Bennett gets earful at own public meet
By Kelly Feser Eells
At the July 7 Municipal Advisory
Council meeting, Supervisor Steve Bennett assured a standing-room-only
audience that Ventura County's preliminary study of the Ojai
Honor Farm's potential as housing for the mentally ill would
be "an open process."
True to his word, Bennett has already convened the first - of
what he emphasizes will be many - "public dialogues"
on the subject, held last Tuesday night at the Oak View Community
He welcomed yet another standing-room-only crowd, pleased to
see a mix of both familiar and new faces: "Apathy is the
worst thing that can happen to a community."
Bennett explained that, in addition to taking public comments,
he planned on addressing some of the questions raised at the
July 7 MAC meeting, especially the "issue of security. A
number of you were concerned that there would be mentally ill
people walking along Rice Avenue (should this facility be built.)
There were also concerns about the range and time frame of this
'planning' process," said Bennett, adding that no final
decisions would be made "without taking all of your input"
Dan Dube's concerns were economical. "The state is $39 billion
in debt," he said. "When the sheriff's department had
the facility, they were paying $900,000 a year in rent"
- which apparently, they can no longer afford. "And with
the $2 million projected for renovations, well, where's this
money going to come from? How does this project make any sense?"
Deidre Daly worried that, if the facility did become housing
for the mentally ill, "is that what it stays," a concern
echoed by Riki Strandfeldt.
"The property's currently zoned open space," said Strandfeldt.
"I'd assume it would require a zoning change. And, if so,
would there be a public vote?"
Bennett noted that, while it was a "good question,"
he did not yet have an answer.
Glen Fishera said that, though he had a number of questions,
he was primarily concerned with the County's policy of "curbside
"It's 'see you later,' Fishera said, explaining that, "once
a person's released (from the County's Camarillo-based mental
health facility) that's it. There's no transportation, no nothing.
They just walk. And if they do make it here, well, they're being
shipped from the easternmost part of the county to the westernmost,
and that's just unfair. To them and to us. Whether you call them
homeless or not, you're taking them away from the only home they
Fishera added that, "iI this was to become a conservatorship-type
facility, and there's talk that it might, that would be wonderful.
But if that permit lapses then what? My concern is community
safety. It's important that we take care of our mentally ill,
but we should be guaranteed that this facility won't have an
open-door policy," he said, earning an appreciative round
Patty Perry, who, along with Kim Stroud, operates the non-profit
Raptor Center, suggested that there were "safer, more productive
uses for the property.
We do wildlife rehabilitation," said Perry, "as a community
service. And we've been looking for (such a) property. I think
it would be a much better use of it."
Several audience members agreed, wondering why this and similar
suggestions - including the possibility of turning the property
into a combined youth/wildlife rehabilitation center - weren't
being actively explored.
Bennett allowed that, while he, too, thought such proposals had
merit, "the county can't afford to maintain the 24 parks
it has now. Also, please keep in mind that county government
is mandated to take care of these people, the mentally ill, and,
yes: it's high on the list (of the supervisors') priorities."
However, "there are a lot of people interested in housing
for the mentally ill who aren't in County government."
Including Kristin Belshe, who said that "my first thought
when I heard about this (proposal) was, 'What a great idea.'
Then, when I read that hardly anybody was for it, I thought,
'I've got to go to that, tonight's, meeting.'" Belshe added
that she hoped the community would demonstrate more "support
and love" (in the future).
One unidentified audience member
noted that, "just because we're against this facility where
it is, doesn't mean we're insensitive to the plight of the mentally
Lori Zimmermann, who leads a
grassroots neighborhood group called "Committee for Honor
Farm Options," concurred. "I just want to make sure
it's known that we're not against anything. We just want to make
sure people are informed and that the community knows what's
going on. Range, scope; if this is to become housing for the
mentally ill, what kind, exactly? There a re a lot of different
types of facilities. The current Conditional Use Permit, for
example, allows for 460 inmates; that's a lot of people."
Bennett stated that the laws
governing such facilities were entirely different, and that "fewer
than half, maybe even one third" that number of people would
be housed. "Also, I did say at the last meeting that the
one thing I'd oppose was a 247-bed unlocked facility, where a
patient could walk right out along Rice Avenue. I still oppose
However, the County's study,
he conceded, "could include a look" at this type of
"I have to be honest with
you," Bennett smiled. "Politically, it would have been
very expedient for me to not touch this with a ten-foot pole.
But I don't think you'd have wanted me to not even have taken
a look at it. And that's all we're doing right now, is taking
a look. That's all I asked for."
As to the length of the study,
Bennett said it is being done in stages, and that the "earliest
it could be concluded was the fall. There's to be a legal analysis,
a feasibility analysis - including full engineering reports,
etc. - and then a financial analysis. And that's going to be
the primary thing holding this up, what's going to take the longest.
With the budget crisis, well, fall is the very earliest these
studies could come together."
The Ojai Valley News
to the news