Commentary: Rare Consensus by DA and Public Defender Overshadowed by Local Politics

Last month, the Davis City Council, pressured by neighbors on Pacifico, acknowledged that the Pacifico location was not the best position for the residential treatment center proposed by the county for Pacifico.

In a rare consensus, the top two in the DA’s office – Jeff Reisig and Jonathan Raven – were joined for an op-ed by the top two in the public defender’s office – Tracie Olson and Allison Zuvela.  But, as council made it clear, the concept of the residential treatment facility was something they supported – but perhaps not there.

Councilmember Lucas Frerichs said that the residential facility was still something he had interest in. “I think the 16 units are something we need in this community,” he said. “However, the navigation center, I’m not sure that’s the appropriate location in the community. Particularly since it’s not central to other services available in this community.”

He thought it would be better closer to the center of the city, with the county center and other existing services being located nearby.

The problem remains – if not there, where?

In the op-ed over the weekend, they note: “Before we can hope to address homelessness, we have to understand the people who experience it.”

They write: “Many people who are homeless struggle with mental illness, addiction or a chronic health issue. All, however, struggle with the stigma and social disgrace associated with their homelessness condition.”

As they point out: “The debate in Davis over the Pacifico complex is emblematic of conversations unfolding in communities throughout the state. With homelessness issues surging to the forefront statewide, finding solutions to the issues of mental health and addiction become increasingly urgent.”

They note: “Recently released data shows that hospital visits by homeless individuals increased by 28% in 2017; 15.7% of these visits were related to a mental disorder while 15.2% involved alcohol and drug use.

“They good news,” they write, “is that there are solutions to homelessness.

“One such solution is the housing-first model, which seeks to first address one of the primary causes of homelessness, namely a lack of safe and appropriate places for vulnerable people to live. Once housing stabilization is achieved, individualized support services can be put in place aimed at improving health, reducing harmful behaviors, or increasing income.”

The bad news that they don’t write, however, is the problem here.  Under the best of conditions, community members do not want to live next to people in need of such services.  And to make matters worse, Pacifico has not represented the best circumstance.

Thus, the need for collaborative approaches and mental health court falls on deaf ears as soon as such a proposal involves putting such facilities in close proximity to people’s homes.

In their closing, the DA and public defender write: “In Yolo County, the district attorney, public defender, Probation Department, courts and HHSA have worked collaboratively to address these issues. In 2013, we launched Mental Health Court, which focuses on improving treatment engagement, reducing recidivism, reducing jail bed days, and decreasing local and state hospital bed stays.

“The connection between mental illness, substance use disorders, and homelessness is undeniable. Increasing the availability of residential treatment facilities, however, is an important first step to addressing this issue,” they conclude and then add: “We cannot continue perpetuating a cycle where community-based treatment facilities are proposed, only to send staff back to the drawing board searching for a new location after each proposal. As a community, we must embrace the value of rehabilitation not just at the ballot box but also in our own backyards. We respectfully urge the Yolo County community to support Pacifico as a safe place for our most needy residents.”

But the plea largely falls on deaf ears and, at best, a “not here” response.

One neighbor puts it this way: “1752 Drew circle is not the location for such a facility.”

Another argues: “As long as Yolo County Housing isn’t in charge, I’d support looking at new uses of the facility. The first step is to remove Yolo County Housing; next, to have the city, which owns the property, determine the best uses for it.”

Another argues that the article is “not balanced.”  They write: “While we agree that solutions have to be found for the mental health handicapped, the article glosses over many issues.”

They write: “You write ‘Chief among these is the myth that the mentally ill are the primary drivers of violent crime.’ This is a condescending statement implying that you have the answers and that the neighborhood is clueless. We do understand the issues, and need to discuss these from all angles, not just your point of view. As elected officials, you must take other views into account.”

Not sure it matters much, but only one of the authors is an elected official.  The others are simply sharing their views based on their experience.  In the end, the city council has likely already spoken on this.

The council, facing anger over the running of the current facility – or the perception of how the current facility was run – took a middle ground in their approach to Pacifico.  But it left open the question – if not there, where?

The views expressed by the district attorney and public defender, while appreciated in the broader context of mental health needs and homelessness, did not go nearly far enough in addressing the locational concerns expressed by either the neighbors or the council.

—David M. Greenwald reporting


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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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52 Comments

  1. Jim Hoch

    “triage. 1a : the sorting of and allocation of treatment to patients and especially battle and disaster victims according to a system of priorities designed to maximize the number of survivors.”

    This is the first principle of success, who can be helped by a particular facility? If you fill a facility with “greatest need” cases, as stupid people are wont to do, you end up with nobody getting better and maximum irritation to the community.

     

    Two years ago we had this same discussion https://www.davisvanguard.org/2017/05/guest-sunday-commentary-dealing-homelessness-takes-patience-persistence/

    My comment then was “So forget everything you know about homeless programs. There are no interventions here. The way the people currently live in the tent is how they will live in this proposed facility. There will be attempts to involve them in various programs but there are already attempts to involve them in various programs and there is no magic to being housed which makes them stop smoking meth or engage in mental health treatment. Most of the studies I have seen on this describe the difference in outcomes between housing first and no housing are regarded as “slight”. The goal here is to take people out of the tent and put them under a roof. If your anticipation is that they will gain some kind of “recovery” this is not part of the program.”

    And here we are two years, one death by overdose, and no success later.

    1. Jim Hoch

      “housing first” seems to be some kind of magic progressive pixie dust that cures mental illness and addiction. When you combine that with the clueless “we should devote all services to those with the greatest need” you have a formula for spending the most money possible to achieve nothing but irritating the neighbors. The random death by overdoes just seems to be a bonus in this equation.

  2. Alan Miller

    We cannot continue perpetuating a cycle where community-based treatment facilities are proposed, only to send staff back to the drawing board searching for a new location after each proposal. As a community, we must embrace the value of rehabilitation not just at the ballot box but also in our own backyards.

    – if not there, where?

    Well, I’ll tell you not where, but I’ll tell you where not:

    El Macero, North Davis Farms, Stonegate, Wildhorse, Lake Alhambra Estates, College Park, or Willowbank

    Why?  To quote from the article on the Homeless Industrial Complex (written in LA):

    Why . . .  aren’t homeless shelters being built in Pacific Palisades, or Brentwood, or Beverly Hills, or the other tony enclaves of LA’s super rich? Because as with all boondoggles that destroy neighborhoods in the name of compassion, the Homeless Industrial Complex knows better than to defecate where they masticate.

    Translation:  Where is going to be a WAR.  And in the end, the location will not be in one of Davis’ uber-rich, “safe”, suburban neighborhoods.  It never is.  Not Trackside-like out-of-place projects, not homeless shelters, not mental-health facilities, not Section 8 housing.

    1. Don Shor

      – if not there, where?

      Generally I suspect these facilities would site best near commercial or near multi-family housing, rather than in existing single-family neighborhoods. So in Davis, that would be between 2nd and 5th Streets, or between L and Pole Line, or perhaps on some of the publicly owned property on 5th Street (public works site).

      1. Ron Oertel

        There are houses with backyards that abut Fifth Street.  Directly across the street from the Creekside development.

        The “criticism” regarding Pacifico is that it’s “not the correct location” (whatever that means).

        I suspect that if such facilities are not managed properly, with a lot of resources ($) that may or may not be available, they will be a problem wherever they’re located within an urban environment. In other words, the location does not “create” the problem.

        1. Bill Marshall

          Alan speaks truth on this… ~7 foot height, masonry construction… “sold” as a ‘soundwall’ but really a ‘semi-gated’ neighborhood…

      2. Eric Gelber

        … these facilities would site best near commercial or near multi-family housing, …

        Given its location near other multi-family housing, that would also include Pacifico.

      3. Bill Marshall

        Generally I suspect these facilities would site best near commercial or near multi-family housing

        Really?

        Let’s explore… Pacifico is in the midst of MF… slightly farther to west and north, commercial… to south, open space/ag… to the east , SF… aye, there’s the rub!

  3. Alan Miller

    Chief among these is the myth that the mentally ill are the primary drivers of violent crime.

    Tell that myth myth to Jack Armstrong and his family, or to the surviving members of Anthony Mele’s family.

      1. Alan Miller

        I’m not saying what you are implying I’m saying.  The point it, the violent segment of the mentally ill that are homeless should not get lost in this “homeless sea” of homelessness as an issue and end up as a threat to people, homeless or homed, such as the examples sited.

        1. Bill Marshall

          Sandy Hook… Columbine… Virginia Beach… Miami… Charleston… Las Vegas… Pittsburgh synagogue, Aurora theater,  etc.

          Mentally ill folk, yes… homeless, not!

        2. Eric Gelber

          If you can identify those individuals who are a current direct threat to the health and safety of others, fine. Otherwise discrimination in housing based on mental illness or other disability is unlawful.

        3. Eric Gelber

          Bill Marshall –

          Sandy Hook… Columbine… Virginia Beach… Miami… Charleston… Las Vegas… Pittsburgh synagogue, Aurora theater,  etc. Mentally ill folk, yes… homeless, not!

          Males, yes. Gun owners, yes. Homeless, not. So, what’s your point?

        4. Alan Miller

          Otherwise discrimination in housing based on mental illness or other disability is unlawful.

          Who is implying discrimination in housing?  We are talking about people who are not housed.

      2. Jim Hoch

        More “fake news”.

        1: While accusing someone of spreading a “stereotype” you are spreading a false dichotomy, that is a person being either a victim or a perpetrator.

        2: Your link is a puff piece that with an advocacy point of view. I looked at some of the referenced studies and they use a base of all people, that is your neighbor who feels sad. People who have mental illness so debilitating as to be homeless are far more likely to act violently and also more likely to be victims of violence than the average hosed person in Davis.

  4. Ron Oertel

    I missed the last 10 minutes or so of “Seattle is Dying”, in which they proposed solutions.

    I suspect that cost-effective solutions which don’t negatively impact communities essentially require large, centralized residential/treatment centers – separate from existing residential areas.

    (Hopefully, better than the institutions of yesteryear.)

    1. Jim Hoch

      “I suspect that cost-effective solutions which don’t negatively impact communities essentially require large, centralized residential/treatment centers – separate from existing residential areas.”

       

      Not necessarily. There are Alcohol Free Living houses (AFLs) in all sorts of neighborhoods and group homes on the mental illness side. They are little trouble to the neighbors as the residents are table and even if they do use they do so away from the site.

      The problem is created by housing first. First they recruit people who do not want to stop smoking meth and then they tell them they can continue to smoke meth with no consequences in their new crib. Why this scenario is expected to lead to recovery is beyond me. Our former mayor hired some consultants who told him everything would be groovy and the magic “housing first pixie dust” would cure all.

    2. Alan Miller

      I missed the last 10 minutes or so of “Seattle is Dying”, in which they proposed solutions.

      Yeah, well, too bad they shut down YouTube, so I guess you’re out of luck to ever see the rest of the program.

      1. Ron Oertel

        I think I saw where it was leading, and will try to watch that last 10 minutes.

        But since you’ve mentioned the solution a number of times, can you just describe it for everyone in a nutshell? Perhaps for those who won’t watch it, at all?

        1. Alan Miller

          Nope.  I really want to encourage people to watch it. I’m not giving away the ending to Game of Thrones, either*.

          *I’ve also never watched a single episode.

  5. Tia Will

    “– if not there, where?”

    I would have suggested the site of the former Families First facility. However, that site apparently is going to make a profit for the builders, investors and those who will run Sterling student housing.

    1. Ron Oertel

      Tia:  I pointed that out, as well.  It was a large site, already set-up for it – before they demolished the buildings.

      What a waste of a taxpayer-subsidized facility.

    2. Don Shor

      that site apparently is going to make a profit for the builders, investors and those who will run Sterling student housing.

      It will provide 540 beds as well as 38 affordable units.

      1. Ron Oertel

        Don:  Which might be fine, if UCD agreed to reimburse the long-term fiscal costs to the city resulting from Sterling, and house other non-student populations on campus – who could have been housed at Families First.

        Neither of those is very likely, to say the least.

        However, they certainly had room for another 540 beds on campus – reserved for students only, and perhaps could have helped make ALL of them affordable to students.

        1. Don Shor

          Don: Which might be fine, if UCD reimbursed the long-term fiscal costs to the city and agreed to house other populations on campus – which could have been housed at Families First.

          Neither of those is very likely, to say the least.

          UCD is building lots of housing. We have needed housing in town and housing on campus. This is a much more efficient use of the site on Fifth Street and meets particular needs: rental housing and affordable housing. Why you both chose to revisit this topic, I don’t know. But just comparing the numbers served by the redeveloped site vs the prior use, the new apartments clearly serve more people overall.

        2. Ron Oertel

          Well, the reason I chimed in is because the relatively new, taxpayer-supported facility (appropriate for a population in need) was DEMOLISHED, for an alternative that could have been accommodated on campus.

          But, I guess we’re supposed to forget about that, now. Despite the fact that this article now asks “where” these populations in-need should be housed.

        3. Alan Miller

          perhaps could have helped make ALL of them affordable to students.

          How is THAT???!!!  The history of recent new student housing on campus is that the rents are GOLD PLATED.

        4. Ron Oertel

          Craig:  While you are technically correct regarding ownership, I believe that the non-profit facility was supported entirely by tax dollars.

          Perhaps a reason that private interests should not be running these types of facilities.

          Alan:  “More International Students”?  ($$$)

          On a related note: “Education expenses have climbed 65 percent in the past decade. Food costs have jumped 26 percent, health care is up 21 percent, housing jumped 16 percent and transportation rose 11 percent.”

          (Kind of interesting that “education costs” – which I take to be primarily tuition, has risen much faster than housing costs.)

          https://www.sfgate.com/business/article/The-average-millennial-has-an-average-net-worth-13909188.php

          (I can also repost articles regarding state audits that are highly critical of UC spending.)

        5. Ron Oertel

          And Craig, the city was not obligated to approve the change in zoning/use at the Families First facility.

          Indeed, “where”, if not “there”.

    3. Bill Marshall

      Families First was very profitable… and a sham as to treatment of disturbed youth… FF was a hoax… a cruel (literally) hoax… bad comparison…

      As to site, yes, had promise… on a well-served transit route, for example…

  6. Ron Oertel

    Jim:  Good point.  (I can’t see your comments, unless I log out.)

    I guess I was thinking of those truly in a mental crisis (caused by drugs, and/or mental illness) – such as those seen in “Seattle is Dying”.  (For some reason, I keep wanting to say “Sleepless in Seattle”.)

    Wondering what can be done for those who are experiencing a crisis (and causing problems for others), but refuse treatment (and/or even housing).  Seems to me that there has to be some kind of “required” intervention, at that point.

    For sure, allowing folks to sleep on the street is not acceptable, for them or the rest of society.  How it’s gotten to this point seems to be a combination of an over-abundance of concern for the “right” to live as one wants (regardless of consequences to others), combined with a lack of alternatives.

    Someone once told me that “homelessness” is not a problem in some other cultures.  (And that it has nothing to do with housing availability.)

    Makes one wonder what happened to the families/relatives of some of these folks. Perhaps the problems that some folks experience are too overwhelming for their families to deal with, as well. (Especially if they simultaneously refuse to be helped.)

    1. Alan Miller

      (For some reason, I keep wanting to say “Sleepless in Seattle”.)

      That certainly fits for the meth addicts.

      “Sleepless in Seattle II — The Meth Years”

    2. Jim Hoch

      Broadly speaking families institute rules of acceptable behavior and the folks bounce.

      To your question the answer the solution proposed in SiD is straightforward and low on magic. Arrest people for breaking the law. Use the jail to attempt an intervention. Don’t just put them back on the street but instead let them come down, get a few meals and some sleep. Make a diagnosis. Offer them an appropriate facility, usually inpatient. Drug court may be sufficient. What you might call “housing last”.

       

  7. Jim Hoch

    “We respectfully urge the Yolo County community to support Pacifico as a safe place for our most needy residents”

    I think “Yolo County community” is completely united in wanting this facility to be as far from their own residence as possible.

    1. Alan Miller

      I think “Yolo County community” is completely united in wanting this facility to be as far from their own residence as possible.

      Prediction:  Someone who thinks very highly of themselves will soon post that they are OK having this in their backyard.

  8. Ron Oertel

    Jim:  Sounds good – again I can’t see your comments as I write this.

    A question:  Is Pacifico “housing first”, or are there simply problems in management?

    For sure, “housing first” (without addressing other concerns) would consistently create problems for any nearby neighbor. I wonder if anyone realistically disputes that.

    The problems with Pacifico does cause some concern regarding the upcoming Creekside development. I’m not sure how similar that facility will be, in terms of population, management, etc.

    1. Jim Hoch

      “I wonder if anyone realistically disputes that.” Many on this blog have disputed it though not “realistically”. See comments above about magic dust.

  9. Ron Oertel

    Alan:  “Behind a solid wall.”

    That is true, regarding the housing directly across the street from Creekside.  But, there’s also an intersecting street (directly across the street from Creekside), which provides access to the neighborhood.

    Problems that originate from a poorly-managed development are not necessarily limited to those who live right next to it.

    As previously noted, problems with both Pacifico and Families First had a “tendency” to venture off-site.  (From a previous article, I seem to recall that the management of Pacifico essentially “washed their hands” of problems that occurred off-site, which may be directly or indirectly related to that facility.)

    1. Alan Miller

      I think the real link with Ditchside proximity is going to be the ditch.  Just like Pacifico and it’s adjacent old creek bed, the ‘venturing’ tends towards semi-hidden corridors such as railroads, creeks, ditches, paths, greenbelts, utility corridors, abandoned buildings, highway landscaping, etc.

        1. Alan Miller

          That sounds like where cats go, as well.

          Well, ground squirrels and possums anyhow.

          “San Francisco may force treatment on mentally ill drug users”

          Yes, and the ACLU is opposing. Which means DG will be running an article on that soon.

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