In just six weeks, Santa Clara County could adopt Laura’s Law, more than 17 years after the assisted outpatient treatment program was passed into state law.
The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday unanimously approved a referral for administration to consider options for adoption, which will come back to the dais Dec. 17. The law would allow a court to 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.
Supervisors Cindy Chavez and Dave Cortese, who led the proposal, say they want to focus on helping this small population of residents – instead of alienating them. “We are not intending to criminalize people who are mentally ill,” Chavez said. “We’re really intending to figure out what are the best tools to serve those very, very hard to serve populations.”
While she supported exploring adoption of the law, Supervisor Susan Ellenberg reminded her colleagues of programs already in place within the county’s Behavioral Health Department.
“I think it’s critical to look at what we just put in place, and where we still have gaps and bottlenecks in accessing services,” Ellenberg said.
Ellenberg added that she’d be interested in status reports on establishing a mental health triage center, as well as the feasibility of establishing a medical detox facility. Chavez agreed, thinking that a medical detox facility is still a missing link in services.
Earlier Tuesday morning, San Jose Councilmembers Johnny Khamis and Raul Peralez voiced their support for adopting Laura’s Law. They, along with other local leaders, sent a letter of their support to the county.
“Homeless individuals who lack capacity because of a severe mental illness to provide for their basic human needs cannot continue to fall victim to uninhabitable living conditions, drug and alcohol abuse, and risks of harm to themselves or others on the streets” the letter said. “It is imperative that we consider the benefits of Laura’s Law and strengthened conservatorship in Santa Clara County.”
Khamis has been vocally supportive of Laura’s Law since 2015, and hopes the county now has the services, facilities and staff to successfully implement it after taking over O’Connor and St. Louise hospitals in March.
“I want them to implement it, period, so that they can have a tool to help get services for those who are severely mentally ill,” Khamis told San José Spotlight Monday, even hoping for an expansion for those who are drug-addicted. “The sad truth is, we can be helping these people, the mentally ill homeless people who are incapable of taking care of themselves – and it’s a tragedy to keep them out there.”
Board President Joe Simitian was supportive of Laura’s Law while in the state Legislature, but he had concerns about individual civil liberties and a lack of county services earlier this year, though he voted in favor of studying the issue Tuesday.
E-cigarette ban approved
Hoping to reduce youth use of e-cigarettes, the Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a ban of the sale and distribution of all vaping products for anyone under 21 years old in the unincorporated areas of the county.
“We have a vaping crisis on our hands,” said Chavez, who first led the initiative with Cortese. “Most of our teens are not old enough to drive, but they are getting their hands on tobacco, and they’re smoking e-cigarettes in record numbers, getting sick and in some cases dying.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, middle and high school student e-cigarette use has increased by 78 percent nationally between 2017 and 2018. In Santa Clara County alone, the Public Health Department reported one in three teens has tried vaping.
Lincoln High School Senior Charlie Lockwood said Monday he was addicted to vaping for more than a year before lung problems drove the 17-year-old to quit. Now 89 days vape-free, he thinks Chavez’s proposal will send an important message to his peers who still vape.
“I think that if teens see that something as small as vaping is getting such a ban, I think that that’ll definitely send a message to them,” Lockwood said during a news conference Monday.
Smoke shop owner Rithwan Dobashi said Tuesday he’s concerned the ban will not only fail to reduce e-cigarette use, but simply lead users to standard cigarettes.
Dobashi – whose shop, Stuff n Puff, is one of 17 that will be be affected by this ban, according to the PHD – said his 13-year-old son was the one who showed him how easy it is for youth to obtain vapes.
PG&E shutoff costs
County leaders on Tuesday ordered a report of the estimated financial costs of the PG&E power shutoffs within the next 30 days to seek reimbursement. Officials said hundreds of county and emergency staff worked overtime to keep residents safe during the shutoffs.
“I’m very frustrated in how PG&E handled this situation,” Supervisor Mike Wasserman said. “County emergency services were stretched thin, and PG&E owes the people of California better service.”