LONG BEACH -- A plan to build a controversial mental health center for the homeless in concert with a new Eastside police substation is moving forward.

In closed session Tuesday, the City Council voted 8-1 in favor of directing staff to issue an environmental impact report for the project at the former Schroeder Hall Army Reserve Center, located at Willow Street and Grand Avenue.

The proposal has met resistance from some in the community who fear the patients who would be treated at the facility, to be run by Mental Health America.

Councilman Patrick O'Donnell, who voted no, released results of the vote after seeking approval from City Attorney Robert Shannon.

"The public has a right to know what their City Council is doing," O'Donnell said.

Deputy City Attorney Rich Anthony said the vote was conducted in a closed meeting because of federal government requirements -- the most prominent of which is providing homeless services in exchange for the Army donating the land.

Tom Modica, the city's director of government affairs and strategic initiatives, confirmed that the previously disclosed site configuration will be used. It places the police substation on the Schroeder Hall property and the mental health center across the street, adjacent to a Department of Health and Human Services building.

An alternative framework, required by the EIR but not intended to be used, would put both components on the Schroeder Hall land, Modica said.


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Officials expect the report to take nine months to complete after starting sometime before the end of the year.

Police have long sought a replacement for the current, 49-year-old East Long Beach station, which they say is overcrowded, with 80 officers sharing lockers and two urinals.

City leaders discussed using $3.5 million in state funding to build the station at the Schroeder Hall parcel and recently received assurances that the money would be available for the plan.

Modica said more than 100 other sites have been investigated for the homeless services center. None was suitable.

Additionally, if the city were to decline to use the Army property, the federal government could still place a mental health provider there, he added.

"The Army has been very patient with us, but it's clear they want to move forward," Modica said.

The council's direction to staff includes operating restrictions, and Mental Health America of Los Angeles President and CEO Dave Pilon said transportation will be provided to patients to and from the facility and no patients would stay overnight.

Pilon did, however, push back against continuing criticism of the center.

"The fact of the matter is, many of our clients will not avail themselves of that (transport) option and will prefer to walk to our services," Pilon said.

"It's our belief that they have every right to walk to those services. Being homeless does not limit their right to our services."

In announcing the vote, O'Donnell said in a press release that Mental Health America has ended negotiations to receive cash in-lieu of locating on the property, effectively halting efforts to place its facility elsewhere.

Pilon denied that and said the organization has only sought assurances it would be permitted to offer the same mental health services in another area of the city.

"My staff continue to seek out alternative sites that would be agreeable to us and the city," Pilon said.

Councilwoman Gerrie Schipske said she has worked on finding another location for the mental health facility for five years and would only accept the plan that put the services by the Health and Human Services building to provide a buffer for nearby residents.

She criticized O'Donnell's aggressive stance against Mental Health America.

"This is what people don't like about politicians, is that they take a very important and sensitive issue and they blow it up for their own self-interest," Schipske said.

Told of Schipske's comment, O'Donnell responded, "I'm blowing it up in the interest of the neighborhoods."


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