Updated, 11/13/14, 4:10 p.m:
Ventura’s Community Development Director Jeffrey Lambert said that MHM Services Inc. applied for and received a business license to operate the CONREP facility at the Santa Clara location but that it was issued erroneously.
"I understand that you received a business license and a zoning clearance from the City," Lambert said in a letter to MHM Services Inc. "However, I have determined that the zoning clearance was issued in error and therefore, your business license is invalid."
If MHM wished to appeal the decision, a public hearing before the City’s Planning Commission would be required, but Lambert concluded by saying that he "must reiterate [his] Determination" that the facility "must cease operation immediately."
City officials have determined that the CONREP facility relocating to 40 W. Santa Clara St. in Ventura cannot operate at that location.
Community Development Director Jeffrey Lambert has said that the facility’s functions are not a permitted use. According to the business license filed by MHM Services Inc., the location would have been used for "mental health services." While office use is allowed in the area per zoning regulations, medical, dental and psychiatric services are not.
There is still the possibility that MHM could appeal the decision. We’ll continue to follow this story.
News that a facility that treats criminal offenders with psychiatric disorders would relocate to West Ventura riled nearby residents, business owners and city officials this week as many of them had been left in the dark of the plans.
CONREP, the forensic Conditional Release Program, is an outpatient facility that serves clients who typically have severe mental disorders, 85 percent of whom have committed violent felonies. Most patients have been released from a state mental hospital under the stipulation that they continue treatment at a CONREP facility. The Department of State Hospitals says that “27 percent of persons released from state hospitals without going to CONREP re-offend within two years,” while those who attend the program have a “very low level of re-offense”, around 6 percent.
The private company that now handles CONREP, MHM Services of California, Inc., operates via government contract and is based in Vienna, Virginia. CONREP had previously been operated by the Ventura County Behavioral Health, but after contract negotiations between the state of California and the county fell through, operations were transferred to MHM who took control on Oct. 31, forcing the facility and its operations to move from the previous location on Telegraph Road in Ventura.
The proposed new location, at 40 W. Santa Clara St. in Ventura, is located in close proximity to several businesses including Real Cheap Sports as well as residential apartments, a child care facility and a senior living community.
According to the California Department of State Hospitals, patients are sent to CONREP after having been found not guilty by reason of insanity, are mentally disordered offenders, or are found incompetent to stand trial. Sexually violent predators and mentally disordered sexual offenders are also served by CONREP.
When the Ventura location was in operation on Telegraph Road, a maximum of 21 clients were handled; under new management, details are unclear as to the number of clients that will be treated at the facility and if the proposed new location will even handle client relations or simply be used for office work.
Director of Behavioral Health for Ventura County Meloney Roy says that negotiations fell through with the state when they were “unable to come to terms” on continuing operations of CONREP several months ago, forcing the facility to operate with no contract. Roy says that Ventura County is the sixth county in the state to have a contract terminated by the state.
Ventura Mayor Cheryl Heitmann learned of the plans on Friday afternoon after concerned business owners in the area began contacting the mayor’s office. Heitmann says that the city was not notified of the plans to move the CONREP offices to Ventura’s west end.
“It’s just not a good location for that type of facility,” said Heitmann. “I think we need to do what we can to help them be aware that this is not the best location.”
Community Development Director Jeffrey Lambert worked over the weekend to contact the facility’s operators at MHM and to talk with the property manager, Ventura-based real estate investment and property management company Becker Group.
“We called the landlord and tried to make it clear to them that we need to be clear of their use and whether or not it would fit within the downtown specific plan,” said Lambert. “Their allowance is uncertain at best and perhaps not allowed at all.”
Lambert says that office use would be allowed but would require a conditional use permit by discretion of the planning commission, but does not include psychiatric services. As of Tuesday morning, Lambert hadn’t spoken with the tenants for clarification.
Real Cheap Sports owners Tim and Ashley Coates were informed of their potential new neighbors on Friday and released a statement.
“Although we support the services offered by MHM, and understand the necessity of such a service, we, obviously, have great concerns about the placement of this facility,” the Coates said in a statement. “We believe that the operators of MHM have a responsibility to locate their facility in an area that does not put the general public at risk.”
Coates says that he would be concerned for the safety of his employees and neighbors if patients were being treated in the area.
“I’m very concerned about it and I don’t want to see them there,” said Tim.
Ventura’s CONREP has handled numerous clients of notoriety, including David Attias, who in 2001 killed four people in Isla Vista with his vehicle and was later found to be legally insane. Attias was convicted of four counts of second-degree murder and sentenced to up to 60 years in Patton State Hospital in San Bernadino.
In 2012, Attias claimed that his bi-polar disorder was under control and asked that he be transferred to a CONREP facility. Attias’ request was granted and he was placed under the care of the CONREP facility in Ventura.
The VCReporter reached out to MHM Services of California, Inc., but was unable to reach a spokesperson for comment.