The Hemet City Council last month doubled down on its opposition to a proposed wellness village at the southwest corner of East Menlo Avenue and North State Street, voting to send a letter to the Riverside County Board of Supervisors requesting the board reconsider the project’s location.

An overview of the proposed Hemet Wellness Village as seen in a December 2022 Riverside University Health System presentation. (Source: Boulder Associates)

“I feel very deeply about this,” Councilmember Linda Krupa said during the April 11 meeting. “I understand the need for mental health facilities, but not in the middle of my town. It’s harmful, it has the ability to be extremely harmful and have a negative economic impact on our city.”

The 3-1 vote, with Mayor Pro Tem Malcolm Lilienthal voting against, came after more than an hour and a half of public comment in which only five of the roughly 30 speakers spoke out against the project.

According to the letter presented to the council for approval, the city is asking the board of supervisors to reconsider the location of the project due to insufficient community engagement, incompatibility with existing community plans, a lack of infrastructure and discrepancies in communication.

Rhyan Miller, deputy director for integrated programs, and Melissa Noone, administrative services manager, attempted to address some of the issues brought up in the letter during their presentation, pointing out that they had already presented the project almost two dozen times since Jan. 4, 2022, including multiple meetings with members of the Hemet City Council, and that the project was created to align with the city’s goals.

“We looked at all of your goals and felt that the village aligned with what the city’s community plans and goals are,” Noone said. “And so, you know, to manage the city’s growth by protecting and preserving the environment and maximizing the use of public infrastructure.”

Specifically, the plan seeks to address four of the city’s community plans and goals: to promote economic development that increases citizen access to quality jobs and shopping experiences while increasing the city’s tax base, to support the success of the community by maximizing our resources to provide the greatest possible benefit for the citizens of the City of Hemet, to manage the city’s growth by protecting and preserving the environment and maximizing the use of public infrastructure, and to improve the quality of life by addressing the root causes of crime.

“In addition, you know, you had all stated that you want to improve the quality of life by addressing the root cause of crime, and we know that when we provide people with the full array of our services, we see that they don’t commit crime,” Noone said. “You know, we see that arrests are decreased by 82%, jail days are decreased by 48%, and physical health visits are increased by 24%.”

When it came to discrepancies in communication, Miller said that he and his team had the understanding that after meeting with the mayors of San Jacinto and Hemet last November the cities would give RUHS – Behavioral Health direction on when the next presentation would be and with whom.

“That was the original plan was for you to share with us where we would do it,” Miller said. “So I just wanted you to know, bottom of my heart, it was nothing to do with not coming back and checking in with you, but the amount of work that it took to be prepared, and then finding direction from both mayors to then come back to you.”

This was the second time in as many months Miller and Noone were in front of the Hemet City Council answering questions about the project.

“On Feb. 28, the city council took action to rescind the letter of support for that grant,” City Manager Mark Prestwich said. “Following that meeting, in both the media and also meetings with city staff, public officials representing Riverside University Health System stated publicly that the project would still proceed, and that’s really the reason we’re here tonight and, as a result, we’ve prepared a staff report that seeks direct intervention from the Riverside County Board of Supervisors.”

The wellness village, as currently proposed, would provide primary healthcare, mental health and substance use disorder services (including urgent care) and services for adolescents and children, according to RUHS – Behavioral Health. The campus, as currently designed, would serve children, families, veterans and the community by providing new health services and parks, generating direct spending in Hemet, attracting hundreds of healthcare professionals to the community and contracting with local businesses for programs and services, according to RUHS – Behavioral Health.

Following the final public speaker on the item, Councilmember Jackie Peterson made the motion to, “go forth with the letter to the supervisor[s] as we had planned.”

A draft of the letter can be found here in the staff report.

“The outpouring of community support was inspiring and heartfelt. While we were disappointed with the outcome, we remain committed to our mission of improving access to behavioral health resources in the Hemet Community,” Miller said in a statement to TN News. “We believe that collaboration with the City of Hemet, community organizations and community members, is key to achieving this goal, and we look forward to continuing to work with them as partners.”

“Riverside University Health System – Behavioral Health remains dedicated to finding innovative solutions to meet the needs of our community, and we are confident that we will find a way to move forward and make a positive impact on the lives of those who need it most,” the statement continued. “We appreciate the ongoing support of our supporters and stakeholders, and we remain committed to serving the community with compassion and excellence.”

A full recording of the meeting can be found here on the city’s YouTube channel.

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