Despite a vote by the Hemet City Council to rescind support for a proposed wellness village at the southwest corner of East Menlo Avenue and North State Street, Riverside University Health System says the project is moving forward and is expected to break ground later this year.

The Hemet City Council last month voted to rescind its support for a proposed Riverside University Health System project at the southwest corner of East Menlo Avenue and North State Street.

“As a council, we have to look at a bigger picture, we have to look at the economic viability of our city, as well as the services that are offered,” Council member Linda Krupa, who has twice voted against the project, said during the Feb. 28 meeting. “Government doesn’t do these things.”

Krupa, along with Mayor Joe Males and Council member Jackie Peterson, voted to rescind support of the project.

“There are a lot of good things about this center, as we all agree we need help in the city,” Council member Jackie Peterson said. “But the overwhelming majority of the people I talk to in the city of Hemet do not want it in the city limits where it’s proposed, nor anywhere else in the city limits.”

Mayor Pro Tem Malcolm Lilienthal and Council member Karlee Meyer voted against rescinding support for the project.

“Governance means something, having integrity means something and representing everyone means something,” Meyer said. “And tonight you’re not doing that by not hearing the presentation from the county, and so I think that we need to bring it back and hear all the facts before we just decide.”

Last March, the council voted 4-1, to send a letter to the Department of Health Care Services’ Behavioral Health Continuum Infrastructure Program supporting a grant application by Riverside University Health System – Behavioral Health for the project. The application was approved for funding last June.

RUHS Behavioral Health Senior Public Information Specialist Robert Youssef said the vote would not affect the proposed project or its funding.

“They voted to rescind a letter of support for a grant whose application period closed one year ago,” Youssef said in an email to TN News. “The Hemet City Council does not have land-use jurisdiction over this project. Therefore, the [Feb. 28] vote has no impact on the project.”

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

The project, as currently proposed, will provide urgent care services, supportive transitional housing, extended residential care, services for children and youth and a center for community wellness and education that includes a market, pet hotel, recreation, cafe, pharmacy, community health services and outpatient behavioral care.

And while many of those who spoke out against the project at the meeting said they understood that there was a need for these services within the county, they took issue with the location, something RUHS-Behavioral Health Director Dr. Matthew Chang addressed.

“In terms of why here, it’s fair to say there is significant need in the city,” he said. “When we look at our data, when we look at our folks that we have to serve, Hemet, it always shows as a bright red area of folks that we need to take care of.”

Chang said Hemet had the lowest Healthy Places Index score in the county, and the tract where RUHS plans to build the wellness village has an HPI score of 6.8. The HPI measures 23 drivers of health and life expectancy at birth and provides a score from one to 99 based on an analysis of those factors in comparison to other parts of the state.

Another issue brought up by those advocating against the project, which includes supportive transitional housing and extended residential care, was the false belief that it was going to be a homeless shelter.

“This is, again, not a homeless shelter,” Chang said. “Are there people who are homeless or are at the risk of being homeless? Yes, 100%. But again, at least in our world, and I think in folks who deal with homelessness, there’s a pretty circumscribed idea around a homeless shelter where people just come and go 24/7 in and out, in and out. And that is 100% not what’s happening here.”

When asked about the residential part of the facility, Youssef told The Record that the campus “would help support the wellness journey of the community by offering vitally needed supportive housing for all who are actively engaged in their personal healing journey.

“Full-Service Partnership programs (FSPs) like that being proposed for the Hemet Wellness Village have shown to decrease arrests, mental Health ER visits, and psychiatric hospitalizations,” he continued. “FSPs are also a public safety issue. Data shows a significant decrease in arrests when enrolled in an FSP.”

Youssef also said data shows that people enrolled in RUHS’ full-service programs were more likely to remain housed, out of jail and out of psychiatric hospitals.

And while the economic impact study is not yet finished, Youssef said preliminary data shows that the project would also “generate millions of dollars in annual economic activity through constructions and by attracting hundreds of doctors, nurses, social service providers and other supporting professionals.”

Ultimately, representatives for RUHS told council members they wanted to work with the city to ensure the project was beneficial for everyone involved.

“What I know is, you know, the way we talk about this project is it’s a partnership, we’re doing this together,” Rhyan Miller, deputy director of behavioral health for RUHS, said during the Feb. 28 meeting. “And I think that together, we can make great things happen.”

Youssef said the project is still in the planning and development phase and that the project is expected to break ground later this year with completion tentatively set for the summer of 2026. He said, ultimately, RUHS wants to have a wellness village in each of the county’s five supervisorial districts for the “betterment of all communities.”

You can watch a recording of the full meeting here.

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