Hemet City Council rescinds its support for the Behavioral Health Recovery Village in Hemet


The Hemet City Council, after a contentious public hearing Feb. 21, rescinded its letter of support of Riverside University Health System’s $40 million grant application to build a 400-bed Behavioral Health Recovery Village in Hemet.

Many Hemet residents, once learning it might be located in downtown Hemet, protested the project and showed up at the council meeting. The project was first introduced by RUHS to the city council in a special meeting called on March 4, 2022.

Riverside University Health Care System called on the Hemet City Council to provide a letter of support for their application for part of a $2.2 billion grant from the Department of Health Care Services Behavioral Health Continuum Infrastructure Program for the Recovery Village, which is more like a hospital. The university hospital provided a video presentation of what the Recovery Village would look like on county property located at Menlo Ave. and State St.

Following that meeting, the city council approved the request to send a letter of support for the project by a 4 to 1 vote with Council Member Linda Krupa voting no, according to a Hemet City Manager’s office report.

Between the initial council letter of approval sent to support the RUHS grant application in March 2022, more residents learned of the proposed location in Hemet and began voicing their displeasure at the BHRV being built in the city.

Council Member Jackie Peterson, at a Feb. 14 council meeting, who initially favored sending the letter of support, asked the council to place the matter on the agenda for a public hearing for a possible rescinding of the letter of approval at the Feb. 28 meeting.

The residents’ premise was, although a facility like this is needed, such a project at that location would bring even more people with mental health problems to the community in the area where the most homeless and mental health problems are already seen.

Among those objecting were Jim Lineberger, from Valley Community Pantry and Stacy Olson, while the majority of speakers during the public speaking portion of the meeting on the issue were either behavioral health workers at clinics or advocates for those needing mental health who sought to keep the city’s original Village support letter.

Lineberger said while he was strongly in favor of the BHRV center he said, “I am for the facility. But never once wanted it in this city.” He alleged the city was sneaking in the facility before bringing it into view of the public. “There is no time to get a grant for $47 million in a few short weeks without telling people about it…We do need it, but not here.”

Olson said she was once a supporter of the facility, but, “It’s not the right location with all the homeless there already. We don’t want to be magnets for more homeless on Menlo Street.” She said there was no control of the homeless already there. She called some of those there dangerous and others would make it even more dangerous. “I would not feel safe there,” she said.

On the other hand, many other residents took the podium to support the facility because there were few other mental health facilities nearby to service the community.

Heidi Gomez, an RUHS mental health advocate said the Village is really needed in Hemet. She said that Hemet is the second highest city for overdoses currently, many occurring among the homeless or veteran populations.

Ali Williams, a psychiatry specialist working in Hemet said, “I am excited” about the BHRV center. She argued, “We are not a dumping ground (for the homeless) in Hemet. It will be better here.”

Aaron Pratt, a military veteran who once was in prison, and is now a psychologist with a Master’s degree praised the mental and behavioral health workers in the community who helped him and strongly advocated for the BHRV coming into Hemet. “Build an ark to save these people,” Pratt said.

More than half a dozen other community residents also advocated to the city to bring the BHRV to Hemet.

Further supporting the BHRV was Ryan Miller, deputy director of RUHS Behavioral Health, who explained that the BHRV would include about 400 beds total, but those are assigned beds. There would be 111 beds in the temporary housing portion of the Village for families.

Dr. Michael Chang, a RUHS psychiatrist, told the council via Zoom that there were a number or misstatements made in the public comments and wanted to make it clear the Behavioral Village would not have an emergency room but cater to families needing temporary housing, children, ongoing treatment to inpatients and outpatients, detoxification and other mental health help services. He said it was not a homeless shelter as some suggested. He said it would also serve as a transitional home for sober living residents who want help in finding jobs and permanent housing. Their stay would be from 3 to 6 months.He added the BHRV would be a boon to the Hemet community with 600 well-paying jobs.

Following Chang’s discussion, the open hearing on the matter was called with Council Member Peterson sharing a portion of the staff report on the BHRV, but making it short by saying, “There are a lot of good things about this center. We all agree we need help in the city, but the overwhelming thought of the people I talked to in the city of Hemet do not want it in the city limits where it’s proposed.” She noted there are available resources for the mentally ill in Hemet already, “but some don’t know about them. We need to publicize more about what is in Hemet.”

Council Member Karlee Meyer spoke, saying, “I think that we should bring this back to get the full information and the presentation before we vote on this tonight.” She continued, pointing a finger at Mayor Joe Males, and saying, “This is why you became the mayor and because governance means something, having integrity means something, and representing everyone means something.”

Males retorted, “I know you are trying to shame me, but my constituents do not want it.” He then called on Krupa for her view.

Krupa, who was against the project earlier, said she recently met with about 80 people, all of whom objected to the BHRV being built at the location in Hemet.

She said she saw the county’s presentation of the Recovery Village and was “absolutely impressed on how they have designed it.” However, she said in reaching out to the community for their input she learned, “Everyone in my community is against this location. And nobody is going to build a $50 million structure so I can have my care in Hemet.” (She earlier referred to her battle with cancer and having treatments out of town.)

Further she explained Riverside County owns the property where the BHRV was planned in the city, “but it has been zoned and designed in our General Plan for a business park and affordable housing in that acreage. It would be a loss to the city’s economic engine.”

Males, in his opinion, said he heard from his constituents and, “It’s been their voice” against the BHRV.

He then called for the vote on the motion to rescind the city letter of support for the county’s BHRV in Hemet with Krupa, Peterson and himself voting for the rescinding of the original letter to the county. Meyer and Mayor Pro Tem Malcolm Lilienthal voted no on the letter being rescinded.