Santa Barbara Council Votes to Provide Grant for West Downtown Detox Center
The city will direct $865,000 in redevelopment funds to the Housing Authority, but first asks staff to make revisions addressing neighbors’ concerns
The Santa Barbara City Council voted Tuesday afternoon to provide the Housing Authority of the City of Santa Barbara with an $865,000 grant to support a proposed West Downtown detox facility, but it instructed staff to revise the legislation to address neighbors’ concerns.
Council members visited the four-bedroom, four-bath single-family home at 1020 Placido Ave. before Tuesday’s meeting. After an hourlong session of public comment, all members except Councilwoman Michael Self approved of the location of the building.
The Housing Authority will purchase and manage the property, acting as the landlord, while the Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse will operate the detox facility.
“We felt the Housing Authority’s role would provide better protections for the community by acting as the landlord,” Housing Authority Executive Director Rob Pearson said.
The City Council will give $865,000 in redevelopment funds to the Housing Authority, which researched multiple locations for more than 18 months.
Since 2004, the 12-bed detox center had been at Casa Esperanza, 816 Cacique St., but increasing service demands made it difficult to operate efficiently.
“At detox is where the beginning starts of whole new life,” Dave Hopkins said during public comment. “When I went to Casa Esperanza, I knew I could get drugs, alcohol, anything I wanted, and that wasn’t going to work.”
Clients volunteer for detoxification and must past drug and background tests before admittance, said Wim Verkaik, CADA’s director of administration. CADA will employ six counselors to watch over the clients every hour of the day for 14-day treatment. There will be two counselors during the day, one in the evening and one at night. Verkaik said the Placido Avenue location will better accommodate women with a separate bathroom and will free up space at Casa Esperanza.
Santa Barbara County District Attorney Joyce Dudley voiced her approval of the detox center.
“I support this program because CADA has a record of success,” Dudley said. “The correlation is direct between recovery and public safety. It will not only save law enforcement dollars, but save lives.”
Verkaik said social detoxification is the only cost-effective treatment in comparison to hospitalization or jail.
“It’s not a drop in center and not a halfway house,” he said.
A typical treatment day would begin at 6 a.m. with hygiene and breakfast, cleaning at 8 a.m. followed by group therapy. After lunch, clients would participate in more group therapy and a 90-minute program, then acupuncture. Clients then would have dinner and another group therapy session. Lights out would come about 10:30 p.m.
“I’ve worked with CADA, and it’s a fantastic organization,” said Emmet Hawkes, executive director of the Santa Barbara Community Housing Corp. “Should there be problems, I know I can make a call to Rob and those issues will be taken care of immediately.”
Victoria Mather, a former substance abuser, shared her personal story during public comment; it was followed by applause.
“I lost everything — my house, my children,” Mather said. “During my prior attempts at rehab, I would detox three to five days before entering, and it wouldn’t work. But when my friend referred me to Santa Barbara, at the end of 14 days my counselor and I had a clear plan on how to live successfully.”
Mather said she is in her second year at SBCC and has her children back.
“Having the initial 14 days to detox with professional one-on-one guidance and understanding helped me make the best decision of my life,” she said. “Now I’m a responsible, contributing member of this beautiful community.”
Councilman Frank Hotchkiss asked whether 14 days would be enough to get someone clean.
“Our clients have made the decision to be clean; that cannot be said for those at Casa Esperanza,” Verkaik said.
While many expressed the need for a detoxification center and that it wouldn’t have an adverse effect on the neighborhood, several neighbors disagreed.
“A lot of us can agree these programs are great and services are needed, but the item is the location and growing families that have invested in housing in the downtown core,” one woman said. “The proposed use is incompatible with the neighborhood.”
About 45 neighbors voiced concern during the two meetings CADA held Feb. 22 and March 10.
“I’m a proponent of the program, but the center was better suited in an industrial area,” Jim Cadenhead said Tuesday. “I have a 9-month-old daughter. When people look outside, they are looking into my bedroom window. … This could be a great program, but I don’t think it will be good for our neighborhood.”
Rebecca Long, too, said she worried about the facility’s proximity to her family.
“These people are not neighborly; they are going to be rotating in and out,” she said. “I want to put in a sandbox and pool for my baby, our bedroom window is 5 feet, 9 inches from the fence; that’s too many people that close to my home and family. There’s no guarantee someone couldn’t hop over the fence. … I don’t think it’s fair to say that it’s an improvement on the neighborhood.”
Those who spoke during the public comment period raised issues that weren’t being addressed, such as homeless nearby, a lack of street lights, vandalism and not enough policing.
“The neighborhood concern is really a big issue for me, and there are so many things that were supposed to be policed and aren’t being policed,” Self said. “I sympathize with the concerns that it’s just one more rock on their pile. There are other locations, and we should keep looking.”
“We are combining two groups that don’t go along with each other. People have a neighborhood fear concerning homeless people in vehicles on the street and say this would be a furtherance of that. I don’t believe that’s the case,” he said. “It’s a real problem, but it’s not the issue here. I think you will find (the center) as a very controlled, conscientious neighbor.”
Mayor Helene Schneider said the center not only would be a good neighbor but would improve the overall public safety of the area.
“The issues related to the neighborhood and public safety will be enhanced with staff oversight, making sure not only the people inside (the center) are clean but the area is safe,” she said. “That will relate to good connections with neighbors.
“I think, though, as the permit process moves forward specific areas can be addressed, such as the concerns of smoking and adequate fencing. If there is concern, we need to make sure the concern gets alleviated. Finding another place is the same as saying we won’t have any (center); it’s not really an option.”
The City Council will revisit the amended legislation next Tuesday.