The owners of the Stillpath Retreat Center at 16350 Skyline Blvd. in the unincorporated woods above Woodside are suing San Mateo County in federal court.
At issue, according to a complaint filed March 25 with the U.S. District Court for Northern California, is a unanimous decision by the county Board of Supervisors in March 2014 to overturn the Planning Commission's decision to allow the retreat center to reorganize as a non-medical drug-and-alcohol rehabilitation center for people with addiction problems.
In the complaint, lawyers for Stillpath claim that the supervisors, by rejecting the rehab center, violated federal fair housing and disability laws protecting the rights of Stillpath's potential clients, including recovering alcoholics and substance abusers. The complaint also cites anti-discriminatory passages in state laws on fair employment, housing, planning and zoning.
Neighbors of the facility had appealed the Planning Commission's January 2014 decision and the supervisors upheld their appeal. The neighbors' objections included the possibility of a recovering addict dropping a lit cigarette in the deep dry woods that populate the neighborhood, the length of time it would take for emergency first responders to get there, and the impacts on traffic and the supply of fresh water.
The neighbors initially complained to the Planning Commission, but the county staff addressed the objections with remedies.
San Mateo County has just 287 beds for treatment of substance abuse, the staff said, while the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates show 65,800 people potentially needing treatment.
"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," the county staff report said.
When the commissioners voted, it was 3-1 in favor of allowing the project to go ahead.
In hearing the neighbors' appeal, supervisors said that the cost to the county by a higher intensity use of the property outweighed the benefits. With estimated monthly fees of $45,000 per client, the center's customers would be coming from elsewhere, one supervisor said.
"It would serve a very small exclusive class of people," Supervisor Don Horsley said at the time. "It's not going to benefit people of San Mateo County."
As for water, while the facility has a 100,000-gallon storage tank, "if you have a forest fire, 100,000 gallons isn't going to do much," Mr. Horsley said.
Supervisor Dave Pine also singled out the water supply infrastructure. "That is a very delicate system with minimal capacity," he said. "That system is not robust."
If the matter goes to trial, one question to be litigated is whether Stillpath is the appropriate representative to speak for its potential customers, said Tim Fox, a deputy in the County Counsel's Office in San Mateo County. Another issue is whether the intensity of the intended use as a rehab center is in keeping with the zoning for the area, he said.