An ad-hoc citizens group opposed to leasing Kingsburg District Hospital for a county locked mental health facility was successful Wednesday in getting the hospital district board to postpone a discussion on the proposal.
The Kingsburg Citizens’ Committee objected to the board taking any action because it contends the meeting had not been properly noticed in Fresno, Kings and Tulare counties, said Richard Harriman, a Fresno lawyer representing the group. “We raised a number of issues of improper notice of the meeting,” Harriman said.
Arlie Rogers, president of the district board, said the meeting was in compliance with open meeting laws under the Brown Act, but the board chose to set aside discussion of a lease/option to buy agreement with Crestwood Behavioral Health of Sacramento. Crestwood wants to open a 44-bed secured mental health facility at the hospital.
The citizens’ group asked for time to approach other potential buyers for the hospital, which has been closed since 2010, Rogers said. “We’re willing to listen to them,” he said, “but we don’t want to endanger a potential deal we have with Crestwood.”
The hospital board’s next meeting is at 11 a.m. March 4 at the Kingsburg City Council chambers. Discussion of the lease likely will be part of the agenda, Rogers said.
Harriman said voters approved Measure K in 2010 to allow the sale of the hospital, but the measure requires a new facility to serve the local community with acute medical care. “It was clear it was to serve the three-county district with acute, medical help,” he said. “We’re in the process of trying to contact people who have an incentive to come in there and pay a fair price for it.”
Rogers said Measure K could pose a problem if Crestwood wants to exercise an option to buy the hospital. “We don’t think that’s in compliance with Measure K and we’re not going to use Measure K to sell to Crestwood,” he said. The voters likely would have to weigh in on such a proposed sale, he said. “We would probably need to go to a voter measure and Crestwood is aware of that.”
But residents don’t want the hospital leased for a locked mental health facility. Harriman said a lease to Crestwood raises concerns about potential economic effects on the community, including the need for police to respond to “events that take place around a facility like that.”
In November, Kingsburg residents attended informational planning commission meetings to voice safety concerns about the proposal for the hospital, which is located in a residential area. Lincoln Elementary School is nearby. After the Kingsburg planning commission approved the project in a 6-0 vote, it was appealed by the Kingsburg Citizens’ Committee to the City Council, which supported the project unanimously last month.
Rogers said the hospital district board looked into Crestwood’s history and determined its facilities had been “good neighbors” in other cities. The district also invited the police chief, school superintendent and city manager to help vet the company. If concerns had been raised about Crestwood, “we likely wouldn’t be in this position of negotiating with them,” Rogers said.
Kingsburg City Manager Alex Henderson said the building has been vacant for much of the past five years.
The 44-bed facility will bring 50-55 jobs, said Larry Kamer, spokesman for Crestwood Behavioral Health. Under the permit approved by the city, the facility can’t grow beyond 44 beds without the City Council’s approval.
The project also will require about $2 million in renovations, and Kamer said Crestwood intends to hire local contractors. Crestwood, he said, will consider buying the property.
“It’s been dormant for years and costing taxpayers money just to keep it maintained,” he said.
The company has made concessions because of the city’s conditional use permit. Kamer said the hospital will not accept patients with a violent criminal past, sex offenders or someone with a primary diagnosis of substance abuse.
“There will always be a handful of people who don’t want a mental health facility in their community,” he said. “We have a good long-term working relationship with Fresno County. An opportunity like this to use an existing facility upgrade and secure it, rather than having to build it from scratch, doesn’t come along very often.”
But Harriman said the people of Kingsburg care about the community and “there’s a strong group of people in Kingsburg who want to have something more than a locked-down facility there.”