Ever Well’s status in Terra Bella goes before county planning commission

(Rigo Moran)

Tulare County Planning Commission holds hearing to decide the fate of Ever Well’s permitting status in Terra Bella; Terra Bella residents plan to make their voices heard with a community petition

TULARE COUNTY – Over the last handful of months, various attempts have been made by Terra Bella residents to address disturbances caused by Ever Well patients in the community. Now their efforts could pay off, because the county planning commission is holding a public hearing on a zoning violation from the mental health facility, where Terra Bella residents plan to bring their shared concerns to light.

The hearing is taking place on July 12. Citizens are looking to ask the planning commission to deny the Ever Well mental health facility a special use permit that would allow the facility to continue operation in the community, which has been a difficult tirade for residents over the last year as Ever Well is a state-licensed facility.

“The only control the county has over the specific use of the property,” Tulare County Board of Supervisors chairman Dennis Townsend said.

However, the facility received a notice of violation from the county on June 9 for an improper zoning permit, which – as of recent time – has attracted the attention of the state. On June 22, the State Department of Social Services released an evaluation report noting the mental health facility’s failure to report the violation. According to the report, the facility must submit an incident report, detailing the violation received and how they plan to fix the issues so Ever Well is in compliance with the county.

The county’s initial notice of violation was filed because Ever Well has been operating under a permit given to Good Shepherd Lutheran Home, which was the facility using the property in Terra Bella before Ever Well came in. Good Shepherd was granted a special use permit in an agricultural zone for the purpose of treating children in 2003.

However, Ever Well is treating adults at their facility and there are no records of a new special use permit being granted since.

Ultimately, the state has the most control over Ever Well’s future since it is a state-licensed facility; however, it is not confirmed what the state’s next actions will be if the facility fails to fix the problems with the county zoning. For the facility to fix the issues with the state, they first need to be in compliance with the county. If and how the facility could reach compliance with the county’s zoning laws will be decided at the planning commission hearing.

“They will try to evaluate whether they are (correctly) operating under the existing use permit, or whether they have things that need to be corrected to bring it into conformance with that use permit,” Townsend said. Otherwise, the facility will need to look into getting a new permit from the county to continue operations all together.

However, Terra Bella residents have been in the process of circulating a petition against the facility’s presence in the community, which they plan to take to the hearing on July 12. With it, they are looking to ask the planning commission to deny Ever Well a special use permit to continue operating in Terra Bella.

“We were fine with it (being here in the community), but it needs to be managed correctly and needs to be a benefit to the residents that they serve,” Terra Bella resident Susan Craig said at a community meeting on June 6.

During various community meetings spanning back over the course of a handful of months, residents have raised multiple concerns regarding issues with what they have described as poor management of the Ever Well’s patients. Given that Ever Well is a state-licensed facility, citizens of Terra Bella have taken their concerns to both state and county officials in hopes of enacting change; however, no reported changes have been made to address their concerns as of yet.

“The issues that have been raised lately by the community members have made it seem like there are activities that (Ever Well) has engaged in that may not qualify under (their current) use permit,” Townsend said.

At their community meetings, residents have claimed that Ever Well’s patients walk around the community without supervision, often walking onto their individual properties. Community members also went on to share concerns ranging from patients harassing children at the local school to breaking and entering houses in the area.

These issues led Terra Bella’s citizens to take action for the safety of their community. The petition against the facility’s residence in Terra Bella has stemmed from citizens coming together to find solutions, which initially started with reaching out to the facility until it eventually developed into looking into the history and zoning of the facility and complaining to state and county authorities.

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