Through petition signatures, community emails and public speaking campaigns, people are taking sides over whether a proposed psychiatric hospital should be built in Templeton.
On Dec. 10, the San Luis Obispo County Planning Commission will hear arguments for and against the proposed 91-bed psychiatric hospital and a 60-bed memory care facility at 1155 Tablas Road, across from Twin Cities Community Hospital. The dual project is owned by Harvey and Melanie Billig of Carmel. The psychiatric hospital would be operated by Vizion Health LLC, a new company based in North Carolina and led by founder and chief executive officer Mark Schneider.
Those who support the facility say the additional psychiatric beds will fill a gap in the inpatient mental health services available locally, especially for children, elderly and insured residents who now have to be sent out of the county for inpatient care. Those against it say a smaller facility in a location closer to San Luis Obispo would be better than the current project, which they consider too ambitious and ill-suited for a small community with limited services.
As of Friday, the county’s planning department had scanned 462 pages of letters, emails and comments from members of the public, both pro and con. The department is no longer tracking how many are on each side.
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Since The Tribune published a four-part series in October on the proposed project, the Billigs and Schneider, the opposition has formally organized into the Concerned Citizens Preventing Unintended Consequences. On Wednesday, they hosted a community outreach meeting at Templeton’s Vineyard Elementary School, attracting about 80 people. The event featured a panel of speakers made up of Concerned Citizens members followed by a question-and-answer session. The group itself has about 25 active members and 500 people who have signed a petition against the project to be submitted to the county, group organizer and Templeton resident Murray Powell said. They’ve also been writing letters to the media and have launched a social media campaign.
“What we’re doing now in the next couple weeks is try to address as many people as we can before the Planning Commission meeting … and we encourage anybody on either side of the issue to contact us,” Powell said.
Meanwhile, Atascadero resident Diane O’Neil has been leading an unofficial group of project supporters who formally met at the Atascadero United Methodist Church in October in a meeting that attracted about 50 attendees. She says the group now has about 300 followers, but no formal organization name or website. Collectively, they’ve been writing letters to elected officials, county offices and the media. They’ve also been speaking with local service groups and associations. One of those meetings took place Wednesday when O’Neil organized a panel of speakers to present information to the American Association of University Women in Atascadero.
“I know things will continually heat up as we approach Dec. 10,” supporter and Atascadero resident Mardi Geredes said, noting that she encourages more people with mental illness to come forward to speak on the issue.
Atascadero Mayor Tom O’Malley, a retired licensed marriage and family therapist and former administrator of the county Mental Health Department, has publicly supported the project, speaking independent of his elected position. So far, O’Malley is the first local public official to have publicly taken a stance on the issue.
“I worked directly with many programs similar to the one being proposed. I believe it will be a much needed asset for our county,” he said. “It will save dollars for local residents in need and taxpayers. I believe it will be a safe facility and will augment the range of services provided by the other medical facilities nearby.”
So far, no plans have been made to address the issue at the North County’s city councils since Templeton is not in those cities’ jurisdiction. However, last November, the Templeton Area Advisory Group, which makes recommendations to the county Board of Supervisors, voted against the project in a meeting that drew about 250 attendees, the majority of whom also opposed it. TAAG also reminded the public Nov. 19 of the county Planning Commission’s upcoming hearing.
What’s next for the proposal
On Dec. 10, the San Luis Obispo County Planning Commission will consider the Templeton proposal: a 91-bed psychiatric hospital and a 60-bed memory care facility at 1155 Tablas Road in Templeton.
The commission's decision could then be appealed to the county Board of Supervisors.
The psychiatric hospital also must be approved by state licensing authorities and achieve federal Medicare and Medicaid certification before it can open.
Email the opposition and supporters
The Concerned Citizens Preventing Unintended Consequences can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/templetonmentalhospitalrealstory2015. Diane O’Neil’s group supporting the psychiatric facility can be contacted at email@example.com.