NOTE: This story has been corrected from an earlier version that misstated a portion of appellant Murray Powell’s comments.
Despite some complaints that the facility would be too big and in an unfit location, the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a proposed psychiatric hospital in Templeton after a daylong hearing Tuesday.
Templeton resident Murray Powell had appealed the county Planning Commission’s Jan. 14 decision approving the 91-bed hospital to the Board of Supervisors. The commission had approved the proposal after two lengthy public hearings with often emotional testimony from both proponents and opponents.
On Tuesday, Powell said he believes the hospital would be far too big for the community and would cause a variety of problems, primarily traffic congestion. A 20-unit facility serving 1,000 patients a year “is about double what the county really needs right now," he said.
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“Ninety percent of the stays at this hospital will be for people outside of the county,” he told the supervisors.
Supervisors rejected that argument, saying the size of the hospital was a business decision and that bringing people in from out of the county would be good for the economy.
“I would take great offense if I needed to go to Stanford for open-heart surgery and was told we can’t take you because you are from Paso Robles,” said Supervisor Frank Mecham, whose district includes Templeton.
Supervisor Adam Hill said the Planning Commission had thoroughly reviewed the project. “I don’t see anything that has come up with land use that has not been dealt with.”
Carmel residents Harvey and Melanie Billig applied to build the hospital on Las Tablas Road on a vacant 5-acre lot across the street from Twin Cities Community Hospital. In addition to the 91-bed psychiatric hospital, their proposal includes a separate 60-bed live-in memory care facility.
For months, the proposed psychiatric hospital has been a source of controversy among some Templeton residents who, like Powell, objected to its size and also raised concerns that people with mental illnesses would come from other areas of the state and overburden community services.
On Tuesday, dozens of people attended the hearing, many wearing lime green ribbons indicating their support for the hospital and the mental health services they said were sorely needed in San Luis Obispo County. Sixty-seven people signed up to speak to the supervisors, most in favor.
“This is a win for those who need the care,” said Pamela Jardini, who represented the Billigs. “That is what this is all about.”
During a staff report, Whitney McDonald, deputy county counsel, warned the supervisors that they were prohibited by law, the Americans with Disabilities Act among others, from considering a psychiatric hospital any differently than they would any other health care facility.
Sheriff Ian Parkinson was among the first speakers to address the board. He said did not expect much of an impact on his department from the proposed hospital and that it posed no particular law enforcement concerns.
“The medical history is clear,” said Dr. Scott Bisheff, an emergency room doctor. “These patients are sick. They are not dangerous.”
Gere Sibbach of Atascadero agreed. “This hospital is going to create ongoing, good-paying construction jobs,” he said.
However, some Templeton residents said they opposed the project because it would cause traffic congestion on Las Tablas Road.
“Templeton is not the place for this facility,” said Cecil Martinez of Templeton. “We can’t even pave Main Street.”
Glenn Marshall, with the county Public Works Department, said the applicants will pay about $1.5 million in road improvement fees that could be used for improvements to Las Tablas Road where the hospital will be located.
The psychiatric hospital would treat patients of all ages for mental illnesses such as depression, schizophrenia and eating disorders. The hospital would not have a substance abuse treatment program.