Almanac

News - January 29, 2014

Rehab facility near Woodside wins commission's OK

by Dave Boyce

The San Mateo County Planning Commission has approved a conditional use permit to convert a meditation center in the unincorporated woods above Woodside to a non-medical rehabilitation center for clients with drug and alcohol-addiction problems.

The vote was 3-1 on Jan. 22.

Stillpath Recovery Center would be located at 16350 Skyline Blvd. in unincorporated Woodside, the current site of the Stillheart Institute. The proposed change in use would not involve demolition of the meditation center, nor would it involve new construction other than a new smoking lounge on the site of an existing swimming pool.

The commission held three hearings in as many months before coming to its decision. Opposition was fierce and fearful among neighbors in Skyline Boulevard communities.

In a county report, the Planning Commission staff addressed each of 11 neighbor concerns. Among them:

• Would a recovering addict drop a lit cigarette and inadvertently start a forest fire? As a condition of the commission's approval, the facility management must restrict smoking to a designated interior lounge to be built on the site of an existing swimming pool.

• If there were an emergency, would the facility's remote location prevent a timely response? The rehab facility will have nursing staff on site, and paramedics are located at the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection fire station 1.5 miles away, near the intersection of Skyline and La Honda Road.

• What about the impacts on Skyline Boulevard traffic? The facility will be residential and clients will not be allowed to have vehicles. The staff estimate of 16 additional vehicle trips would increase by 0.5 percent the existing traffic volume on Skyline, which is only 12 percent of its maximum capacity.

• Would the rehab facility monopolize the supply of fresh water for these mountain communities? The report did not address the fresh water supply, but an earlier staff report described two fresh-water tanks already on the site: a 100,000-gallon tank to be used for fire suppression and a 2,500-gallon pressurized tank for domestic water.

The county has 287 beds for treatment of substance abuse and theoretically, based on U.S. Department of Health and Human Services figures, some 65,700 people in need of treatment, the report says, adding: "Stillpath will provide a public health service by providing a necessary substance abuse treatment facility to County residents that is geographically near the County's urban populations."

One of the neighbors' concerns: How will administrators prevent smoking on balconies that overlook the forest? With the drought conditions, it won't take much to cause a conflagration.

The facility reportedly has a water main designed for a house and the overall water system is at 90 percent of its capacity, a local firefighter said.

Commissioner Laurie Simonson voted against approving the new use based on her assessment that the proposal requires a full environmental impact report before going ahead, a neighbor said.

The decision is all but certain to be appealed to the Board of Supervisors, the neighbor said in an interview. Paperwork for an appeal was underway outside the chambers while the meeting was going on, she said.

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