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Westmorland council sets special meeting on proposed treatment facility

March 13, 2001|By MARIO RENTERÍA, Staff Writer

WESTMORLAND — The City Council here will have a special meeting to hear comments from residents regarding a proposed drug and alcohol treatment facility in the city for non-violent women.

The special meeting will start at 7 p.m. Wednesday in the Westmorland Elementary School cafeteria.

The treatment facility was proposed for the city by Mike Gaston, senior planner for the Holt Group of El Centro, and City Councilman Henry Halcon in January.

"We want to obtain public input on the citizens and hear what they think about the facility and answer any questions," said Gaston of the special meeting.

Gaston, whose company provides planning services for Westmorland, will make a presentation during the meeting.

"If people like it, then the city might make a formal decision on the facility," said Gaston.

The decision will come at a later council meeting.

If the community is in favor and the city decides to pursue it, Gaston said, the city will put out a request for proposals to companies that build such facilities.

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He said he already knows of three interested companies.

"We do need community support," he added.

The facility would house 25 women who meet certain criteria, but the main criterion would be participants cannot be violent offenders.

The women would be referred from drug court programs across the state and possibly from Imperial County and from the state Department of Corrections. Private pay clients would be accepted.

The drug court program is for first- and second-time non-violent drug and alcohol offenders. If an individual fits the criteria, instead of going to jail or prison the person can enter the program.

The program requires participants to be treated in the facility for a time specified by their counselors or probation officers, with stays ranging from 90 days to a year.

Because the program is voluntary, individuals can leave at any time but face penalties such as being sent back to jail or prison.

If a woman finishes her rehabilitation, pending drug charges are dismissed, even felonies.

The facility would cost about $2.5 million to build and would bring into the city about $25,000 a year in tax revenue.

The facility would be built and run by a private firm. All the city would do is provide the land.

The center would create about 10 full-time jobs: one administrator, about two counselors, one business manager, cooks, maintenance workers and possibly security guards. About six of those jobs would be open to local applicants only.

The facility would look like a nursing home, not a prison. Those involved already have a proposed site, about 12 acres north of the new city sewer treatment plant.

The facility would only require about 2 to 3 acres.

Councilman Rumaldo Marquez, Gaston and Westmorland resident Martha Cruz took a tour of a similar facility in Thousand Palms on Feb. 16.

They reported to the council on their tour and expressed their opinions.

"I think it's a great idea," said Marquez during the council meeting.

Said Cruz during an interview, "I hope that the community will buy into bringing this facility in.

"The city needs the tax dollars, the residents need the jobs and the school district would benefit from the development fees."

"We know that our city needs to attract businesses and this is one. Our city has a lot of needs and the biggest is to get money to fix our streets. This is one way where we can start," she added.

Cruz said Bambi Velasquez, case manager at the Thousand Palms facility, will be at the special meeting to answer any questions the community might have.

Velasquez is a graduate of the rehabilitation program at Thousand Palms. After graduating, she returned to school and was hired at the facility, where she has been working for about seven years.

"I hope residents will be open-minded about the facility and listen," Cruz added.

Staff Writer Mario Rentería can be reached at 370-8549.

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