Tensions ran high during the April 2 Uptown Planners meeting, where representatives from the Old Town Academy (OTA) and Veterans Affairs (VA) Healthcare System of San Diego presented arguments regarding a possible rehabilitation and treatment facility.
More than 100 parents and community members attended the standing room only meeting, oftentimes lending applause and, in some cases, objection to the various speakers discussing the Domiciliary Residential Rehabilitation and Treatment Program (DRRTP).
OTA co-founder and Executive Director Tom Donahue said if the VA is successful in its bid for a conditional use permit for a property at 2121 San Diego Ave., the school might be forced to close its doors.
The proposed location is across the street from the Academy. OTA cofounder and chair of the board of directors Chris Celentino said if the center opens, “196 of 217 students enrolled at OTA will leave.”
Citing concern over the close proximity to the school, Celentino said, “The parents of these children have signed petitions against [the DRRTP] saying they will leave our school because they don’t believe its proximity to OTA is safe.”
Celentino then said, “If [the students leave] the cost to cover expenses for the school will skyrocket. In addition to losing the per-student funding provided by the state, our insurance will increase two to five times over its current amount. That’s a potential six-figure increase in our insurance alone if this center opens.”
Donahue said while the staff has tried to keep an open mind, he thinks the decision to open a DRRTP 22 feet from an elementary school was poorly constructed.
“If even 20 students are lost, the school will be in peril,” Donahue said. “We never would have sought to open OTA at this location had the VA facility been there first.”
In a September 2011 application prepared for the City of San Diego Development Services Department, the VA requested permission to utilize the property as a DRRTP facility.
VA San Diego DRRTP Chief Debbie Dominick attended the Uptown Planners meeting and said the facility would focus on the rehabilitation of veterans impacted by mild to moderate brain injuries, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and possible substance abuse issues.
“The DRRTP would have a total of 40 beds and [more than 26] full-time employees,” the application states. “Services offered would include neuropsychological and mental health assessments, cognitive rehabilitation, evidence-based psychotherapy for PTSD, medication management, occupational therapy, seizure stabilization maintenance and vocational and occupational assessment, among others.”
In a Feb. 29 letter sent to the City of San Diego Development Services Department, OTA’s attorney, Cynthia Morgan, voiced opposition to the project. Morgan said the facility poses a detriment to public health, safety and welfare.
“Statistics show that veterans who suffer from PTSD exhibit on average 13.3 violent acts per year, as opposed to 3.5 to 4 violent acts per year for non-PTSD sufferers,” Morgan said at the meeting. “We feel the location of this facility is unsafe and it is not appropriate at this location.”
Dominick, however, said the VA’s goal is to be a good neighbor and does not believe the DRRTP and OTA are incompatible in any way.
“There have not been any issues in communities in which these clinics already operate,” she said. “We keep hearing from many of you that you believe this would be a great program, as long as it is in someone else’s backyard.”
While a vote was scheduled for the April 2 meeting, the Uptown Planners decided to postpone the vote on whether they will endorse the VA’s request to May 1.