Terra Bella citizens amass at Ever Well public hearing

Community members from Terra Bella attend the July 12th Tulare County Planning Commission meeting to voice their concerns regarding Ever Well mental health facility.(Kenny Goodman)

Tulare County Planning Commission schedules second hearing to determine Ever Well’s special use permit status; Terra Bella residents gather at hearing to advocate against the facility’s presence in community

TULARE COUNTY – After a year of dealing with Ever Well patients creating disturbances in their community, the residents of Terra Bella are taking to the planning commission in hopes of convincing the commission to revoke the facility’s special use permit and rid it from their town once and for all.

On the morning of July 12, the Tulare County Planning Commission held a public hearing to discuss the status of the Ever Well mental health facility’s special use permit, which allows it to operate its services in the community of Terra Bella. In hopes of convincing the commission to deny Ever Well a new permit all together, dozens of Terra Bella community members showed up at the hearing to make their voices heard.

”From my backyard, I can see and hear the cries and screams of the Ever Well residents since early 2022,” Terra Bella resident Susan Craig said. “Our state is in need of proper mental health facilities that are run with good intentions and patient priority.”

However, instead of determining the fate of the facility’s location in Terra Bella with this hearing, the commission voted unanimously to hold a second revocation hearing for the permit on Wednesday, July 26. At the second hearing, the commission will ultimately determine if the facility can continue to operate in Terra Bella with a new or adjusted special use permit, or if it will need to seek an alternative route entirely.

After voting to hold a second hearing on the matter, the commission started the hearing by asking for the expertise of the mental health director for Tulare County, Dr. Natalie Bolin. According to Bolin, she believes there is reason for concern that the Ever Well facility might not be providing care that is in line with what is legally required.

“After hearing (the residents’) concerns, I am concerned about the health and safety of residents (at Ever Well),” Bolin said.

Bolin went on to explain that state regulations for residential mental health facilities, which is provided online by the state of California, makes clear that a facility must be able to provide appropriate levels of supervision for its patients. She continued to say that the testimonies of Terra Bella residents call Ever Well’s services into question.

During the hearing, the citizens of Terra Bella presented the commission with a petition consisting of 1,284 signatures, all asking the commission to lock Ever Well out of the town for good for its disturbances to the community and the neglect of its patients.

The public hearing came a day after a fire was reported on Tuesday, July 11, outside the Ever Well facility. According to multiple credible sources, including the Tulare County Sheriff’s Office, the fire was started by one of Ever Well’s patients. Craig, who lives next door to Ever Well, also confirmed that the Ever Well patient started the fire before authorities came and arrested the patient for arson.

“The resident continued to go in and out of the breezeway that he was in, (and kept) grabbing more kindling to stoke the fire to get the building to catch on,” Craig said. “(The facility) had no idea that there was a fire on the property. (An Ever Well employee) immediately started berating us for being on their property. We were there out of concern.”

Craig continued to explain that the facility and neighboring properties would have also caught fire if it had not been for her and her daughter calling authorities. This is one of many complaints from Terra Bella residents regarding the disturbances from Ever Well patients over the course of several months.

According to reports from Terra Bella residents spanning back to May, these complaints include everything from patients breaking into private property, harassing children at the town’s local school and, in one reported instance, a patient drank the local church’s hand sanitizer, amongst other things that were reported.

Additionally, Captain Duane Cornett from the Tulare County Sheriff’s Department gave his two cents on the disturbances in the town of Terra Bella caused by Ever Well patients. He noted that the sheriff’s office received a lot of reports from Terra Bella citizens over the course of the past year – ironically, the same amount of time that residents started reporting their issues with the facility.

“I will say that, in my 29 years of law enforcement, 142 calls in one location for a 12-month period is a lot,” Cornett said.

One of the representatives from Ever Well did address the complaints brought up by community members in his statements to the commission. The representative in question is the chairman of Ever Well, Andy Fetyko.

“There’s a lot of people that wanted to talk today. I’m not really interested in rebutting. All of those things did happen,” Fetyko said. “We’d like to say that we did have a fire yesterday, it’s the second one in 20 years. It’s bad luck – it does happen – and I thank you for calling that in.”

According to Fetyko, he himself is the person who is responsible for permitting code enforcement and outreach to police and fire in the area. He assured the community and the planning commission that just because phone calls were not returned does not mean that the topics were not considered.

“I will assure you that doctors, Zubiate (the Ever Well CEO Dr. Christopher Zubiate) and I come to this work with a farmer’s heart and a developer’s spine,” Fetyko said.

Fetyko continued to say that the facility is doing the best it can to please the community while staying within the lines of state and federal laws. Fetyko noted that while the community Terra Bella wants Ever Well to be a locked facility, it takes time to acquire the appropriate documentation to keep patients in the facility without interfering with their rights.

He further explained that it took Ever Well years to acquire the permits the facility has now, and he agreed something must change but said that change takes time. However, according to him, the community of Terra Bella – along with Tulare County and the state department of social services – were able to start the revocation process in record-breaking time.

“You have been able to shut the building down and put us in jeopardy of losing $6 million and eight years worth of hard work in 90 days,” Fetyko said.

At the hearing set for July 26, the planning commission will determine the fate of the facility’s special use permit – and potentially, its overall residence in Terra Bella – with the information that was provided at the July 12 hearing. It was mentioned by various Terra Bella citizens at the hearing that they would also be returning to the second public hearing to represent the community Terra Bella.

“You can talk about millions of dollars and how great they (Ever Well) pretend to be,” Terra Bella citizen Hans Paulmann said in his comments to the commission. “This is my life. My wife’s life, my family, my neighbors, my community.”

Paulmann went on to say he has been in communications with state senators, county supervisors, the county sheriff’s department and all of his neighbors; and all of the verdicts he received from each one told the same narrative.

“Not one person has anything good to say about Ever Well,” Paulmann said. “Not one.”

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