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Council fields tough questions over proposed treatment facility

March 15, 2001|By MARIO RENTERÍA, Staff Writer

WESTMORLAND — Residents expressed opinions and asked tough questions here Wednesday night during a special City Council meeting regarding a proposed drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility for the city.

The meeting was aimed at informing the community about the facility and for the council to receive input from residents.

Councilmen John Makin and Romualdo Marquez did not attend the meeting.

What is proposed is a 25-bed facility that would house non-violent female drug and alcohol offenders.

Residents heard presentations from Mike Gaston, senior planner for the Holt Group of El Centro, and Bambi Vasquez, a recovering drug addict and a case manager at Hacienda Valdez, a similar facility in Desert Hot Springs.

Gaston, whose company provides planning services to the city of Westmorland, told the 20 or so residents who attended about the facility and how it would be run.

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The women to be treated in the facility cannot be violent offenders and would be referred from drug court programs across the state.

Gaston said the city could stipulate in the contract with the company that builds the facility to have a certain number of beds available to local offenders.

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 six months.

Gaston also told talked of the job opportunities to residents.

He said at least six full-time jobs would be open to local applicants only.

Vasquez talked about how she came to work at Hacienda Valdez. She talked about how she overcame her addiction and now wants to help others battle their addictions.

"It's a disease," she said.

"Addiction and alcoholism hits all kinds of families," she added.

The facility would cost about $2.5 million to build and would bring to the city about $25,000 a year in tax revenue, which didn't leave some residents too excited.

Dorothy Gatewood told the council, "$25,000 doesn't impress me."

"We have our own little problems. Why import more of them?" she asked.

Gatewood argued the city should be looking to "fix up" the city, not bring in such a facility.

Other residents stated concerns about how easily someone in the program could leave the premises, since it would be fenced but not locked.

Gaston and Vasquez, along with Martha Cruz, a Westmorland resident who has been involved in investigating the possibility of the facility coming to Westmorland, all responded that the women are always supervised and rarely just leave, since they would be sent back to prison or jail when caught.

Cruz was part of a committee that took a tour of Hacienda Valdez recently, along with Gaston and City Councilman Romualdo Marquez Jr.

Not all residents were against the idea.

One resident said, "We should have a 100-bed facility."

"I don't feel threatened by these ladies," said the resident, whose name was not available.

The major concerns stated by residents was whether the police or residents will have any problems with the women.

Cruz said they will ask those and many more questions if they tour Hacienda Valdez again.

Mayor Thomas Marquez said, "I think the turnout was smaller than I liked but they had a lot of input. They brought up a lot of good issues we need to clear up before we get down to the nuts and bolts of it."

Marquez said he hasn't decided whether to support the facility.

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

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