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ADA lawsuit in California involves major players

January 11, 2017
by Gary A. Enos, Editor
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A federal siting lawsuit in California that has been in the discovery phase for more than a year appears to be headed to trial in April, involving some prominent names in the addiction treatment community.

The lawsuit that was filed against San Mateo County, Calif., stems from the county Board of Supervisors' spring 2014 vote denying a conditional use permit amendment to allow the opening of an addiction treatment facility on the present site of a wellness retreat center. The property is co-owned by Ray Blatt, developer of the Alta Mira treatment center in Sausalito, and a treatment program on the location in dispute reportedly would be operated by nationally prominent American Addiction Centers, which is a party to the lawsuit.

Local media reports have addressed the Stillpath Retreat Center v. San Mateo County suit on an occasional basis, such as when county leaders in late 2015 elected to spend $600,000 for the services of an outside law firm to defend the case. Yet despite the well-known parties to the suit, the matter has received little national attention, and representatives of the legal combatants are not saying much publicly in the weeks leading up to the scheduled trial.

“As you may know, the county vigorously disputes the allegations in the lawsuit,” David Silberman, a county attorney assigned to the case, tells Addiction Professional. “The evidence is that denial of a conditional use permit amendment was not because Stillpath was proposed as a treatment center, but because of the unmitigated increased impacts (e.g., fire, water, traffic) of the specific proposal.”

Silberman declined to offer additional comment, citing the active litigation.

Blatt referred a request for an interview from Addiction Professional to an attorney representing plaintiffs, and the attorney did not reply to an e-mail this week.

Reversal of initial vote

According to local media reports, the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors in March 2014 reversed course from a county Planning Commission vote earlier that year to approve the conversion of the yoga and meditation retreat center to an addiction treatment center with more than 60 beds. Blatt's family had purchased the property after the Planning Commission vote but before the Board of Supervisors considered the proposal.

Supervisors said at the time of their unanimous vote against the proposal that neighbors' concerns about traffic and resource impacts from a more intensive use of the 16-acre site influenced their opposition. But a source tells Addiction Professional that plaintiffs in the lawsuit have evidence that some local voters urged supervisors to block a facility that would accept addicts, which would lend weight to the argument that the denial of the permit violated the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Fair Housing Act.

The source adds that the trial was originally scheduled to begin last October but was pushed to this spring.