Meeting turns to protest against Honor Farm
By Kelly Feser Eells
Monday night was a bad night
for door-to-door salesmen, at least any salesmen working the
unincorporated Ojai Valley - Mira Monte, Meiners Oaks, and the
neighborhoods bordering the Ojai Honor Farm, in particular.
Indeed, the doors closest to this (recently shuttered) facility
were the doors least likely to be answered.
That's probably because most of the nearly 100 people attending
Monday night's Municipal Advisory Council meeting described themselves
as living either "a stone's throw away" or "right
down the street" from the old Honor Farm, which is currently
being considered for use as a mental health facility.
Supervisor Steve Bennett - whose
suggestion that the 117-acre property be converted into housing
for the mentally ill prompted the study now under way - thanked
the standing-room-only crowd for its attendance; fielded a volley
of questions; and asked everyone to leave their names and contact
information before they went home.
"We're going to have a lot more of these meetings,"
Bennett said, emphasizing the fact that, "this (feasibility
study) will be an open process, and all that's being proposed
right now is that the review of the Honor Farm be public."
Council chair Jim Perkins noted that, due to the size of the
audience and the number of people wishing to speak, a three-minute
time limit on comments would be strictly enforced.
With the exception of Ojai resident Rick Raine - the lone voice
of support - opposition to the proposed project ran from fierce
to merely skeptical.
"I used to work at the Honor Farm," said Jerry George.
"And the noise levels (generated by maintenance and other
facility operations) were much too loud. Where's the consideration
for all the families living in this neighborhood?"
George added that he "didn't know if NIMBY (not in my back
yard) is appropriate in this case, but I'd recommend this be
turned into a botanical garden park," a suggestion met with
hearty cheers and applause.
Mira Monte resident Glen Fishera said that, though he had only
one concern, "It's a major one: Why isn't this going to
be a secure facility? While I understand the need for housing
for the mentally ill, the primary responsibility of the government
is protecting everyone." He went on to explain that such
facilities weren't bound by the same legal responsibilities as
jails were, "and that, after 72 hours, they, the people
living in these facilities, can just walk away. I say to the
supervisors here, if you start this movement, you're not looking
out for the best interests of us - your constituents."
Raine, who runs the Ojai Valley Homeless Shelter, asked the audience
to consider the fact that "we already have mentally ill
people living here. People shouldn't be punished for that. And
if this facility were to offer on-site counseling, case management,"
and other professional services, security wouldn't be an issue.
"There are people living in this valley, some of them children
- and some of them probably your own children - well, if we turn
these people away now, where will they be later?"
Meiners Oaks resident Carol Yates
said, "Irrespective of the budget debacle in Sacramento,
our budget problems here in Ventura County are our own,"
indicating that it was unfair of the county to mismanage its
budget and expect the taxpayers' support for doing so. "I
hear they're building a similar facility in Coalinga; couldn't
the county contract with themor is that too far?"
Raine, to whom Yates had directed
her closing comments, replied by saying, "please direct
this, your concerns, to the board, not me."
Acknowledging that Raine was
the only audience member voicing any support for the project,
Yates smiled and said, "Sorry if that makes you uncomfortable."
Bonmark Street resident Eric
Williams introduced himself as "as concerned parent. I'm
here, basically, because I'm scared," said Williams. "It
wasn't so long ago that Kali Manley was abducted right up the
street at the Circle K. Bad things DO happen here, and though
there might be worse things than having such a facility here,
well, I am a bit scared about it."
Deidre Daly "lives directly
above the honor farm" and was equally concerned. "I
want to be Christian about this," said Daly, pointing to
the fact that four percent of the county's mentally ill population
is "our responsibility, but my biggest fear is for our children's
Dan Duvee, another former honor
farm employee, said that, though security was a priority for
jail staff, "people did escape. And the way I see it, public
safety should be our prime concern."
Cher Austin was similarly concerned
with safety. "I work at the Main Street Vons in Ventura,
and I deal with a lot of homeless people in that area. When they
come in for beer at 6:00 am, and when they're denied, well, it
can be scary. You never know when they're going to get angry
or come at you, especially the ones not taking their meds."
Bennett assured the audience
that a "244-patient unlocked facility is NOT my proposal.
I've heard some very important things tonight, and I appreciate
both the facts that you want to do the Christian thing but, at
the same time, you're frightened. All of these concerns are valid,"
Bennett said, adding that "this conception that there's
going to be all these mentally ill people roaming the streets
of the Ojai Valley, well, that's certainly not like anything
I proposed. And it certainly wouldn't be acceptable."
Riki Strandfeldt quipped, "yeah,
but there's four other supervisors who'd love to see them here."
"Maybe," said Bennett.
"But right now we're only talking about a study. And I assure
you that I, too, have real concerns about an unlocked facility."
Strandfeldt noted that, concerns
notwithstanding, "the law was made for the mentally ill.
They can walk after 72 hours; this isn't a jail we're talking
about. The county won't (and legally, cannot) providing the necessary
security and is, essentially, putting our neighborhood in danger."
All because it needs and the
county isn't going to be able to (legally) to provide any security."
Councilmember Lanie Springer
said, "I want you all to know something about Mr. Bennett.
If it hadn't been for him, we'd have 26 houses where we now have
a budding community center," said Springer, referring to
the direction Bennett provided Oak View's Community Works! project.
"Mr. Bennett is great," she smiled; "so please
don't get angry with him" - a comment met with a hearty
round of applause.
The Ojai Valley News
to the news
out in droves to oppose proposal to create mental health facility.