Planning commission temporarily rescinds Ever Well’s permit

Matthew Pierce, the lead counsel for Tulare County, speaks to Commissioners.(Kenny Goodman)

Tulare County Planning Commission votes to tentatively revoke Ever Well’s special use permit for time being, set to make a final decision on the facility’s permit status on Sept. 13

VISALIA – After a year of Terra Bella residents reporting disturbances by Ever Well patients, the Tulare County Planning Commission has temporarily revoked the facility’s special use permit. The final decision on if the facility will receive a renewed permit, or revoked permanently, in September.

Terra Bella residents and representatives from Ever Well flooded the chambers room for the Tulare County Planning Commission on Wednesday, July 26 for the revocation hearing of Ever Well’s, a mental health facility, special use permit. The commission unanimously voted to tentatively revoke the permit that allows the facility to operate in Terra Bella.

“I’m here to convey the message to you that we (Ever Well) want to establish a plan to facilitate interaction and a positive experience with material property,” Ryan Black, an expert of community development said on behalf of Ever Well.

The final decision on Ever Well’s permit status in Terra Bella will be determined at the Sept. 13 planning commission meeting, ultimately deciding if the facility’s permit will be revoked or renewed; and even more, if the facility will remain in Terra Bella, or part ways with the small town.

At the hearing, Ever Well representatives plead with the council not to revoke their permit in order to allow them more time to integrate into the community. Ever Well also presented the commission with a 500-signature petition in favor of allowing Ever Well to keep operating under their existing permit.

“We need your help as a community – in regards to disturbances at the church, we’d love to have on-site services. Our proximity to the (Zion Lutheran) school (Terra Bella Elementary) has been raised as a concern – we don’t have a solution to that,” Black said.

Ever Well’s legal representation John Kinsey and others speaking on behalf of Ever Well explained that Ever Well provides much needed housing to a vulnerable population.

Kinsey explained that the petition made up of 500 Tulare County residents was put together in a week, which is a fraction of the time it took Terra Bella residents to collect almost 1,300 signatures for their petition. The community of Terra Bella put together the petition as a way to ask the commission to revoke Ever Well’s permit, meaning the facility would have to leave the town altogether. 

Dan McNamara, a resident of Terra Bella and former owner of the property where Ever Well is located, speaks to the commissioners on behalf of Ever Well. (Kenny Goodman)

According to the petition, this effort was put together because of Ever Well’s disturbances to the community and the neglect of its patients.

Since Ever Well’s petition was open to all residents of Tulare County, the planning commission noted that residents of Tulare and Visalia might not be fully aware of the situation when signing Ever Well’s petition. However, Kinsey rebutted that the same argument could be made with Terra Bella’s petition, which was also open to all of Tulare County.

However, on July 27, Terra Bella resident Susan Craig emailed The Sun-Gazette the petition from Terra Bella. She specifically noted that while 105 signatures were from Tulare and Visalia residents, and a small minority might be from other smaller towns in the county, the majority of the remaining 1,284 signatures were from Terra Bella residents or from one of its neighboring towns, Porterville.

One resident who spoke in favor of the facility explained that he was not aware of Ever Well’s presence until a few months ago and he does not believe the facility is as big of a nuisance as people are making it out to be.

“(Having) some of the mentally ill people walking around in our town should probably be inevitable. I only heard about Ever Well three or four months ago, I didn’t even know it was here,” Terra Bella resident Roberto Bravo said. “That being said, I don’t think it affects the community as much as they say it does.”

Those speaking in favor of Ever Well at the hearing expressed their beliefs that Ever Well could add a lot to the community if they had more time, and if the community were more involved with Ever Well to find solutions.

“We understand of course that there have been concerns raised by the neighbors regarding these conditions,” Kinsey said. “We simply disagree that (Ever Well’s) operations result in an actionable level of nuisance.”

The concerns Kinsey was addressing at the meeting are those brought up by Terra Bella residents. The “concerns” reported by residents include everything ranging from patients harassing children at the local school, to breaking and entering houses in the area. Just before the previous planning commission hearing on July 12, the residents reported an Ever Well patient trying to catch the Ever Well facility on fire.

“(The facility) had no idea that there was a fire on the property,” Craig said at the July 12 hearing.

Many of the Terra Bella residents also reported that they had continuously called Ever Well for help regarding their patients. Ever Well’s representation claims that these calls are not community-wide since the same 15 phone numbers initiated the 150 phone calls they received in the last year regarding Terra Bella.

Terra Bella residents made it clear that Ever Well has resisted support from the community since opening, and stand firm that they want the facility gone from the community.

“I contacted or attempted to contact Ever Well, over 230 times (spanning over) 30 (different tries). My calls were to David Shellhammer, Javier Hernandez Madison at the corporate office in Pismo Beach,” Terra Bella resident Deina Shultz said. “I have offered many semi-solutions for this problem in the community – (Ever Well) never took me up on that.”

Craig presented the commission with a timeline of the different attempts the community made to work with Ever Well in the past such as phone calls, and inviting them to all their past community meetings at the town’s middle school, as well as the meetings with the local church to address the problems they were having with patients. Craig stated that Ever Well failed to make an effort to find solutions regarding their concerns.

“On July 11, two representatives from Zion (Lutheran Church) and their attorney met with Mr. Fetyko to make one last attempt to resolve some design issues that ended at an impasse,” Craig said. “With over 142 (calls to) 911 in the last 12 months, and over 100 attempts by my neighbors and myself in the last 19 months (to contact Ever Well), it is hard to believe Ever Well didn’t know there was a serious issue they needed to address before now.”

Until the Sept. 13 meeting, the Ever Well facility in Terra Bella can continue operating under its state license. According to Aaron Bock, the assistant manager for the Tulare County Resource Management Agency, state law allows the facility to treat up to 12 residents – six per residential unit – without a permit from the county.

At the start of the meeting, Matthew Pierce, the legal representative for the planning commission, informed the commission about accusations from Ever Well representatives. From what was said in a letter to the planning commission, the facility has accused the commission of violating the Brown Act, which is a California law that ensures the public’s right to attend and participate in public meetings of local government agencies.

The representative’s allegations are that county staff did not give Ever Well proper notice of the planning commission hearings, that the commission did not publish the minute order from the last hearing correctly and that the agendas for the last two meetings were not explained accurately.

If the allegations are found to be true, they could invalidate the decisions that the commission has made in the public hearings including the revocation of Ever Well’s special use permit.

However, Pierce went on to explain that he does not see evidence that they were in violation and that they could respond by directing staff to postpone the agenda item, to disregard the allegations, or to enter into closed session to discuss the best course of action.

The staff recommended that as a response to the allegations, that the commission move forward with the hearing and postpone their final decisions to Sept. 13.

Start typing and press Enter to search