Is the drug detox facility actually a ‘nursing, rest, or convalescent home’ per Camas code?
On Monday, the city of Camas was served with a Land Use Petition Act complaint notifying it that a group of citizens were suing the city over the approval of a 15-bed drug detox facility to be sited next to the Dorothy Fox Elementary School. The Dorothy Fox Safety Alliance (DFSA) hired a process server to personally serve Mayor Pro Tem Ellen Burton Monday at Camas City Hall.
The dispute began last fall when citizens learned the owners of drug detox facilities, Thomas Feldman and Christopher Paulson, were considering the purchase of the Fairgate Estate, located next to the school, a park and a church. City staff initially told the owners of Discover Recovery that they would need to go through a Type IV process that involved the Planning Commission and City Council approval. Yet in December, city staff reversed themselves. They told the owners they could pursue a Type III process, bypassing the Planning Commission and City Council. This was viewed as an easier path to obtaining a zoning modification for their facility.
Is a drug and alcohol detox and rehabilitation facility actually a “nursing, rest, or convalescent home” according to Camas municipal code? That is at the core of the legal dispute under which Discover Recovery obtained approval for their facility.
A local lawyer, Brian Lewallen, agreed to work pro bono for the group of citizens. He shared that the legal filing argues 63 separate claims of error in the Hearing Examiner’s decision. The case was filed in Clark County Superior Court as Dorothy Fox Safety Alliance v. City of Camas as a Land Use Petition Act violation. Also named as respondents were Tranquility Partners, LLC dba Discover Recovery, Thomas Feldman (of Perkins Coie law firm), and Jack Foyt (property owner).
For the past nine months, citizens have attempted to learn more and have a two-way dialogue with members of the City Council. They have felt increasingly frustrated that council policy allows only three minutes of citizen comments at any one time, with no responses by City Council members.
“During the hearing examiner process, the City Council told the citizens that, on advice of counsel, they could not speak about the detox matter because it was out of their hands,” said Lewallen. “They said they had no influence over the hearing examiner’s decision.
“Whether they are a bystander or directly involved in litigation, their lack of transparency and accountability to their citizens has been a constant,” he said. “Which is understandably frustrating to those impacted by this erroneous decision.”
On Monday evening, just hours after being served legal paperwork, the City Council held a previously scheduled online town hall event via Zoom. They offered citizens unrestricted time to share concerns, and council members were allowed to respond. The town hall ran for about 94 minutes with a substantial amount of respectful, two-way dialogue between citizens and councilors.
The one exception was the drug detox facility issue. Because the city had been sued, Burton and Director of Communications Bryan Rachal informed citizens at the start of the town hall event that council members would listen but not respond to comments about the Discover Recovery issue.
Several citizens shared that there was a need for this type of facility in Camas, but the location was wrong. “We do need that in our community,” said Robert, a disabled veteran. “Everybody knows that. We’re just concerned with location.”
According to Lewallen, a process server attempted to deliver the legal documents to either the Mayor Pro Tem Burton, or the city administrator Jamal Fox. City staff told the server to come back the next day – which would have been a day after the deadline to file DFSA’s case.
Once the process server asked for home addresses of both to serve them there, she was told that Burton would be in her office later that day. Ultimately, Burton arrived at city hall to receive the legal documents.
The lawsuit alleges the city “engaged in unlawful procedure or failed to follow a prescribed process;” the decision was an “erroneous interpretation of the law;’’ and the decision is not supported by the evidence. Finally, it claims the decision “violates the constitutional rights of the party seeking relief (citizens).’’
The legal filing states “the application and the city determined that characterizing the facility as a “convalescent home” was necessary to prevent the applicant from having to request and obtain a legislative zone change” that required city council approval.
The petition indicates there have been multiple safety incidents at the other Discover Recovery facility in Long Beach, WA. The city withdrew from negotiations to expand that facility after complaints from area residents.
DFSA alleges, and it is undisputed by the owners, that patients staying at the detox facility do so on a voluntary basis. They can leave the facility at any time “against treatment advice” or “against medical advice.”
The Long Beach facility has no duty or obligation to find or bring the patient back to the facility, or even notify the local police department that a patient has fled into the community. Evidence of this troubling fact is found in transcribed Pacific County Sheriff logs shared by DFSA during the hearings examiner process.
Cited in the sheriff reports from the Long Beach facility include the following:
• A patient in “meth psychosis” left the facility on Feb. 25, 2021.
• A patient with “known mental health history of harming herself” left the facility Dec. 17, 2020.
• A patient having a “psychotic break,” getting to be violent,” and “talking to himself” was outside the facility Jan. 21, 2020.
• A patient with a history of drug addiction and “suicidal ideations and attempts” left the facility against treatment advice without any money or identification on Jul. 3, 2019.
The safety of children is cited as the DFSA primary concern.
At the public hearing before the Hearing Examiner, DFSA reports one commenter testified about his own experience with addiction and treatment. He testified that patients “left the facility, hopping over the fence and meeting with drug dealers in a nearby park and talking to children on the playground.”
At the hearing, DFSA cites a Clark County firefighter who testified that a similar facility in his station’s service area generates the highest call volume of any address in the area. “The majority of the calls are for psychiatric issues and overdoses.”
DFSA alleges the Hearing Examiner “turned the land use application process on its head. The Hearing Examiner unlawfully shifted the burden of proof from the Applicant to DFSA” but also “created new standards not set forth in Camas Municipal Code.”
”The Hearing Examiner wanted DFSA to convince him why the detox center should not go on Prune Hill rather than the Applicant proving why it should be allowed,” said Lewallen.
Town Hall remarks
Multiple citizens shared their concerns, expressing frustration that elected representatives failed to respond during “citizen communication” at multiple council workshops and regular meetings. And now they are told that the council members won’t respond because of the litigation.
Councilor Steve Hogan chose to respond to comments from citizen Brian Wiklem that the city government appears to be reactionary on many issues including the homeless issue and the detox zoning controversy and land use issues.
“For years, we’ve tried to guess what we should do to get ahead of potential problems on land use,” he said. “Right now, I’m suggesting to the council that we look into the future and establish a process where the council requires that the staff, the hearings examiner and the city attorney, examine the land use policies, and look at what’s going on around the state of Washington to bring together suggestions to us annually as to what we should do to avoid situations where we’d rather not see them happen.
“But they come and once they get into the process of applying for that zoning, we are out of the equation,” he said. “So I guess I’m just reacting to Brian, to say that, I think we just need to look at the system and ask the experts to step in and advise the Council on where they think we ought to make changes that will protect the quality of the city life in the future.”
Citizen Stuart Maxwell reminded the council that the city prides itself in child safety. However, “it’s really sad that a group of citizens today have had to go and raise some money and take this very clear kind of child safety issue to court.“
Hannah Rogers spoke with the council, sharing that one reason she and her family moved to Camas was because it’s the third safest city in the state and has great schools. She wants to keep it that way. “I think it’s very unfortunate that Camas residents have had to put forth the effort to file an appeal to the city to try to stop a drug rehab being placed next to Dorothy Fox, when it seems rather obvious and an ill advised location, which poses an increased safety risk to our children.”
Rogers expressed frustration that there have been many attempts by citizens to have conversations with the City Council, yet they have been “blocked” (or one sided) because of council rules.
She wondered if the council was getting poor legal advice on the matter, and then questioned the six (seven) week period of silence in the middle of the emails citizens received as a result of their public records request.
“We really want elected officials and representatives to represent us and not hide behind technicalities or lawyer advice,” she said. “There just comes a time where children’s safety is the utmost and most important thing. We need representatives to fill that more moral and civic duty to protect the people that they’re sworn to serve.”
Burton acknowledged citizens’ frustration in her closing remarks. “We’ve talked about land use, I recognize there are some unhappy people here. None of us like to feel that we’ve worked so hard for something and not gotten what we want. So we recognize that.”
The issue of the drug detox facility being sited next to Dorothy Fox received significant attention this week, when Lars Larson asked Clark County Today’s John Ley to be a guest on his radio show and explain the issues.
Pursuant to the Land Use Petition Act, the parties will convene an initial hearing within seven days of filing the complaint. This hearing will determine the timeline and next steps to be followed by the parties for the next several months.
The city officials provided a “no comment” to our request for their perspective and response.