Terra Bella opposes Ever Well’s new permit request

Assistant Manager of the Tulare County Resource Management Agency Aaron Bock presenting the informational item about Ever Well’s application to the Board of Supervisors.(Karis Caddell)

Terra Bella residents object to Ever Well’s application to rezone site in order to expand the mental health facility to 280 patients at Tulare County Board of Supervisors meeting

VISALIA – Once again, Terra Bella residents have taken to voicing a strong opposition against Ever Well operating in their community as the mental health facility seeks out an application for a new permit to expand its operations in the town.

On June 4, the Tulare County Board of Supervisors heard an informational item explaining that Ever Well, which is based in the community of Terra Bella, is applying for a zone change to continue operating with more patients. This comes roughly eight months after the Tulare County Planning Commission revoked the facility’s special use permit, which allowed it to operate in Terra Bella with  up to 100 beds to serve patients. As of now, without the permit, the facility has six patients on site.

“Just wanted to start off by saying over the past year, Ever Well had to work in good faith with the county and RMA (Tulare County Resource Management Agency) staff to determine the most appropriate course to take this project,” said Reuben Duarte, the director of planning with the Somos Group, who represented Ever Well at the meeting.

According to Aaron Bock, the assistant manager of the RMA, the zone change is needed for Ever Well to re-establish a special use permit. Duarte explained that Ever Well is looking to rezone the area with hopes of negotiating the approval with the county and community. He said that this is a procedural matter that initiates a more formal process that the county, Tulare County Resource Management Agency, Ever Well and the community can participate in.

“(It allows them) to engage in that kind of formal process that includes additional public hearings, engagements and kind of the opportunity to review potential conditions of approval,” Duarte said.

If approved, the new permit, which would be acquired with the knowledge and input of the community, would allow Ever Well to house a total of 280 residents.

Residents of Terra Bella did not seem open to the idea of the facility being granted a new permit, however. After roughly a year of the residents being tormented at the hands of Ever Well’s patients, residents say they have lost trust that these same problems wouldn’t occur if the facility received a new permit allowing them to expand their facility to hold significantly more patients.

According to previous reports, the disturbances induced by the patients included them harassing school children and forcing the town’s elementary school into a lockdown, breaking into private property and, in one instance, drinking the local church’s hand sanitizer. The complaints from the residents span back to as early as May 2023.

As a residential, transitional housing facility, Ever Well staff does not have the authority to prevent the patients from leaving the property, something that was noted by Duarte during the meeting.

In opposition to this application, some Terra Bella residents voiced their concerns during public comment. One community member named Susan Craig, who lives next to the Ever Well facility, recalled the impact of Ever Well when they had 19 patients.

“While I know that these types of facilities are greatly needed in our state to accommodate some of our individuals getting extra support and help, Ever Well has shown to our community that they don’t care about Terra Bella and the residents and the problems that we’re having,” Craig said.

Craig pointed out that when Ever Well had more patients, the Tulare County Sheriff’s Office received 142 calls from residents of the town about disturbances caused by Ever Well’s patients within the span of 12 months. At the Sept. 27, 2023 meeting, TCSO Captain Duane Cornett confirmed the sheriff’s office received a slew of reports from Terra Bella citizens concerning these patients over the course of the year that Ever Well started operating in the town.

Craig added that, from her perspective, Terra Bella is suited towards agriculture anyways and should remain that way.

“We are a very sleepy area that is very much ag based. I have ag on my property and follow the rules of the zoning in order to enforce that,” Craig said. “I’m fully against a zoning change. I think the ag solution needs to stay at the solution because that’s what our area is.”

Terra Bella citizen Hans Paulmann also gave his two cents on the issue as someone who had his home broken into by an Ever Well patient. He said a year later he still gets scared and surveys the property in fear that someone will harm his family.

“Last year, it was a living hell to be Ever Well’s neighbor,” Paulmann said. “We had one of their residents trespass on our property. It has cost us a huge amount of distress and suffering. We’re literally afraid of Ever Well and their program.”

Paulmann reiterated Craig’s sentiments, noting that from his perspective Every Well doesn’t seem to care about the community and only their own financial gain. He also stated that the fencing – which one of the residents stepped over in the past – was not up to code a year ago and has still not been fixed. Paulmann continued to say that everytime he and other community members reached out to Ever Well, they shut down their concerns or did not respond.

He also stated that none of the other neighbors in the area are in favor of Ever Well’s permit being reinstated. Paulmann noted that since the permit was revoked, which required the facility to house only six residents, Terra Bella has been fairly quiet.

“Ever Well has proved that they can manage six (residents). Anything above six is out of their control,” Paulmann said.

Hans Paulmann’s wife, Cindy, also shared some of her concerns as a resident and nurse. She noted that Ever Well’s programs seemed to be lacking and when she called the facility about the issues with the patients, the only response she received from Ever Well was for Terra Bella residents themselves to integrate the patients into the Terra Bella community, which lacks sidewalks and public facilities for them to visit when they leave Ever Well.

“I do not believe Ever Well is here with good intent. I think they are here to put money in their pockets (and) to put people that are in need in our backyard without taking any accountability for it,” Cindy said.

The supervisors ended the meeting by stating that the item was informational and encouraging the community to voice their concerns to the planning commission when they have their public hearing for the new permit.

“I’d like to make it very clear this will go to the planning commission. Do not take this meeting in lieu of that. If you have any comments, you need to continue the public hearing at the commission,” Chairman Larry Micari said.

Fellow Supervisor Pete Vander Poel also encouraged concerned residents of Terra Bella to go to the planning commission meeting.

“Like supervisor Micari mentioned, stay involved, stay engaged with the planning commission,” Vander Poel said “If something were to be approved, you can help shape what this project could look like…So this process is very important and being engaged is very important. Especially for (those of) you that live in and around the area.”

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