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County Ready to Drop Plan for Closed Ojai Honor Farm

Building new housing for the mentally ill would cost less than converting the old jail, a study finds.

June 04, 2004|Catherine Saillant | Times Staff Writer

Ventura County supervisors appear ready to abandon a proposal to convert the shuttered Ojai Honor Farm women's jail into housing for the mentally ill, saying another location would probably be cheaper to develop.

An analysis by the county executive's office concluded that building a treatment center from scratch on county-owned property on Lewis Road near Camarillo would cost less than converting the aging Honor Farm facility, said Supervisor Steve Bennett.

The Lewis Road location already includes two housing developments for the mentally ill, Bennett said. That makes it a better choice, although funding issues must still be worked out, the supervisor said. "We're no longer focusing on the Honor Farm as the prime possibility. But we still want to keep focusing on getting this done," Bennett said.

Ventura County has hundreds of beds for mentally ill residents who need only a low level of supervision. But it has no beds for people who require intensive therapy in a locked center, requiring those patients to be sent to institutions in other counties, at great expense.

When Sheriff Bob Brooks closed down the Honor Farm as a women's jail last year, Bennett and Supervisor Linda Parks asked their board colleagues to consider using the 112-acre property to fill the gap in mental healthcare. That plan drew outrage from homeowners who live near the shuttered jail.

Bennett, who was a primary target for homeowners' anger, said neighborhood opposition to the Honor Farm proposal did not factor in the decision to find another location.

"If the CEO's report had shown that was the most cost-effective site, I would have supported it 100%," Bennett said.

He will hold a meeting with Ojai Valley residents Monday night to explain the results of the study.

Realtor Riki Strandfeldt, who opposed the site, said she would be attending and listening intently.

"Our goal is to find some use for that property that would be of wider benefit for the community, mentally ill included," said Strandfeldt, who lives three blocks from the Honor Farm.

Supervisors are expected to discuss the issue at their Tuesday meeting. Even if the county board settles on a site, it must still work out the financing.

Bennett said it makes sense to move ahead only if the cost of housing the mentally ill in Ventura County would be lower than paying for patients to receive care in facilities outside the county.

Parks said that for her, too, it would come down to dollars. "It's strictly a matter of getting the most bang for the buck," she said.

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