Another View: Civility isn’t the problem, a badly broken process is

By: Dan King and Jeremy Veldstra
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City Manager Ricky Horst recently wrote in defense of the City of Rocklin’s actions in the ongoing efforts to place a locked-down acute psychiatric hospital in what is quite possibly the worst available location in the region for that particular land use (597 feet from Whitney High School). 

Rather than using his op-ed as an opportunity to clear up any misperceptions around the City’s actions during what appears to be a nearly two-year courtship with a Fortune 500 company, Mr. Horst instead turned the tables on the very residents begging for his partnership in protecting our kids.  It appears Mr. Horst’s hope is that by painting parents as “strident,” and “angry,” City leadership can deflect scrutiny from the key issue: Rocklin residents are rightfully upset about a process that has been anything but a model of how local government is supposed to work.

The City’s departures from important concepts like due process and fairness in public debate have empowered a growing chorus of residents to rightfully question whether Mr. Horst and leadership have our bests interests at heart.  That chorus has only grown louder in light of what seems to be an inability on the City’s part to engage the community in an honest dialogue about what really happened over the last two years – and what went wrong.

Though there are several areas in the letter we take issue with, we have a response to two fundamental misstatements in Mr. Horst’s piece:

Mr. Horst says our City leadership shares our concerns.

In truth, the City has actively worked to bury legitimate safety concerns about this project.  This is compounded by the increasingly disturbing fact that no one from City leadership has publicly validated a single one of our concerns about our kids’ safety (meanwhile our School Board and a third-party, unbiased legal analyst firm have made it abundantly clear our concerns have merit and to date are unanswered).

Case in point: eight days prior to the original hearing date, our own Chief of Police could not answer whether this facility would house registered sex offenders or how it would handle escapes. To be fair, that wasn’t his fault: emails reveal Mr. Horst’s staff working to actively keep the police and fire departments out of the discussion to avoid “artificially elevating safety concerns” about placing such a facility within a mile of 3,800 school children.

As the UHS project neared its original hearing date, the City published an FAQ on its official letterhead clearly designed to assure residents this facility would be safe, not house anyone prone to violence, and that its safety had been verified by our public safety officials.  It soon became clear that FAQ was developed by UHS, and the City had done nothing to verify those safety assurances prior to distribution.

Residents felt understandably misled, and when we went directly to the City council demanding they remove false safety assurances, Mr. Horst’s staff admitted it was UHS PR material and quietly took the FAQ off of City letterhead. The City then refused to make any effort to inform the scores of residents mislead into believing UHS’ talking points were actually City analysis, despite our repeated requests.

Meanwhile, while residents are left questioning the true impact this facility would have on our children and community, Mr. Horst has repeatedly expressed his pleasure in working to bring this locked down facility to Rocklin. He also reported the mayor’s pleasure in doing so, in writing to UHS. 

If parents seem “angry” or “strident” it’s because there is no indication that before City leaders enthusiastically bought in and started using the City’s PR machine to tout this project anyone asked obvious questions like, “hey, why do you need the 12-foot unclimbable fence?” or “who specifically is going to be locked up inside of here?” or “are you going to notify anyone when someone decides to leave on foot across the street from our open-plan high school when their legal hold expires?”

The now apparent answers to all of those questions aren’t good news.

Mr. Horst says everyone should have a fair chance to be heard.

In truth, Mr. Horst’s spokesman has worked tirelessly to tamp down criticism of this project.  He asked UHS to bring a celebrity endorser to our little town, in the apparent hope we would all be so awestruck we’d forget to continue asking questions UHS has simply refused to squarely answer.

He has been actively courting media in an effort to bolster the project and he went so far as to publicly say we were “absolutely incorrect” in our concern that the facility appeared the type that would largely be filled with people held under laws allowing the detention of those who are actively dangerous to themselves or others as a result of severe mental illness.

Now cornered by the debate, UHS has since admitted 94% of those inside will be on these kinds of legal holds.  And the data says the vast majority will be held there exactly because police officers or doctors have found they are dangerous.

City staff routinely forwards resident’s emails with any concerns directly to UHS.  Mr. Horst’s staff has also been taking “talking points” from UHS and then passing them along to the members of the City council as a canned response to concerns.  One member of staff has emailed others asking them not to directly email them about this project, lest the laws requiring transparency in those interactions apply.

Mr. Horst’s PR man was quoted in the media saying the City’s role in this process is that of “neutral fact finder.”  It’s a mischaracterization to call the City’s behavior here “neutral”, in our view.

It was plain that after nearly two years of meetings with UHS, our community’s concerns were initially dismissed by City leadership out of pre-conceptions about this project that did not match the reality that is now revealing itself.  In fact, the only thing that eventually pried opened City leadership’s eyes and ears to what is really being proposed here is the very public outcry from moms and dads that Mr. Horst now decries as uncivil.

So we have this to say to Mr. Horst: we will not be bullied into silence or attacked for questioning your actions or your judgment in this matter.  If you think a patronizing letter like this will kill the current debate or spare you further scrutiny, you are sorely mistaken.  We love this town, we love our community and above all else, we love our kids.  And it doesn’t take an investigative reporter to see something has gone very, very wrong here.  We’ll continue to call out the truths from the lies, the fact from the corporate PR spin and to hold you – our City officials – accountable in answering our questions when it comes to the safety and well being of our children, their schools, their teachers and our community.

We who pay you more than the Governor of the State of California to run our little town have every right to do so.  And if that is what you consider “uncivil” then so be it.