Tony Reed
The Del Norte Triplicate

For lack of a majority vote, the Del Norte County Board of Supervisors will return July 25 for further discussion about entering a $40,000 contract for a halfway house in Crescent City.

On the board’s meeting Tuesday, Supervisor Roger Gitlin pulled the item from the consent calendar for public discussion.

“I just learned of this Friday afternoon,” said Gitlin, “about the signing of an agreement with the Oxford House Sequoia to provide clean and sober residential services from July 1, 2017 through June 30, 2018, not to exceed $40,000.”

According to staff reports, the county Department of Health and Human Services provides clean and sober environments for those clients deemed ready to take responsibility for their recovery from alcohol and/ or substance abuse. Oxford House Inc. a non-profit organization, is self-run and uses rental properties to provide support for recovering individuals. Funds come from state and federal sources, said staff reports, and no county dollars are used.

Gitlin said he discovered the previous owners had sold the house for $80,000, and was concerned with whether neighbors on Lauff Avenue, where the house is located, had been notified that the address would become a halfway house. He said that upon visiting the house in question to ask who was in charge was told no one was in charge.

He said he spoke to Gene McVay with Oxford House in Roseburg Oregon, by phone.

Gitlin asked Health and Human Services Director Heather Snow to explain how the $40,000 was to be spent.

Snow said the county has had a contract with Oxford House for several years, as they have provided early recovery services for people, many of whom are coming from a homeless situation.

“This gives them the first steps to transition back into independence and sober living,” she said. “That’s what the funds cover, it’s typically rent that’s the majority.”

Gitlin pressed again later, and was told by Snow that the $40,000 amount was budgeted, based on the previous year’s expenditures.

When Gitlin asked if she had notified the neighborhood, Snow said, no, adding she had not chosen the location, nor was she a part of the purchase.

“We work with the individuals in treatment,” she said, “and we’re happy to have another option for them.”

“I have received some calls from the neighborhood about this,” he said. “Mr. McVay was not really telling me all of the rules of the house, but, to me, you have a bunch of women sitting in front of a house on a porch, it’s kind of a magnet for men coming around.”

Snow said she did not have the house rules on hand when Gitlin asked, but said the house rules and conditions are explained in the contract. Gitlin said he was skeptical of siting a halfway house without informing area residents.

“I’m bringing it to the attention of the public,” he said. “I have concerns.”

Public comment

County resident Linda Sutter suggested the matter be tabled for further discussion, saying “If you go ahead and divvy out the $40,000 and find out that everything is not legit, what does that reflect on you guys?”

Snow said the contract first went through risk management and was reviewed by county counsel, as with all county contracts.

Asked by Supervisor Gerry Hemmingsen, Snow confirmed that she has no input as to where the halfway house would be located, and is only involved with the contract.

Chief Probation Officer Lonnie Reyman said the county has had a long-standing association with Oxford House, which has been in business for decades.

“They have a long-established track record of working well with communities, of having good results for the people that are residents of their houses, and they have a great model” he said, “so I would encourage the board to support this.”

With Supervisor Bob Berkowitz unable to attend the meeting, and Supervisor Lori Cowan abstaining, the remaining board voted 2-1 to sign the agreement.

However, County Counsel Elizabeth Cable noted that the contract would need a majority vote to pass, making the vote invalid.

“It’s too bad,” Howard said, echoed by Hemmingsen. “It’s a good program that’s been here quite some period of time. I would hope we could bring something like that back.”

County CAO Jay Sarina suggested the department head bring the matter back to the next meeting for discussion before the full board, as well as with the planning department to discuss laws regarding the use of residential property for clean and sober living.

Howard asked staff to put the item on the next agenda.

Cowan, also a local Realtor, said her reason for abstaining from the discussion was “to air on the side of caution,” since she sold the house to the couple who currently plan to rent it to Oxford House. She said she has been in contact with personnel at the Fair Political Practices Commission who have indicated she did not have a conflict of interest. Cowan said she will not be recusing herself when the matter comes before the board at the next meeting.

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