A recent public comment at a Reno City Council brought up an issue that took many people by surprise.
The reason: A residential psychiatric facility is opening in a Reno neighborhood. That is of course creating a lot of questions for nearby residents.
But opposition to the facility also drew considerable negative responses. People commenting online condemned what they called NIMBY-ism and ableist attitudes by the neighbors who expressed concern.
For this episode we hear from one of the neighbors about why she is concerned. We also check in with Reno City Manager Doug Thornley about why such facilities can and do come to neighborhoods in Nevada.
Listen below and on KWNK 97.7 Community Radio.
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So I think for me to raise the awareness to have people thinking about this issue, maybe thinking creatively about how we can get better access to mental health services for all members of our population, you know, mental health is something that's very important to me. So I don't think we weren't necessarily surprised. I think it is typical probably for neighbors to be surprised because there is no noticing requirement. And I actually would say that the reaction from these neighbors is not a typical and in situations like this. A recent public comment at a reno city council meeting brought up an issue that took many people by surprise. The reason a residential psychiatric facility is opening in a reno neighborhood. That is, of course creating a lot of questions for nearby residents, and outrage. This feels like a taking of our property of our way of life of our investment by the city by the Division of Health and Human Services and by the state and it feels very disrespectful and very wrong on so many levels, but opposition to the facility also drew considerable negative responses. people commenting online condemned what they called nimbyism and ableist attitudes by the neighbors who expressed concern for this episode, we hear from one of the neighbors about why she is concerned. We also check in with Reno city manager Doug Thornley about why such facilities can and do come to neighborhoods in Nevada. For this week in Reno news, I am your host Bob Conrad with this is reno.com. Special thanks to the Truckee Meadows Water Authority for sponsoring this episode. Summertime conservation is standard and Truckee Meadows Water Authority. It's what we do. And this year we can all prevent waste by keeping sprinklers off between noon and six. Get your conservation reminders and more at smart about water.com. Jill Stockton lives in Northwest Reno, she recently penned an opinion column in this as Reno. She said she had grave concerns and a number of questions about the facility that is opening up next door to her. I spoke with her at length about the situation and why she responded the way she did. Well, my husband and I discovered on April 18. Through our own research and our own exploration, that a psychiatric residential treatment facility for severely emotionally disturbed children ages six to 17, which is a for profit business would be going in to the home right next door to us. The home sold about 11 months ago and sat vacant for that entire time. Up until the point of April 18. When I was working from home, I saw a semi truck pull up in front of my house and it was unloading a lot of heavy construction equipment, excavators, bobcats, etc. And so in seeing that happen, I obviously call my husband to let him know Oh, I guess somebody's going to move in or something's going on next door. They're going to be doing some renovation and my husband being savvy and creative as he is. He went ahead and pulled the permits. And when we pulled the permits, we learned that the city of Reno had issued a permit for this homeowner to add on a 1923 square foot addition, a two story addition to the existing home so that in total when the home is complete, it will be 5723 square feet nearly three times the size of other homes in the area. So in a nutshell, that's what's going on. And you posted a pretty pointed op ed on this, as we know late last week. Thank you for thinking of us. I really appreciate that. And it drew a lot of negative comments. Tell me what you're thinking about those? Well, I mean, I think you know, it's a sensitive issue, and it's a complex issue. Related to bringing commercial business into residential area large in this example is 60 1000 square foot facility is quite large in a residential area. I think it's, you know, unfortunate, the name calling that happens online without true awareness and true research to understand the differences between what a group home is defined by Nevada revised statute. And what a psychiatric residential treatment facility is how that's defined. They're two completely different things. What are the what are the differences, because I think some people have have gotten lost in identifying though and I'd have to go and pull some notes. I don't have my notes here in front of me. But let me see I did pull up. Give me one second, I just put a bunch of links together. Here we go. From the Nevada Division of Health and Human Services, they through the NRS it's 449 dot 1195. A psychiatric residential treatment facility defined psychiatric residential treatment facility means a facility other than a hospital that provides a range of psychiatric services to treat residents under the age of 21 years on an inpatient basis under the direction of a physician. So that is how the NRS defines a psychiatric residential treatment facility. And with regard to a group home, the state of Nevada regulates group homes in the city of Reno zoning code allows them in all residential zoning districts. group homes are supposed to look and function like a single family residence so they blend in with the neighborhood. group homes are allowed by right and all residential zoning districts and no public hearing or no public notice is required. So that's the information that we got regarding group homes through Amy pennington, who is Ward five council woman Naomi Jordans community liaison. Okay, um, I'm not 100% Clear on on what it is or which which is applied to the property next to you, is there going to be a group home or psychiatric facility on the permit? It's classified as a psychiatric residential treatment facility. But the use is a group home what what is the concern? Are you concerned about traffic noise? More people next door? What have several concerns, I think the biggest concern is related to no one being able to give the residents on this street clear indication of what this type of business entails and what it means for us. I think if we were to receive some information to help us understand if it's going to be a secured location, are they going to have janitorial, janitorial service providers, are they going to have a building and grounds operation handling maintenance, are they going to have a food service person handling the meals for the patients, we've been told only one RN and one technician will reside full time in the home, the doctor that owns the home told us a group of neighbors that he will not be living in the home. So we just have really no information. And I think that's part of the problem. If there were some transparency in the communication with regard to the exact number of patients, the hours of operation, what we can expect how many cars are going to be coming to and from are they parking in front of my house blocking my driveway? My neighbors across the street? If I'm hearing what you're saying it's really the dearth of information, or the lack of information and the lack of the transparency, or I should say, yeah, the lack of transparency behind how this happened and the inability to get answers. Is that a fair way to summarize your concern? I'm not opposed to what's happening. I would just like to have an understanding of what this means so that if my husband and I with our two elementary aged children find out maybe this isn't the best location for us. We have the knowledge that we need to make an empowered decision to do what's best for our family. But at this point in time, no matter how we slice this, it's a losing hand. either number one we're listening to and living through a two storey construction project. 2000 square feet in size, dealing with the construction the equipment If the contractors, so on and so forth, they complete the construction, then we're going to have 10 patients, two full time people living in the home with no idea of who's coming and going, are they having visitation? Do they have psychotherapist, psychiatrist, occupational therapists, janitorial maintenance, so on and so forth coming and going from this house daily, I do believe in mental health, I do feel we have very inadequate mental health resources available, even the high need. And within this community, particularly coming out of the pandemic, this is a serious issue in our community. And if they can run this operation, legally, to code following state regulation, and it's a no big deal. Awesome. It's a win win for all of us. I want to I want to address your commentary at city council, we'll probably put a clip in in the podcast. It is very disappointing. I'm very disappointed in Neo majorities. And I wish any brackets a lot of luck in your run for Mayor, thank you. Talk about your what you said and why you said what you said several of our neighbors reached out to ward five representative nao majority. And we all had a variety of different concerns. And rather than Neoma Jordan to do the right thing, take a personal touch, make some connections with her constituents, she assigned the work to her community liaison and just basically blanket sent a form letter out to every single one of us. So of course, because the neighbors on the street around the block in this area are aware of what's happening in their concern. We started talking about it, and people aren't happy. And Naomi needs to know that her residents aren't happy that we're concerned. And if every two storey house that goes up for sale in this neighborhood is converted to a business, she should probably want to be aware of that and be engaged in the process to work with her constituents and maybe find a happy medium with regard to what the process is, how to engage the public, how to listen to their concerns. It just felt very disrespectful to be disregarded by her. Same with the mayor, I live around the corner from a well what used to be a youth are underage young women teen girls pregnancy facility. And I will tell you until I potentially did a story on that facility about maybe two years ago, I don't even remember we didn't end up doing the story. I had no idea what it was. And I will be honest with you. It's in my neighborhood, it's a block away from where I live. I never see any traffic or anyone there like the doors are closed. It looks. I was shocked to find out this thing. You know, this facility was was just around the corner from me. What What have you seen in your research about how these other facilities have been run? Let's say in Vegas, have there been incidences or any concerns? Or or what's what's been the the trend that you've identified, you know that there is an investigation being conducted on how these types of facilities are run? How do I want to say this? I've already been called NIMBY, Karen. So at this point in an elitist, which is great, so it's fine. No matter what I say here, I'm going to change that. It's it's sensitive. And I think what my motivation is, and uncovering this and talking about this is to ask the responsible parties to do their due diligence and make sure the doctors that are running these types of facilities are doctors in good standing, have generally, you know, good reputations, the credibility exists to indicate that they're worthy of practicing medicine, such as this. But you know, there is a concern that there are doctors that are interested in making money off of these patients that reside within these facilities. And in this investigation at the Department of Justice's looking into statewide here in Nevada, they are speculating that some of these doctors work to keep the kids sick so that they can get paid out by private insurance and by Medicaid and I don't say that to sensationalize. You can look the article up yourself and see that for yourself. But that is a reality. That's a dark reality of some of these types of facilities. So I think for me to raise the awareness to have people thinking about this issue, maybe thinking creatively about how we can get better access to mental health services for all members of our population. And as I said earlier in this program, you know, mental health is something that's very important to me. We recently had a tragedy in our family that was related to mental health. So it's very difficult when people dismiss, dismiss the fact that this is connected to mental health. But it's a bigger issue than that. This isn't a one dimensional issue. This is a highly complex, highly sensitive, highly divisive issue. And these types of issues are not comfortable to talk about. They're not comfortable to face, but from my point of view, and recognizing that I have two young kids myself, you know, they're worth the fight. And it's worth me taking a little heat and being called names in the social media realm, to get people to talk. They don't have to like what I'm saying, I'm not asking anyone to agree. I'm just asking people to think and question and question those in charge to, you know, do right by the constituents by listening to them, by trying to engage with them, you know, as these types of facilities get located in residential areas? What was your reaction to some of the comments that you saw online? You referenced it a little bit? I mean, I think you know, me well enough to know, we do have a personal I have to disclose. I've known Bob for a while. But I mean, the comments, you know, they sing, but I also kind of get a kick out of it. I mean, it kind of just makes me chuckle. Because at the end of the day, my motivation is to get people talking. And that's exactly what they're doing. So they can call me not in my backyard, Karen, NIMBY, Karen elitist, NIMBY, Karen, you know, and other choice adjectives to describe me, I'm totally fine with that. They're talking baby. So just keep talking. Keep talking about this issue, keep asking questions. And you know, if we can just raise awareness and keep people talking, they can call me whatever name they want. Your column has had 1000s of views. It's been the top trending since almost a minute it was published. So for how many days is that now? Five, four or five days now? And surprising me? I never know what's going to be popular on this as Reno I tune in. I just check the trending stories about Daly and this one has not moved. So I think I think you have a lot of interest. And it is I think a little unfortunate that people aren't recognizing the like you mentioned the complexity of the issue and are focusing on what I'm guessing is the there. It's the mental health angle. It's basically saying to me, you don't want this there. You're not in favor of mental health. It's not a black and white issue. This is a Venn diagram with a lot of great overlap. Would you say that this is symptomatic of Reno's growing pains. You know, I remember a council member about four years ago said, You're not going to recognize this valley in 10 years? I would probably say yes, I think it's a combination of that. I also think it's a combination of West Hills closing, the combination of our community growing and the city council allowing it to grow so rapidly without really doing tough investigation related to the infrastructure, the roads, the schools, the utilities, et cetera, et cetera. So I think this is what's happening here in this neighborhood is yet another indication of rapid growth, not enough time to pay attention to the particulars of what's going on. And, you know, for speaking for myself and myself only it's like, growing for the sake of growing, we're just just grow, grow, grow, we need more people. But even if you are a healthy resident that does not need to reside in a psychiatric residential treatment facility. You can see your own specialist in less than three months time and renew After deal statements to the city council in early May, Reno city manager issued a letter explaining the legality of such facilities and why they can be in residential areas. Here's city manager Doug Thornley, we did have a number of folks show up, they were unhappy with the decision to issue a building permit to expand a residence out there in Northwest Reno. And it's the thing that doesn't come up very often. And so I think there are a lot of points of confusion because you know, it's the residential treatment facilities exist at the confluence of federal state and local law. But But the long and the short of it is, is that for any residential treatment facility in the state of Nevada, that serves fewer than 11 residents, they're allowed in any single family zoned district. And the reason for that is, is that the federal government passed a series of laws that preclude discrimination in housing. And, you know, one of the areas that those laws cover are folks with disabilities. So the drawn a blank on the acronym at the moment, I don't have the memo in front of me, but the Fair Housing Act prevents, prevents us from saying no, you know, these are the zoning districts where these people can live. Right. And so in this memo that you recently issued to the mayor and the council, you say that it is unlawful to deny a building permit for a home? Because it is intended to provide housing for persons experiencing mental illness? I think that's, that's kind of a key statement here. Is that correct? It is correct. I mean, you know, I think there are a lot of things that go into into these building permit evaluations. And so you know, design elements or things like that, that are required through, you know, the zoning district or the handbook, obviously, the house is required to comply with those, but as a standalone reason saying, Hey, you can't have a building permit to expand with a single family residence, within all of those design considerations, and meeting all those standards, for the sole reason that people with disabilities are going to live and receive treatment there. That's against the law. We can't do that. Now, it seems to me that, from what I've heard from the other side of this issue, is that they're really taken by surprise. Is there a way that the city, are you considering different kinds of noticing? Or were you also taken by surprise by this? Well, I mean, I don't know. I don't know, take him by surprise, right. I mean, we get, we get applications for building permits all the time. And so, you know, some part of the organization was aware of the intent to establish a residential treatment facility at this site. So I don't think we weren't necessarily surprised. I think it is typical probably for neighbors to be surprised, because there is no noticing requirement. And I actually would say that the reaction from these naters is not a typical in situations like this. Yeah. Is there anything that's going to change as a result of this coming out in a way that it did? From the city's perspective? We don't have any intention of changing anything at this time. No. Okay. Okay. When I heard the hearing, it sounded to me like, this was like a brand new thing, almost. This is not a brand new thing. And then as you know, the state law was revised, I think, last in 2017. But a law similar to that, or some analog of that law has been on the books for a long, long time. And of course, the Fair Housing Act has existed in, you know, a couple of forms for the last 60 years. So, you know, the most recent round of amendments was 9099. But this is not, this is not new. Now, in terms of zoning controls, and things like that, and litigation that has changed the shape and face of how, how these things are established. That's been in flux more recently, I suppose. You know, I think that memo that you have cites a Nevada district court decision from like, 2007, maybe. Yes, the Nevada Fair Housing Center, Inc. Versus Clark County in 2008. Right. And so the parenthetical that you'll see in that memo says that, you know, the Federal District Court for the District, Nevada judge hex at the time he struck down Nevada's statute. It was Nevada statute, or a clark county ordinance that required that had spacing requirements between these facilities and And, and registration requirements for these facilities. And the the gist of the decision is, you know, we don't have spacing requirements for other groups of people in residential areas, we don't have registration requirements for other groups of people in residential areas and so singling out people with disabilities and requiring them to meet a different standard than other people who enjoy the the peace and quiet and living situation of a single family zoned area is discriminatory. Okay, are there any? Well, one of the concerns that I'm hearing from them also is that this is obviously a commercial business? Are there any concerns on that end? Or is that just going to be in the nature of these things? Because of how these kinds of group homes or, or treatment facilities are? I mean, obviously, they're gonna be run by a business to some to some extent. Yeah, I think that's right. I mean, you know, they're they many, if not all of them, are commercial in nature, right. I mean, someone has to get paid to, to do this work. And so, you know, the the, there are a number of policy issues that I think go into it, although I don't know that they're within the purview of the city. You know, when you think about it, and you think about what's the ideal treatment environment. For people with disability, it's probably not an industrial area, right. It's probably not a business park, we want people to be part of the community, we want them to lead, as close to, you know, I think a quote unquote, normal life as we can possibly facilitate. And so, you know, there, there are a lot of reasons for why the federal government, state government, local governments would would make it mandatory for zoning codes to accommodate the sorts of facilities in a residential zoning district. Okay, great. Great. Well, thank you so much. Is there anything else you want to add about the situation? No, I mean, I think, you know, this is it's a tough one, and it comes up. I wouldn't say frequently, it shows up in a number of of ways. But at at the end, right, it's it really is anti discrimination provisions in federal state law, that, that obligate local governments to include facilities like this in residential zoning districts. People with disabilities are not, you know, they're not the only people who fall under the umbrella or the, you know, the protection of this umbrella. I'm aware of another situation where neighbors were upset about the treatment facility and residential facility that is operated by safe embrace. Right. So for people who are suffering from or escaping living situations that that are rife with domestic violence. This issue takes sort of all forms. And, you know, while I can understand the frustration of the neighbors, I do think it's important that we continue to protect our vulnerable populations by by allowing, allowing facilities like this to establish in residential districts. Yeah, one thing I said to Jill was, I didn't know it until I was almost going to do a story on it. But there's a youth or teen pregnancy home, just around the corner from my house. I had no idea until somebody raised an issue with something that had happened there. And I was I was, frankly, a little surprise, but you know, I've never seen anyone there. I've never, I mean, maybe a car there once or twice. I mean, they've, they're awfully quiet. And and I just wouldn't have known. I mean, I knew it was some kind of a group home or something because of the name, but I never knew quite what exactly it was until somebody had contacted us about maybe a year or two ago about something that was alleged to have happened there. But it was, frankly, a surprise to me. And so I guess I can see why some of these folks would be surprised by this popping up next door if they, you know, started bringing in tractors and whatever. Right. Right. Yeah. Right. So, you know, it's really, it's really that I mean, I think, you know, people would be surprised at how many of these facilities are around because I think in general, most operators tried to be exceptional neighbors. That's it for this week's episode for this is Reno I am Bob Conrad, please visit us online and if you are able, please subscribe to get full access to our website and to support local independent journalism.