Crime concerns emerge at Honor Farm meeting
By Kelly Eells
Committee for Honor Farm Options,
the grassroots neighborhood coalition formed in response to the
county's study on converting the old Honor Farm to housing for
the mentally ill, has been doing its homework. And it shared
it with a packed house Tuesday night during the "town meeting"
it sponsored in Chaparral High School's auditorium.
Nearly 150 local residents, as well as Supervisor Steve Bennett
- who, along with Supervisor Linda Parks, proposed the county's
current study - turned out for the committee's multi-panelist
Committee member Deidre Daly opened the meeting by introducing
herself as a three-and-a-half year resident of the valley, saying
she'd moved here from Santa Barbara "to find a safe place
to raise my children.
"We knew about the Honor Farm when we moved here,"
said Daly, explaining that, after researching her Mira Monte
neighborhood and asking around, "we were told that the only
'problem' (with the old jail) was possibly a pig manure odor.
Law enforcement officials and neighbors alike assured us there
were no escapes."
Continuing, Daly indicated that, not only would the proposed
facility have no such security measures in place but would "change
the face of the valley forever," she pointed out Bennett
in the audience and stated, "I, for one, feel cheated and
betrayed by our elected representative. He assured us that this
would be an open process, but we don't feel it has been."
First up to "share what we've learned" was committee
panelist and father-of-three, Glen Fichera, whose presentation
included overhead-projected charts outlining the recidivism and/or
escape rates for the "type of facility this could become.
"At both the MAC (Municipal Advisory Council) meeting and
the one Mr. Bennett called July 29," regarding his proposal,
"he assured everyone that the only kind of facility he would
support would be a locked one," said Fichera, "and
about halfway through that meeting, a lot of people were 'relieved'
But, he added, toward the end of the July 29 meeting, "and
during a private meeting we had with Mr. Bennett shortly thereafter,
we learned that this facility could, as he said, 'morph' into
something" he doesn't presently support. "He also admitted
that it could have a dual use somewhere down the line, that is,
it could become a facility for (considerably more than the) '40
to 60 people max' that he's proposed, but house 400 people with
who knows what kind of use.
"Mr. Bennett may be insistent on a locked facility,"
Fichera said, "but he still hasn't seen the CEO's report
yet; no one has. I asked a local law enforcement official about
what we could expect with the '5350' (a diagnostic designation
for mentally ill individuals requiring "conservatorship"
care, i.e., they are unable to make legally-binding decisions
for themselves) type of facility being proposed, and he said,
among many other things, 'a variety of calls for theft; battery;
criminal assaults, with the potential for extra calls made for
aggravated robbery; rape; and, in the worst case scenario, homicide.'
The bottom line is that, there will be a significant increase
in calls, and that this facility will create a burden, for sure"
on the already-overextended Sheriff's Department.
Fichera also noted that "three companies - all with vested
interests in the mental health field - have already done a walk-through"
of the grounds. This is happening so fast, and that's why I'm
Following a huge round of applause, committee member Riki Strandfeldt
identified herself as a longtime volunteer for the mentally ill
- citing her work with the Turning Point Foundation, a nonprofit
United Way Agency serving adults with disabling mental illness
- local Realtor-businessperson and parent. Strandfeldt urged
the audience to note that, " this study, which began as
what Mr. Bennett (and other supervisors) have called their 'vision'
for an, admittedly, disenfranchised population, comes without
She further urged the audience
to note that, "we, this committee, believe that this could
eventually become" a facility where the county "'warehouses'
all of its mentally ill - regardless of 'type.'
"Unless we, the neighbors
whose property is within 300 yards (of the Honor Farm property)
are notified about any possible CUP, Conditional Use Permit changes,
well, they can hold public hearings about" any existing
CUP modifications, "but once it's changed, from a jail to
a hospital, we can't go back."
Strandfeldt underscored the fact
that "hospital CUPs" are, by law, much more flexible
than those in place for prisons and/or jails, and that the property
is currently zoned 'Open Space 40.'
"No zoning change would
be required," said Strandfeldt, "if this property is
granted a CUP modification. Will we feel safe leaving our front
doors open? Can our children feel safe walking home from school
(if the property is approved for this sort of use)?
"We were told at the last
meeting on this subject - convened by Bennett - that 'we can
ask for a reduction in our property taxes," she added, a
remark met by a chorus of groans. Strandfeldt concluded by saying,
"Everyone's heard of the NIMBY, 'not in my back yard' factor.
Well, I've got a new acronym (for this proposal): NIAMBY, Not
in Anyone's Back Yard."
Strandfeldt, too, received a
huge round of applause, which was still dying out when committee
member Amy Hagen stood to speak. "When I heard that this,
the Honor Farm," she said, "was going to change, I
initially thought it was going to be a facility for the homeless.
Which, I thought, was great. Then I found out it might become
a locked facility for the mentally ill, like (Sylmar, California's)
Foothill Health and Rehabilitation Center," which is permitted
200 beds; is 'locked;' " and conservatees make up the primary
"I'd have no problem with
that kind of facility at the Honor Farm, either," said Hagen;
"but we don't know - and that's at the heart of the matter,
the fact that we don't know - what's going to be" approved
for the Honor Farm site.
Hagen, the mother of a 1-year-old
child, went on to describe potential uses for the property, none
of which have "officially" been ruled out. Housing
"for those on the state's Conditional Release Program, i.e.,
those declared not guilty by reason of insanity; the criminally
insane; those declared mentally incompetent (5350); sex offenders
that's the sort of institution this could be changed into. And
even though Mr. Bennett's office has assured me that only nonviolent
conservatees (wards of the state/5350s) would be 'supported,'
the county - well, once this is used as any kind of mental health
facility, it can change this, the sort I just described, or any
kind it wants."
Hagen further emphasized a point
made by committee members - and corroborated to some extent by
Bennett - in the past: The county has a vested interest in the
"Ventura County can only
make money on this. They just invested over a million dollars
in razor wire, security upgrades, etc. It's perfect for those
on the Conditional Release, that is, the criminally insane, program."
Hagen's presentation was also
met by a chorus of groans, albeit a less vocal one, this time
from a contingency of mental health professionals.
During the question-and-answer
portion of the meeting, Denae Jordan stood to say that she "understands
your - the audience's - fears. I've got (a caseload) of 55 schizophrenic
patients. And," she added, "they're less likely to
assault you than the general population.
"Moreover, I work with the
sickest (mentally ill) population in Santa Barbara, and I've
never been assaulted." One out of four people "are,
in fact, mentally ill" to some degree, said Jordan, whose
remarks were echoed by an unidentified female audience member:
"The smell of fear in this
room is overpowering - and that concerns me."
The woman went on to say,"Fear shouldn't take the place
of love in our hearts," then referred to a remark made by
Strandfeldt concerning property values. "And for those of
you who've expressed tonight your fears of lowered income and
'no place to retire to,' well "
Jordan reiterated her concerns
about "delineating between the mentally ill and the criminally
insane. It's all a stigma," anyway, she said, a statement
Jacqueline LeBourveau agreed with.
"Everyone here is compassionate,"
said LeBourveau. "I don't think we have to keep saying that.
But the thing I keep hearing that is monstrously incorrect is
the mentally ill, all mentally ill, being lumped into the same
category" as the criminally insane, etc.
Fichera said, "No, we haven't
been doing that. We've differentiated between the 72-hour patients
(5150s); the 14-day, 'review and treat' patients (5250s) and
the 5350s, people who've been designated a danger to themselves
While the majority of the audience
concurred with the committee that "little, if any, information"
has been made public, Bennett - who thanked the committee for
inviting him and giving him a "minute or two to reply"
- said, "While I agree with the (unidentified) gentleman
who said 'it's hard to find an honest politician,' I want to
emphasize that that this is the committee's meeting, not mine."
Bennett again thanked the committee
for the opportunity to speak, "and for being nice enough
to call my office and invite me," then said, "I wouldn't
have spoken (tonight) if I didn't think it was appropriate to
do so. And the one thing I do want to address is the, well, accusation,
that this hasn't been an open process. It has. There's a point
where it, the conversation, had to start, and we - my office
- well, we started it. If we hadn't," he smiled, "you'd
all be accusing the supervisors and me of doing this behind closed
To an attentive, if not downright
amused, audience, Bennett reiterated his opposition to a "curbside
release" type facility. "The fact of the matter is,
no one knows (what this proposal will yield.) Unfortunately,
we're in a period of uncertainty. I wish it could be different,
and I'm as concerned about keeping the process as open as possible
as you all are."
Bennett concluded by saying that
he was "making a good effort to work with the committee.
he added, "for me to have my answers taken out of context"
- a comment met by many 'knowing' titters.
"The No. 1 thing I've been
hearing is that this facility has proper security, and I've been
sending that message back to the CEO loud and clear as they're
doing this study. The Ojai Valley's been put on notice that this
study's on, and I'm not going to let it happen behind the scenes.
Can I guarantee anything?" Bennett asked.
"No. No politician can.
That wouldn't be honest." He assured the audience that he
would be looking into their questions about the study, encouraging
them to get on his mailing list and/or call him at 654-2703 for
To get on the Committee for Honor
Options mailing list, and/or receive like updates, please e-mail
firstname.lastname@example.org - or visit its Web site at honorfarmoptions.org.
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