Santa Clara County lawmakers put off Laura’s Law decision
The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors meets at 70 W. Hedding St. in San Jose. Photo by Katie Lauer.

The much-anticipated vote on whether or not to implement Laura’s Law in Santa Clara County is now another six weeks away.

The Board of Supervisors unanimously voted Tuesday to push the decision in order to hear a more in-depth presentation on current mental health, substance abuse and general intervention services provided by the county’s Behavioral Health Services Department.

The BHSD was directed to present options for safe places and support services for residents with high needs, who are severely mentally ill (SMI), dually diagnosed and unhoused. Those options include Laura’s Law, which if approved, would compel services to mentally unstable individuals who refuse treatment, but would only apply to a specific group of people who have formerly been hospitalized or incarcerated as a result of their mental illness.

But while Director Toni Tullys and her staff detailed current services, such as the Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) Program, Forensic Assertive Community Treatment (FACT) Program and the In-Home Outreach Team (IHOT), the supervisors said the presentation lacked a concise explanation of what the county’s already doing, how residents can access any of these programs and how the services are actually performing, especially as many confuse conservatorships with Laura’s Law.

“Although I thought we had a really good, robust discussion about what services we have and what are coming online, I just need more specifics,” Supervisor Cindy Chavez said. “I want to be able to say, ‘I know we have this service available and if you call this number, we’re going to help you.’ So digging in here is going to refine all of those systems.”

The panel also fielded concerns from Supervisor Dave Cortese about how the law and other forms of conservatorship would be implemented, given the uncertainty of a stable shelter and a system of support for the unhoused population the legislation would serve – both critical elements to the success of treatment.

“I want to help, but the bridge is too far for me in finding out how mandating anything helps with those issues,” Cortese said. “That’s where I’m struggling.”

Despite the concerns voiced Tuesday, county lawmakers last month had unanimously approved a referral to consider options for adopting Laura’s Law. Now, the Board of Supervisors will hear the report on the assisted outpatient conservatorship program during its Jan. 28 meeting.

Fairgrounds 2020 Business Plan

The Santa Clara County Fairgrounds Management Corporation (FMC) on Tuesday also presented its proposed 2020 operating budget and business plan. As the current contract expires this month, the goal is to start morphing the 150-acre site into a more public-friendly meeting and entertainment space, per resident wishes.

Despite the county’s ability to sever the agreement for any reason, Executive Director Abe Andrade said the new 20-year plan under consideration offers more stability than previous agreements, which were shorter and limited development.

County leaders are exploring a long list of options for local partnerships for the underutilized land, including USA Cricket, a county park and a San Jose Earthquakes Soccer Academy.

“The next step is to actually go out and have those meetings with the various proposed developers, such as the San Jose Giants and the San Jose Earthquakes,” Andrade said. “We’ll take a look at getting getting their development proposal, seeing how real we are and take a look and see what the viability is of being able to put this together.”

The Board of Supervisors will require the FMC to bring back any proposals early next year to ensure no “95 percent baked” proposals come before the dais.

Board President Joe Simitian was especially hesitant, seeing previous fairgrounds proposals die, including a House of Blues concert venue, and eventually abstained from the vote.

“I really don’t want to be captive to conversations we weren’t a part of or were vaguely aware of,” Simitian warned. “The fairgrounds have been a struggle for us for a long time. What we’re trying to do is switch the approach dramatically.”

Current plans for the fairgrounds include a family entertainment center with arcade games, miniature golf and go-karts across 5 acres; a new hotel; a minor league baseball stadium for the San Jose Giants; and a night market featuring food vendors, retail vendors and entertainers 15 Fridays during the year.

Additionally, Santa Clara Paintball will get to stay after the longtime family business was hit with a 227 percent rent increase, as first reported by this news organization. That spike is now down to a 100 percent increase, after the business owner voiced concerns of being forced out.

Senate Bill 50

The board also voted to support SB 50, a bill that would eliminate some zoning restrictions near major transit corridors and job centers. Authored by San Francisco Sen. Scott Weiner, it will likely result in up-zoning and building taller, dense housing.

The board will send a letter to the California State Legislature supporting the controversial bill after certain amendments are made. Unsure of those amendments, Simitian abstained from the vote.

While the board supports the bill’s efforts to increase housing, the potential effects on the climate also were noted. They hoped the bill will get people out of their cars and reduce commutes by building housing near transit.

Open Government Ordinance

Another referral from Cortese’s office will look at improving the county’s process of dealing with the Public Records Act. While the county has had an open government ordinance since 2011, it doesn’t have a centralized, easy intake mechanism for receiving, tracking and processing those requests.

Currently, many departments separately handle requests and the public does not have an easy, universal mechanism to submit requests. The board unanimously approved considering options to strengthen government transparency by centralizing intake, establishing a position to coordinate Public Records Act requests, appeals and complaints.

Contact Katie Lauer at klauer77@gmail.com or follow @_katielauer on Twitter.

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