Update: Stanislaus County approves contract for disputed mental health facility in Turlock

The Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a contract extension Tuesday for a controversial residential facility in Turlock for adults with serious mental illness.

Turlock city officials and residents have strongly opposed the facility’s location on Colorado Avenue, saying it’s too close to schools, pediatric medical offices and vulnerable children.

About 200 city residents packed a Turlock council meeting in February to oppose the adult residential care facility and a change in state licensing that would allow Bay Area-based A&A Health Services to care for 84 mentally ill adults, 75% of whom would be 18 to 59 years old.

People expressed fears that adult clients with serious mental illness would endanger students at nearby Dutcher Middle School and Turlock Christian Elementary School.

Carlos Pereira of Genesis Behavior Center said the proposal also puts psychiatric patients across the street from a program for children with autism.

“Placing high-risk individuals near children not only is irresponsible but it’s also dangerous,” he said. “These children deserve a safe supportive environment.”

Turlock officials wanted county leaders to postpone Tuesday’s decision on the contract extension and first hold a community meeting to discuss a better location for the facility. They said they didn’t learn the contract with A&A was on the board agenda until last week.

“Our community has told you we are not good with that location,” Mayor Amy Bublak told supervisors Tuesday. “You heard us and we still have not had this dialogue.”

A&A Health purchased the former Las Palmas Estates at 1617 Colorado Ave. last year and has been remaking the facility to reopen with 84 beds.

Two county supervisors objected that the controversy has put the county in the spotlight. Supervisor Terry Withrow said the Turlock City Council could stop the project by denying land use and building permits.

County officials said the county has placed clients with mental illness at the center for decades. If the board did not approve the $7.76 million contract extension with A&A Health, the county would have to send clients to facilities in other counties, and other counties could place people at the Colorado Avenue facility, officials said.

The property on Colorado was annexed to the city in the 1990s and Las Palmas Estates was operated as a legal nonconforming use. Cities can’t legally reject projects at the whim of elected officials, but usually have to make findings to approve or reject development.

City Manager Reagan Wilson said A&A has been filing permits with the city building department one at a time. The project’s status in the city’s permitting process was still hazy Tuesday.

The contract extension with A&A was among 104 service provider contracts up for annual renewal with county Behavioral Health and Recovery Services and was buried in a 132-page staff report.

Supervisor Vito Chiesa, whose district includes Turlock, said he heard few complaints about the county clients who received care at Las Palmas Estates. He said he has wanted to know more about the city permitting for the renovations.

Tony Vartan, director of county Behavioral Health and Recovery Services, said the adults who will stay at the residential care facility are psychiatrically stable and have been evaluated to ensure it’s the appropriate level of care for them.

The adults need assistance with daily activities like hygiene, eating, bathing and transportation. Vartan said they are not able to live by themselves but do not require 24-hour care.

The center won’t be a locked facility, allowing the residents to come and go as they like. About 25% will be 60 and older.

Without the Turlock facility, the county will have to send clients to facilities in other counties, and those clients won’t have interaction with family that helps them improve, Vartan said.