Contra Costa County supervisors last Tuesday denied an appeal by residents concerned that a new residential mental health facility in unincorporated Walnut Creek would violate zoning laws or compromise neighborhood safety.
Dr. Gregory Braverman and National Psychiatric Care and Rehabilitation Services sought a permit to convert an existing residential eldercare facility into a "social rehabilitation facility." The building is in the 2000 block of Tice Valley Boulevard and will serve 12 to 16 people experiencing short-term mental health crises.
The county's zoning administrator approved the facility's permit in November, and that decision was upheld by the county’s Planning Commission in May. At least two neighbors filed letters with the county appealing that decision, however.
The primary point of contention revolved around whether zoning laws allowed for a mental health facility to be established in a building previously approved for elder care. But the letters of appeal, which are available on the county's website, also cite concerns over increased calls for emergency services and supposed nuisances that could be associated with the presence of the mentally ill.
After a presentation from the project applicant on the nature of the planned facility, as well as a public comment period during which people argued both sides of the conflict, the board consulted with the county's lawyer — who said that the arguments about inappropriate zoning lacked merit.
District 3 Supervisor Diane Burgis said she was "personally a little offended" by some of the arguments presented against the facility, saying that such misinformation contributes to the stigma currently faced by the mentally ill.
Board Chair John Gioia said the meeting served as a reminder that “we,” as a society, still have work to do in that regard.
"We all have mental health issues," Gioia said. "The question is where on the continuum we fall."
"I hope this reminds us of the need to really do better education to inform communities so that there's not the same level of concern or fear," Gioia added.
Supervisor Candace Andersen made the motion, Burgis seconded and the board voted unanimously to deny the appeal, citing a broad need to destigmatize mental health problems and mental health care as well as the established demand for such care in Contra Costa County.