SLO County planners throw cold water on plan for rehab center in Carrizo Plain

Kenneth Tab figured the vast Carrizo Plain — with its emptiness, silence and star-filled sky — would be the perfect place to build a rehabilitation center. It would be a good location, he reasoned, for athletes, entertainers, and others who have become addicted to drugs or alcohol to reassemble their lives.

So Tab, representing the California Serengeti Corp., proposed a 137,324-square-foot rehabilitation center that would include between 81 and 100 beds, employee apartments, a gym, a pool, and other amenities on 15 acres of a 487-acre parcel.

“Normally, rehab is a jail,” Tab told the county’s Planning Commission. This, he said, would be “a wilderness resort” that would allow clients “to get their minds off city life.”

The rehab center would be built on agricultural land off Soda Lake Road, just east of what could be called California Valley’s “downtown” — a closed gas station, diner and motel.

Tab’s plans, however, ran into a buzz saw last Thursday — the Planning Commission turned down his proposal on a 5-0 vote.

The commission agreed with its staff that a massive rehab center was simply too big and out of place for the area. They also worried about the county’s ability to provide fire and police protection, and whether there was enough water.

Commissioner Carlyn Christianson called it “a resort in the middle of nowhere.”

Tab said he would provide security, and argued that he would pay $600,000 in taxes.

Tab also said the county’s ordinances allow a rehab facility to be built on agricultural land.

But Warren Hoag, division manager for current planning, said that while such a facility might be allowed under the ordinance, it doesn’t automatically get approved.

He likened Tab’s situation to a hunter’s. “You can get a permit to hunt (an animal), but it doesn’t guarantee that you can bag it.”

In the end, commissioners agreed with Chairwoman Anne Wyatt that the owners would have trouble providing public services, and that the rehab center was “not consistent with the neighborhood character.”Commissioner Bruce White wanted to know if there is any long-range planning for California Valley.

“Not at this time,” planner Elizabeth Kavanaugh said.

Tab could appeal the decision to the Board of Supervisors.