Skillman Neighbors info

Muir Woods Teen Treatment Center Expansion News & Info

From: Tobias and Michelle Young
Re: Muir Wood Expansion

Dear Mr. Wick, David Rabbitt, and Planning Staff,

First, let me start out by thanking you for holding an important community meeting.

On a side note, we express some disappointment in the noticing and timing of today's meeting, which may result in reduced participation and public input. A mailed notice, with no additional email notification, was received by only some of the people on the list. The notice was mailed last week and received at the earliest four days ago on Jan. 14, last Friday, which was a holiday weekend. Some concerned constituents have not received the notice. The Zoom meeting requires preregistration by sending an email to a county address, which means people may not be allowed access if they did not have time to preregister. It also gives very little time to do research or prepare our statements.

That said, the Muir Wood drug treatment center on Skillman Lane has been a heavy draw on tax dollars and public safety, requiring more than five dozen Sonoma County Sheriff emergency calls for runaways and assaults alone since it opened. Male teen runaways have fled and hidden in the yards of neighbors, who have had sheriff deputies swarm around their homes at night without explanation to apprehend the escapees. There are also questions about how Muir Wood has been disingenuous with the county and neighbors, bending the rules to achieve prior expansions of its facility.

Our family and concerned neighbors have carefully considered the background of the Muir Wood facility on Skillman Lane in Petaluma. The more information we have gathered, the more concerned we are about our safety and the impact of the treatment center. With the information at hand so far, we are asking Permit Sonoma to deny the proposed Muir Wood expansion. We are also asking Permit Sonoma, as required under its conditions, to revoke Muir Wood's prior use permit based on violating its conditions and constituting a nuisance.

The staff report is noticeably silent on the safety record and law enforcement history of the Muir Wood facility, which has had 108 calls for emergency service (as of October 2021) since it opened. Those calls included 47 runaways and 15 assaults, battery, vandalism, disturbances or fights. Another 46 calls were redacted, probably calls for mental health issues. One of Muir Wood's own lead counselors was arrested in 2016 by Petaluma police on suspicion of drugging and sexually assaulting a teenager. Permit Sonoma staff was directly misled by Muir Wood in 2015 during the permit process, when Muir Wood inaccurately said there were "no disturbances recorded on the subject property."

The history of the expansion of this facility also lacks perspective in the staff report, so allow us to help out.

In 2013, Muir Wood purchased the remodeled single family residence spec home from developer John "Casey" Golterman. Muir Wood then converted the residential home into a six-patient treatment center.

In December 2014, Muir Wood requested a use permit to expand its existing operations to 10 patients and 17 staff, referring to the property as a single six-acre parcel with a required minimum of 20 parking spaces. One of the Permit Sonoma conditions for expansion was that Muir Wood was required to abandon offices and meeting rooms in its secondary dwelling unit to use it for additional patient beds.

The use permit and expansion was granted a few months later, in 2015. We weren't informed of the expansion until after it was granted. However, as neighbors we figured the worst that could happen was the existing expansion. The use permit specified "no new buildings, or additional site development, is requested." Muir Wood could not expand further on the property according to Sonoma County and state regulations, which limit a large treatment facility to 10 patients.

Unfortunately, Muir Wood was tricky in getting around these restrictions.

In 2016, Muir Wood completed a subdivision of the 5.88-acre property. The subdivision was actually started nine years earlier by Golterman, who had received tentative approval with a mitigated negative declaration before abandoning the process and selling to Muir Wood. The mitigated negative declaration declared two residential homes on the property would create little cumulative impact based on several findings, including less than 10 vehicle trips per day.

In 2016, Muir Wood resurrected the lot split. Permit Sonoma inexplicably allowed Muir Wood to use the outdated 2007 mitigated negative declaration, which was based on residential use, despite the changed use to a commercial treatment facility. Permit Sonoma did not take into consideration the new potential development of two large treatment centers on the property. Muir Wood finalized the lot split with Permit Sonoma without additional public review in August of 2016. None of the neighbors who objected to the 2015 expansion were notified.

Once it received approval for the subdivision, Muir Wood still avoided public input. Instead off applying for a second treatment center, Muir Wood applied to build a five-bedroom single family residence and another detached secondary dwelling unit on the second parcel.

The construction was completed in January of 2019. Without informing the county or neighbors, Muir Wood immediately applied to the state to convert the brand new residence into a second six-bedroom treatment facility. The application was granted a new address, seemingly unrelated to the existing operation, raising no red flags by state officials.

Only three months later, in April of 2019, Muir Wood obtained state approval and put the new building into use as a second facility with an additional six patients. No notice or public review was required. Now fast-forward to 2022, and Muir Wood is asking for an additional third expansion.

Muir Wood directly misled neighbors and Permit Sonoma during its first expansion, as well as during the lot split and subsequent construction. The applicant, including Muir Wood's Executive Director Scott Sowle and Director of Admissions Rene Genovese, assured neighbors over the phone and during in-person meetings that no further expansion would occur. When we asked about the new construction, Sowle told us the new buildings would be used for recreation and meeting rooms for existing clients and staff, and would specifically not be used for expansion.

The state regulatory agency would not have allowed Muir Wood to expand in 2016 on the original property without the subdivision. Likewise, Permit Sonoma would not have allowed an expansion or a second treatment facility on the property. Muir Wood got around that problem by pretending they were building a residential home, which Permit Sonoma could not question, then immediately converting it to a new facility under a different address.

The subdivision was a disingenuous way to bend the rules. The process has allowed the facility to expand from six patients and 14 staff in 2013 to 10 patients and 17 staff in 2015 to 16 patients and 19 staff in 2019, all while limiting public review and input. Now Muir Wood wants to expand to 20 patients and 21 staff. Muir Wood has expanded quickly, opening 8 of these operations in Petaluma residential areas. We wonder what kinds of calls for emergency service those facilities are requiring.

Muir Wood has not been a good neighbor, putting expansion and profits above transparency and community safety. When it is convenient for the company, Muir Wood pretends it has a single facility and operates it as such. At other times, when convenient, Muir Wood pretends like the property is two facilities with no connection to each other.

Both buildings on the Skillman Lane property are accessed by a single driveway, share the same parking spaces and are served by a single aquifer. Most of the staff appear to work at both buildings, not just one. It appears that recreational activities and certain meetings and dining occurs in a single setting, not separately.

When Muir Wood refers to calls for service by the Sonoma County Sheriff's Office, it has in the past been inaccurate in its figures and unclear if it is referring to one facility or both. When Muir Wood is justifying its water supply, it acts as if it is drawing water from one well for one facility instead of two wells for two facilities. When Muir Wood refers to parking, it is unclear if is referring to the available parking on the entire six acres or on each lot, since each facility according to the use permit is required to have a minimum of 20 parking spots each, or 40 parking spaces in all.

In addition, it appears as if Muir Wood is not done with its expansion plans. In August of 2020 it applied for an additional 30-foot diameter yurt on the property, which was denied by Permit Sonoma.

Muir Wood may have a noble mission as a high-end treatment center. That does not mean the facility should be allowed to continue its track record and put at risk the safety of the neighborhood. Also, please keep in mind that some of the supporters of Muir Wood who sent in letters did not disclose they have profited from the development of the facility.


Tobias and Michelle Young


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