The Williams City Council last week adopted a 45-day moratorium on the issuance of conditional use permits for the operation of large residential care facilities.
The 4-0 decision, at a special meeting on July 9, came after the Williams Planning Commission revoked the conditional use permit for Mrs. Love’s Guest House after city officials learned it has stopped providing residential care for senior citizens – a stipulation of their permit – and had contracted with Colusa, Yuba, and Sutter counties to house adults under 60 who have serious mental health issues.
“They failed to notify the city that they no longer held a state license for elderly care over 60,” said City Planner Monica Stegall. “We later learned they had a state license for an adult residential facility for ages 18 to 59.”
Richard Beith, owner of the 10th Street group home, said he is hopeful the Planning Commission will grant a new permit for the adult facility so that the business is not forced to close, and that he feared his 15 residents living with mental illnesses would have no place to go if they don’t, particularly if Williams residents don’t want them in their neighborhood.
“My big concern is what we would do with these people,” Beith said. “We have contracts with those counties to take care of their people. We have all the required state licenses, everything in place. The only thing we forgot to do when we switched from 60 and older to 60 and younger is we forgot completely to come back to the planning department and ask for a new use permit. That is the only thing we failed to do. But in everything we do, we are carefully supervised – by the county and by the state.”
Since 1999, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that people with mental illnesses should be treated in the community and not unnecessarily institutionalized, public health agencies have struggled to find appropriate housing, particularly in rural areas, for those placed in their care by the courts through conservatorship. According to Calmatters.org, about one-third of all homeless people in California have an untreated mental illness, which is often paired with substance abuse.
But Stegall said the moratorium, which took effect immediately, was needed to give the city time to decide if conditional use permits were the best way to regulate or allow such facilities as Mrs. Love’s. California law only protects licensed facilities serving six or fewer residents, so local jurisdictions are allowed to place restrictions on larger residential facilities. Cities can also restrict their location or ban them outright.
“We did hear concerns from the public and we just wanted some time to research this topic and see about the best way to permit these large residential care facilities in the city,” Stegall said.
City Administrator Frank Kennedy said the staff must look at – and possibly regulate – such things as minimum staffing requirements in order to assure the public and the group home’s neighbors that the individuals living there with mental illnesses are adequately supervised.
“This is an important issue and we just want the extra time to make sure we get it done right,” Kennedy said. “It’s a complicated issue – taking care of people who have disabilities – and we want to make sure things are appropriate.”
City officials have heard concerns about individuals not taking their medications, that some may have had previous felony convictions, and fear that people with mental illness may be a danger to society, a stigma to those living with mental health issues find hard to overcome.
“A lot of it is perception,” said Beith, who invited Williams officials to visit the facility at anytime. “People think we have a bunch of crazies living there. We don’t.”
But Beith said he did understand that city staff needed to consider restrictions, if necessary, that would allow Mrs. Love’s Guest House to be permitted for its current use. The moratorium, which the City Council adopted, allows Kennedy the authority to grant the facility a hardship exception while a new ordinance is developed and brought before the planning commission for approval.
Meanwhile, Gov. Gavin Newsom has pledged to make the mental health crisis in California a priority by providing money to expand “whole-person care” programs, shelters and permanent supportive housing for homeless or at-risk individuals with serious mental illnesses, and programs to increase the mental health workforce.
In addition to expanded efforts across California to covert facilities like nursing homes and boarding houses into supervised permanent housing for those being treated for mental illness, the state has awarded the first round of No Place Like Home Act funding to counties to build new supportive housing facilities.
Sen. Anna Caballero, D-Salinas, introduced legislation in February that would streamline the local building permit approval process for supportive housing projects under the No Place Like Home Program and make it harder for “not-in-my-backyard” protests to bog them down.
“Decades of research shows providing people with a stable place to live along with mental health services promotes healthy and stable lives,” the bill states. “Permanent supportive housing significantly reduces public health costs, reduces suffering for patients, and achieves better health outcomes.”
The Colusa County Board of Supervisors plan to make an application for No Place Like Home funding in the next cycle. ■