff. 

“The question really is do you think there are land-use conflicts this would create,” city Planning Division Manager Peter Gilli told the commission.

Commissioners Adrian Andrade, Rodger Brown and Fred Quigley supported the finding that the project is consistent with city planning laws.

“I think the city of Santa Maria needs to open its arms and accept this project,” Andrade said. “I think to do otherwise really is playing politics, so I would support it.”

Chairman Robert Dickerson disagreed as did Commissioner Maribel Aguilera-Hernandez. 

Alice Cleghorn, director of Santa Barbara County Alcohol, Drugs, and Mental Health Services, and Laura Zeitz, housing development manager, spoke Wednesday night to the Santa Maria Planning Commission. Click to view larger
Alice Cleghorn, director of Santa Barbara County Alcohol, Drugs, and Mental Health Services, and Laura Zeitz, housing development manager, spoke Wednesday night to the Santa Maria Planning Commission. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

“I just think that we need to find a better place that doesn’t impact the local residents,” Dickerson said, adding that he agrees the services are needed in the community.

The county is purchasing the property at 116 W. Agnes, which includes a 3,100-square-foot building previously used as a child-care facility from 1993 to 2014. 

The property at 110 W. Agnes is undeveloped and abuts an alley. Plans call for paving and landscaping the site for parking. 

The Santa Maria meeting came hours after county officials celebrated the opening of a South Coast Crisis Stabilization Unit that will be similar to one proposed for Santa Maria, Laura Zeitz, housing development manager with ADMHS.

“We control the admissions to the facility,” Zeitz said, adding that voluntary patients would be referred to the facility by a mobile crisis team and pre-screened to ensure it would be an appropriate location for them.

Clients would be on a voluntary basis with social work, medical, psychiatric and other services available.

“This service is an expansion of our continuum of services to provide crisis care for people who are in distress,” said Alice Gleghorn, ADMHS director.

Currently, the county has limited options for a person experiencing a mental-health crisis. The level of care at a hospital is not necessarily an appropriate solution for most of the patients.

“This is a voluntary facility. This is where people consent to be to work on what has brought them to the crisis point and to resolve and stabilize those issues,” Cleghorn said.

In the past year, she said, grant funding has allowed the county to create a mobile crisis team to evaluate people in distress, with a triage team providing supplemental services and connecting patients with needed services to help resolve what may have led to the crisis. 

In Santa Maria in the last year, the crisis team served 674 individuals for more than a 1,000 visits.

“This will give us a place to serve them in a comfortable, home-like environment, with access to food, places to chill out, get support and be connected with resources in the community,” Cleghorn said. 

Patients would be driven to and from the site by the crisis response teams, with those leaving either taken to a clinic for further treatment or back home if stabilized.

“They’ll be escorted in and they’ll be escorted out,” Cleghorn said.

County officials said they found limited options to house the new facility when searching for available real estate.

Entrance to the building will be via the fenced parking lot off the alley, and not through the Agnes Avenue side of the building.

“We want to do what we can to have a minimal impact on the neighborhood, and we want to be self-contained,” Cleghorn said.

The proposed location for the clinic drew opposition from a neighbor and longtime resident, Velma Bondietti.

“I sure don’t want this right next to me,” she said. 

Nancy Stewart, who used to live in the neighborhood, said she was concerned about increased traffic generated by the clinic.

“There is no doubt in my mind that this facility is needed,” Stewart said. “I’m appreciative of the concept of it. The area definitely needs it. These people do need help, but I think this is the wrong place for it.”

Voluntary entrance into the facility means those in crisis could choose to flee, putting them at risk of running into busy traffic on nearby North Broadway, she added.

Frank Ricceri, associate director with Transitions-Mental Health Association, noted the concerns raised about a recovery learning facility on East Inger Drive. After opening, Ricceri said, an attorney who lived nearby said neighbors were delighted at how it operated.

“There’s not a lot of services, crisis or otherwise, for mental health in Santa Maria. It’s a growing population and we need these kind of facilities,” he said. “If you ever drive up or down Broadway, you will see people often looking like they’re struggling and they need a place to go.”

Charles Huffines, a county Mental Health Commission member, urged the planning panel to support the project.

“We need this very desperately,” he said.

City planning staff initially had concerns about the project, due to its proximity to a residential area, Gilli said. The building is across the street from apartments and adjacent to single-family houses.

But after talking to ADMHS representatives, and learning the nuances of the operation, Gilli said, city staff concerns were eased, leading to a recommendation the commission determine the facility is consistent with the General Plan.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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