We praise the county Planning Commission for approving Templeton psychiatric hospital

Location of the proposed mental health facility across the street from Twin Cities Community Hospital in Templeton.
Location of the proposed mental health facility across the street from Twin Cities Community Hospital in Templeton. dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

Three cheers and a big bouquet for the San Luis Obispo County Planning Commission, for unanimously approving a 91-bed private psychiatric hospital proposed for Templeton.

Approval came despite strong opposition from many Templeton residents who worry the hospital is too big for their rural community. Some also fear patients will leave the facility and wander through the community, posing a danger to residents.

Commissioners, though, weren’t swayed by those arguments.

“These facilities are very important to those who need them,” Commissioner Jim Harrison said. “I support this the way it is.”

The Planning Commission decision will likely be appealed to the county Board of Supervisors, where it could be overturned. But let’s worry about that tomorrow. For today, let’s just say we’re proud to live in a county where decision-makers have the courage to recognize the right thing, and vote accordingly.

No danger of nodding off while reading report on South County Sanitation District

We’re used to wading through official documents so laden with bureaucratic jargon that we have to read with a highlighter in one hand and a venti coffee in the other, just to stay awake.

The report by Knudson and Associates — the Thousand Oaks firm that conducted an investigation into John Wallace’s controversial leadership of the South County Sanitation District — is such a refreshing change of pace that we’re inspired to offer its authors a bouquet of gratitude.

Among other damaging conclusions, the report found Wallace used his position as district administrator to solicit work for his private firm, the Wallace Group. That amounts to “potential malfeasance in office,” the authors wrote.

What we found most telling, though, was this section:

“In evaluating the past management practices, the question to be answered is; Is the District better off today after 27 years under the administration of John Wallace? The fact is that the WWTP (wastewater treatment plant) is 27 years older but … critical issues still remain …

“The other question is; Did the Board of Directors manage the District Administrator? Did complacency or personal relations set in even though there were warning signs of increasing payments to the Wallace Group, decreasing reserves, increasing personnel issues with plant employees, and increasing plant violations?”

No danger of nodding off on that prose. Heck, we’ll even throw in a few roses for creative punctuation!

As reported by Tribune writer Kaytlyn Leslie, the sanitation district’s current Board of Directors has forwarded the report to the district attorney, the state attorney general and the FBI.

Wallace told Leslie that he wants to review the Knudson report before responding.

Fair enough. No brickbats for now, but we’ll be building our stockpile while this story develops. Even if there was no “malfeasance in office,” there were irregularities that went on far too long.

Homeless Services council leads the way with crisis vote

We toss a good Samaritan bouquet to the Homeless Services Oversight Council for its vote urging local governments to declare a shelter crisis. The declaration makes it easier for public agencies to open government buildings for use as overnight shelters.

As HSOC member John Ashbaugh pointed out, emergency shelters — often referred to as warming centers — can save homeless people from dying of exposure during harsh weather.

With that in mind, we look to local city councils and the county Board of Supervisors to follow through not only with crisis declarations, but also with assessments of what additional services are needed and how they can be delivered.

Given what’s been happening in local communities — such as Morro Bay and Grover Beach, where large homeless encampments have been or are about to be cleared out — we hope the conversation moves beyond warming centers to other options.

For example, cities such as San Jose are exploring the possibility of setting aside land for legal encampments. That makes sense, especially for those who are reluctant to go to homeless shelters or warming centers because they can’t bring pets or belongings, or because they don’t meet the shelter’s criteria.

An idea for local officials: How about compiling an inventory of campgrounds in local communities that can offer safe shelter from winter storms, free of charge, for those sleeping in tents, campers or cars?