Everyone involved knows that the new Psychiatric Health Facility and the Crisis Stabilization Unit to be funded by the millions of local sales tax dollars are going to be built on the vacant lot next door to Camille Schrader’s operation on Orchard Street.
Why do we have to go through years of expensive planning and delay for what is obviously a done deal?
Because Mendo can’t do anything without going through every conceivable costly hoop they can think of in a false concept of “the public process.” And even more laughably, "transparency."
And so it was that last Tuesday the latest chapter in that farcical process unfolded when the Supervisors were presented with a long-delayed yet somehow urgent proposal to hand over $3.3 million to a Sacramento architiectural consultant called Nacht & Lewis to evaluate and design the PHF, CSU and the third component, a Crisis Residential Treatment facility (CRT).
The presentation was typical of CEO Angelo’s most controversial projects: wait for as long as possible, arrange some kind of gold-plated, highly proper and grotesquely overpriced package — remember how the CEO once compared the process to building a $50,000 kitchen? — and then tell the Supes that even though she and her staff took months to get to this nebulous point, there’s now a deadline and gosh we’re running late.
Board Chair Carre Brown said as much, noting that she’s heard lots of complaints — particularly from the Grand Jury — about how the Measure B Mental Health Facilities project hasn’t done much and is moving so slowly to fruition. This convenient observation from Mrs. Brown played right into CEO Angelo’s hands.
To ramp up the pressure even more, Angelo and her staff told the Board that they risked losing about $500k in unrelated state Mental Health Grant funds if they didn’t submit some kind of plan to have a Crisis Stabilization Unit in place by October of 2021.
This far off, irrelevant threat was all Supervisor John Haschak, already a dependable study in credulity, needed to go along with the rush-job Angelo and her staff presented.
The consultant confirmed the pre-destined Orchard Street site by saying that they only planned to look at it and Old Howard Hospital in Willits during the “feasability study” portion of their $3.3 million contract. However, Willits is on record saying that if the County was going to consider Old Howard, they’d have to comply with all of Willits’s city planning and construction codes. Moreover, several Willits residents have openly opposed the idea of a mental health facility in downtown Willits at the old hospital.
Ukiah, on the other hand, has no objections and is likely to welcome the project since the Orchard Street property already has Camille Schrader’s existing service facility next door and it is not in the downtown or a residential neighborhood. (Everything and anything distressing to West Side Ukiah is placed on State Street or east of State Street.)
So at this point there’s no real need for a “feasability study,” is there? Ukiah will accept; Willits will resist, ergo: Ukiah/Orchard Street is “feasible.”
When the subject of the surprisingly large $3.3 mil feasibility/design contract came before the Supes on Tuesday, Supervisor John McCowen’s first reaction was, “I think it would be prudent to hear from the full [Measure B] committee on that.” — i.e., whether this $3.3 million proposal was what the Measure B committee had in mind.
But after CEO Angelo cannily pointed out that the next Measure B meeting won’t be until mid-December and the item wouldn’t come back to the Board until January — Oh the delays! (Never mind that the CEO and her staff can take months bringing the contract to the Board, no problem. But now, it’s suddenly urgent.)
So we assume the $3.3 million will go on the slo-mo Measure B Committee’s December agenda — with the pressure on them that the Supes already approved the $3.3 million kitchen, er. psych facilities.
Supervisors Dan Gjerde and Ted Williams tried to inject a little rationality to the discussion:
Gjerde: “If we are only looking at three residential homes as crisis residential treatment, any architect in Mendocino County could do that. We don't need a specialist and this should not be part of the overall project. If we need a specialist for the PHF unit and the CSU perhaps, then the process that was used makes sense. But we do not need to spend $375,000 to remodel three homes.”
Williams: “I think there is a structural problem here between the Measure B committee, the executive office doing some of the tasks, and the supervisors being at arm’s length from this process. It's another train wreck. Nobody wants to be holding the bag for this. We all want the services and we are all thankful that it's funded and there's public money available to solve these problems. But this is an area where we really need a strategic plan. The idea of losing potential funds because we delay this, doesn't appeal to any of us either. But I think that comes out of not having a strategic plan. Maybe that's what we need to look at before we start looking at a specific contract. We should talk about what the process is and make sure we all agree on who the parties are and the flow. The fact that this has come to us without going through the Measure B committee and that Measure B committee members are not here to voice opinions should raise some concern. At the same time that we collaborate with the cities, we should collaborate with the hospitals. I spoke to Adventist hospital. They have interest in the CSU even at the Coast Hospital which may become theirs to operate in the spring. They seem like an important partner to be at the table. Not having their input and not having them at the oversight committee meeting is another red flag.
Chair Carre Brown: “The biggest criticism I hear is that nothing is getting done, nothing is moving forward and that is all over the county and that's the people who are actually financing this through sales tax and they want to see something moving [no matter how stupid or expensive]. We used the term ‘contingent,’ for the CRT and I think we need to go forward.”
Williams: "Do you see a way to separate that from this $3.3 million? I would like to see the CRT [Crisis Residential Treatment] go forward today. Purchasing structures sounds great. Supervisor Gjerde is right that any architect in this county can design a remodel. This does seem inflated.”
Supervisor McCowen then suggested approving the $3.3 million contract "contingent upon approval by the Measure B committee."
Williams: “I don't think I'm comfortable approving $3.3 million without understanding the services, if we can afford those services, deciding the scope with the cities and the hospital — there are too many unknowns here.”
McCowen: “I don't necessarily disagree, that's what we would hope would come out of the feasibility study. But this package is before us. We are not sure if this is in line with what the Measure B committee had in mind when they said go out for an RFP. So that's the basic question we want to hear back from them on.”
Williams: “I'm not against the plan. I would like more detail. For example, what services will take place in the structures and can we afford those services? And what funds will be left for the coast? If the Measure B oversight committee comes back and says they have support for this and we ask what is left on the table for the coast and the answer is nothing, then no, I don't support it. There are too many unknowns.”
Supervisor John Haschak: “People want some action. We've been at this for a long time. Obviously it doesn't sit well with us as the Board of Supervisors looking at this process and having it not go back to the Measure B and come up with a recommendation to us. But we have to recognize that a lot of people put a lot of work into this and this is hopefully the best we can do at this point. We won't know some of that information until the feasibility study is done and all that. So I guess I support a motion contingent upon approval of the Measure B committee to proceed with this.”
Supervisor Williams tried suggesting that the Measure B committee convene a special meeting this week. But he was told by the CEO that that couldn't happen. “If we're talking about expediency,” said Williams. “We don't need to wait until January, we just need the Measure B committee to come back with some answers.”
Gjerde: “I think these figures are just way too high! I don't think we should be contemplating $375,000 in architectural fees for remodeling three houses. I don't think we should be contemplating $500,000 for “predesign conceptual services” and I don't think we should be contemplating $2.2 million for actual design of approximately 20,000 square feet of commercial buildings. I would only support going back to Measure B with the concept of up to $300,000 for design services. And leave it at that. Because we don't have to have specialty architectural services to redesign three houses. That could be a separate architectural firm locally sourced for a lot less money. Then, after we've had the conceptual planning done, we can decide if we need a new RFP for the architectural services which would be Phase 3.”
Gjerde also noted that if you apply standard multipliers to a $3.3 million design — in the range of 7% to 15% — you end up with a construction cost that’s more than Measure B can probably afford. (7% translates to $47 million; 15% translates to $22 million)
Brown then asked CEO Angelo: “When we go through these processes we do evaluate cost?”
Brown: “The evaluation committee is still coming forward with this?”
Brown: “So I'm assuming they have looked at the scope of work?”
Angelo then issued her ultimatum: “The evaluation committee has looked at this scope of work and we did have mental health input initially and the evaluation committee has agreed on this. So that's that. On this. We came to you this way because of the timeframe and this is a government process and if this board was not comfortable voting this up then you could do the recommendation that you just did which is contingent upon a majority of the Measure B committee. I appreciate Supervisor Gjerde’s comments and his recommendation on how to move forward. To do that, we would be going back to the drawing board and scratching all of this, scratching this particular contractor who could apply for another RFP.”
Williams: “I'm not against this plan. I just want to see the other half of the plan. I want to see that we can actually staff and operate the facility we're talking about building. And hearing that the $3.3 million is not capped is a great concern to me. What happens when we spend this money and work through the process and we run over? We build the facility and find that we can't staff it, the personnel are not available here, or we can afford them? That doesn't leave us in a good position. I want to see a strategic plan. We are doing this but there are other components we need to work out. If we can't fit this within the Measure B budget then we would have to come back and revisit this plan and scale it down.”
Haschak: “The whole problem with Measure B is we don't know if we are going to have the money to staff it eventually. But the idea was and always has been to build these buildings with a certain amount of the money and then with the other part that would go on afterwards and that's where the staffing is going to come from whether we can find qualified persons who want to come to Mendocino County and work. That's always been a big question mark. But to build the buildings, I'm willing to go along with this proposal at this point.”
McCowen: “To take the time to develop a strategic plan which we actually got an outline of that via the Kemper report over a year ago, to do more in the way of a strategic plan would just further delay the process. Would questions of staffing levels and sustainability be part of the Phase 1 feasibility?”
Nicely outfitted Nacht & Lewis rep: “We would work with the county and [County Mental Health Director] Jeanine Miller and her staff to determine the staffing levels for the facilities and review other facilities. We do have a mental health expert on our team to assist with that process.”
Williams: “I'm stunned that we are talking about spending $3.3 million of public money essentially as a blank check with no assurance that we won't have overruns without a financial plan, not even a one-page document about what it will cost to staff these facilities. So I can't support this even though I want to. I have the same pressure from my constituents that this has been too long a process — why isn't the county moving? Here's the opportunity to move. Etc. But I can't do it because there are too many red flags and I think what will happen is we are going to spend the money up to $3.3 million and then talk about going over that and then running into, Where do we hire the people? It reminds me of the CV Starr Center [The Fort Bragg Rec Facility which was built without much regard for round the clock staffing and continues to suffer from that]. We need a plan with a binder and a financial statement that gives us some theoretical picture before we get started.”
The Board voted 3-2 to approve CEO Angelo’s rail-roaded, gold-plated kitchen approach — “contingent on Measure B committee approval.”
Will the Measure B committee get on board Angelo’s train and vote to approve what the Supes already approved?
Will Gjerde or Williams stick to their principles and appear before the Measure B committee in December and attempt to derail Angelo’s gold-plated train?
Whatever happens, history tells us that the Measure B Commitee and the CEO and the Supes will pick the most expensive and therefore slowest option available, albeit with some grumbling from a few malcontents.
The only real question is whether Camille Schrader’s company will still be around to staff whatever may be built.