The San Mateo County Board of Supervisors recently authorized spending up to $600,000 to defend the county in a discrimination lawsuit brought in federal court by the owners of the Stillpath Retreat Center at 16350 Skyline Blvd. in the unincorporated woods above Woodside.
In a unanimous vote on Dec. 8, the board affirmed a resolution by the County Counsel's Office to extend the county's agreement for legal services with the San Francisco law firm Kerr & Wagstaffe, according to County Counsel John Beiers.
The issues are "unusually complex," and Kerr and Wagstaffe has experience in legal matters of this kind, as well as favorable rates and previous experience representing the county, the resolution said.
The suit stems from the board's unanimous decision in March 2014 to overturn a Planning Commission decision to allow the retreat center to reorganize as a non-medical drug-and-alcohol rehabilitation center for people with addiction problems.
After the Planning Commission acted in January 2014, neighbors of the facility appealed and the supervisors upheld their appeal, reversing the Planning Commission's decision. The neighbors' objections included the possibility of a recovering addict dropping a lit cigarette in the deep dry woods that characterize the neighborhood, concerns over the length of time it would take for first responders to get to an emergency, and the impacts of the facility on traffic and the supply of fresh water.
In the complaint, lawyers for Stillpath claim that the supervisors violated federal fair housing and disability laws protecting the rights of Stillpath's potential clients, including recovering alcoholics and substance abusers. The suit alleges that neighbors yielded to "prejudices and fears" and discriminated against Stillpath and its prospective occupants over "the presumed harm that persons with handicaps or disabilities would bring to their neighborhood."
"Stillpath seeks to prevent the County from interfering with and/or discriminating against this proposed use and the proposed occupants of the Treatment Facility," the complaint says, adding that a treatment facility is permitted under the existing conditional use permit.