Retreat center sues county over plan to reorganize as drug, alcohol rehab facility


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.

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Like this comment
Posted by Chance
a resident of Menlo Park: Fair Oaks
on Apr 3, 2015 at 11:04 pm

Only the lawyers' fees are going to win here.

2 people like this
Posted by SteveC
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Apr 4, 2015 at 2:26 pm

SteveC is a registered user.

Good luck with this one. What damage have their clients suffered???? Plan on paying the atty. lots for nothing.

1 person likes this
Posted by King Mountain neighboor
a resident of Woodside: Kings Mountain/Skyline
on Apr 4, 2015 at 8:14 pm

The neighbors' that objected this are wealthy people that do not want a recovery center in their back yard, they all should be ashamed with them self.

There should be more concern with the illegal camping and camp fires in the open space around them than a recovering addict dropping a lit cigarette, in a community meeting the owners even agreed to make it a no smoking facility

The length of time it would take for emergency first responders to get there would be less than 5 minutes as there is a state fire station around two miles away, during fire season there are two engines staffed at this station.

The impacts on traffic would be no different or less than when the facility was run as a retreat.

Just as with traffic the use of water would be no different than when it was run as a retreat, if there is a concern with the water system this should be taken up with Cal Water.

I hope the owners of Stillpath win the lawsuit and take a huge finical bite out of the County like Charles Keenan did to Halfmoon Bay

2 people like this
Posted by Nobody
a resident of Woodside: Skywood/Skylonda
on Apr 4, 2015 at 10:49 pm

Stillpath lost their appeal before the board of supervisors because the land is in an area where this type of intensive land use is disallowed. That hasn't changed. The owners are making one final try to get their use-permits. If this doesn't work, they will most likely be selling the place.

1 person likes this
Posted by Kathy Kennedy-Miller
a resident of Woodside: other
on Apr 6, 2015 at 1:58 pm

The site is located in the RM Zone and under county zoning code, this type of facility is not allowed. Lennie Roberts of the Committee for Green Foothills found it hard to fathom that the County Planning Department could rationalize that a single density credit for this 16 acre site could become Stillpath, a hotel with 76 guests and a staff of somewhere between 28 and 76 depending on which version of the staffing plan you believe. There are plenty of other issues with this property too but this was the key one.

2 people like this
Posted by KM Resident
a resident of Woodside: Kings Mountain/Skyline
on Apr 10, 2015 at 6:17 pm

If this was a Girl Scout Headquarters with as many or more people at this location the neighbors that brought this on would have no problem with any of the additional resource needs

Like this comment
Posted by Wilbur
a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Apr 19, 2015 at 11:08 am

A jury trial is the only chance for the owners to get approval to operate the facility as a highly profitable treatment center. They have successfully used jury selection consultants in the past in the murder trial of their ex-business partner.
Web Link

1 person likes this
Posted by Herby Bell
a resident of another community
on May 10, 2015 at 3:32 pm

21st Century Brain/addiction science and medicine are upon us. Stillpath's cutting edge approach represents a major breakthrough in this long stigmatized disease while truly helping what affects 1 in 3 of our families here, and across America. The Bay Area is the crown jewel for innovation and progress. Why wouldn't modern addiction treatment be on the short list of the most important social issues to address when we have one of the finest facilities and plans in the world right here in our own backyard?

Bravo to the Stillpath owners.

Like this comment
Posted by Brad
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Aug 8, 2015 at 8:45 pm

I saw where Stillpath has also filed for bankruptcy. These guys really know how to work the system.

Like this comment
Posted by P4ND0R4
a resident of Portola Valley: other
on Jul 21, 2016 at 11:13 pm

In response to the folks who feel like Stillpath is the underdog here...
At a monthly fee of $45,000.00 per patient for treatment, Stillpath is hardly an altruistic enterprise.
While I'm no expert on the stats, someone has mentioned in an earlier post that 1 in 3 families are affected by substance abuse.
I wonder how many of those families can afford $45,000.00 a month to send a family member for treatment?
It's hard for me to buy Stillpath's claim of being a "public service" and a champion for social causes.

What motivates a group to spend millions to build a "wellness retreat" only to decide later they'd rather be a luxe substance abuse center with exorbitant fees to cure people?
People who invest that kind of money seldom run into zoning 'surprises'.
They assumed they could pull the right strings with the County Planning Department and they were right!

Bravo to the neighbors and the County Supervisors for standing their ground!

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