Skillman Neighbors info

Muir Woods Teen Treatment Center Expansion News & Info

Riverside - The Press-Enterprise  

Riverside residents concerned about youth treatment program moving into their neighborhood Muir Wood serves youths grappling with mental and substance-abuse issues

PUBLISHED: October 4, 2023

Hawarden Hills, one of Riverside's most affluent neighborhoods, will soon be home to two residential treatment campuses for adolescents with mental health and substance-use issues — but some neighbors are wary of the newcomers.

Muir Wood Adolescent and Family Services, a residential treatment program headquartered in Petaluma, runs 11 houses across California, according to its website — 10 in Sonoma County and one in Fresno County. Several future campuses are underway, and the first sites outside those counties will be in Riverside.

One sits, surrounded by trees, at the end of a gated driveway on Da Vinci Drive in Hawarden Hills.

Scott Sowle, founder and CEO of Muir Wood, said in a Monday, Oct. 2, email, that the campus "will hopefully open" this month or next. The state is reviewing its application, he said. The other two campuses, elsewhere in Hawarden Hills and in Arlington Heights, may open in early 2024.

Linda Mullen, who has lived in Hawarden Hills for 32 years, said she and other neighbors feel "violated" by the group's presence.

"We were hoping for a nice family to come and buy the place," Mullen said Monday, Oct. 2.

Sowle said that he believes kids deserve to be treated in a home-like setting that allows them to be engaged in their treatment.

"Hawarden Hills is just that. A beautiful setting where these kids can heal," he wrote.

Sowle said that, like other Muir Wood campuses, the one on Da Vinci Drive would have up to six residents, ages 12 to 17. Both Hawarden Hills campuses will treat girls, while the Arlington Heights campus will treat boys, its website states.

Mullen said Monday, Sept. 25, that she didn't think her neighborhood was zoned for such a business.

In this case, it is.

Jacob Castrejon, a deputy city attorney in the Riverside City Attorney's Office, said in a Thursday, Sept. 28, email that a 1980 California Supreme Court ruling indicates that "a group of unrelated persons living together in a house is considered a family under the law."

"State and local laws are not allowed to discriminate on this basis," Castrejon wrote, "and this guideline extends to individuals with alcohol and substance abuse disorders residing in treatment residences." 

Riverside Municipal Code Chapter 19.150 allows group homes to operate in single-family residential areas, he said, and because the campus won't have more than six residents, it does not need a conditional-use permit.

"Thus far, Muir Wood has complied with State and City laws and procedures," he wrote.

In spring, Hawarden Hills residents had a neighborhood meeting, which Castrejon attended. Those present discussed Muir Wood's purpose and city guidelines. About 100 people were there, Mullen said.
"We appreciate the need" for rehabilitation, Mullen said, but she feels the neighborhood and program aren't suitable for each other. She mentioned increased traffic, noise and trespassing as worries she and others have.

Sowle said he has heard neighbors express concern, and that he understands.

"That said, it is not grounded in facts," he wrote. "To be specific, in the almost 11 years Muir Wood has operated, to my knowledge, not once has one of our boys or girls trespassed into a neighbor's home, been arrested, or caused any significant issue," Sowle said, adding that he can't remember the last time a neighbor complained about traffic.

"And, (residents) are supervised at all times, and not allowed to leave our homes," he said.

Mike Mihelich, who lives near the other planned Hawarden Hills campus on Mary Street, said he and other neighbors would like Muir Wood to show accountability.

"I think it's fair to say that neighbors are generally concerned," Mihelich said Tuesday, Oct. 3. "Many are pessimistic, but many are also optimistic that this could be a good thing and wind up helping people."

Generally speaking, Sowle wrote, Muir Wood has a good relationship with its neighbors.

Because insurance providers typically want clients treated locally, he said, "most of our kids are local to the area." He estimated that 80% of the future residents at Riverside campuses would be from Riverside County.

"Riverside County has a high rate of adolescent depression, anxiety, suicide and other related issues," he said, and "compared to other counties, Riverside significantly lacks access" to high-quality treatment.

Mullen said there's probably nothing to be done about the business joining the neighborhood.


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