Pilot Butte neighbors to treatment home: No b-ball for you!

The Bulletin, Aug. 4, 2015

Outdoor basketball hoopWhile threats of a nonviolent protest and jail fast have been rescinded, tensions are high on Bend’s east side, where a longstanding feud has pitted neighbors and a city councilor against a residential mental health facility.

Just below Pilot Butte’s western slope is the home of City Councilor Barb Campbell and Foster Fell, a recent candidate for the Bend Park & Recreation District board. The couple’s bedroom window looks to the south, where just over a thick, noise-muffling fence is a house for people recovering from mental health episodes precipitated by conditions including bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. The five-bed facility is run by Telecare, a California-based company that has contracted with the state of Oregon to provide such treatment.

The fence, which cost Telecare around $10,000 to build, was put up a few years ago at the insistence of Campbell and Fell to cut down on the noise made by the coming and going of care providers. According to the couple, it hasn’t done enough, especially as Telecare’s basketball hoop is still located a few feet from their window.

Telecare opened the facility and another north of the Butte in 2010, and Campbell and Fell, who have owned their home since 2008, say the issues live on despite a mediation session that led to the construction of the fence. The couple now insists something more must be done.

“There’s this percussive, almost water-torturelike nature to the sound when they start playing,” Fell said. “It reverberates throughout the whole house. You can’t concentrate on anything because you’ll be wondering when that darn ball will be bounced next.”

Anne Pendygraft, Telecare’s regional administrator, said “having a basketball hoop is part of having a healthy and therapeutic environment.”

“We stay in line with the reasonable rules the city has for us, rules that apply to all people in the neighborhood,” Pendygraft said. “We shouldn’t be held to a higher standard. We’re dealing with a very vulnerable population.”

An ongoing issue

Pendygraft said Fell and Campbell come to the Telecare house “on a regular basis” to ask people to stop playing basketball. Locating the home in such a neighborhood, she added, is especially important as “many of these folks haven’t always had the opportunity to live in the nicest neighborhoods, so this place of recovery can really be life-changing.”

In emails sent to the three Deschutes County commissioners this year and last, and obtained by The Bulletin through a public records request, Fell made multiple threats to peacefully protest the facility. On May 10, 2014, he wrote that he intended to “sit under the basket … and refuse to leave until the matter is resolved or until I am arrested.”

“If I am arrested, because it will be a repeat offense, I will face the prospect of a year in jail,” Fell wrote, referencing his arrest during a protest in the office of U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Hood River, in 2013. “At that point I will then need to decide whether to start a fast.”

The protest and a more recent one threatened July 8 of this year were both called off, Fell said, because of professional responsibilities. Fell said his hope now is that Deschutes County, which provides public mental health services, could in some way intervene.

Campbell has been actively lobbying the Deschutes County Board of Commissioners to take action, while also including the rest of the Bend City Council and city staff in the same emails, sometimes using her city email address.

Campbell and Fell emphasize their belief in the importance of mental health services, noting a Telecare patient worked as an intern in Campbell’s downtown store. However, the councilor says the facility constitutes a 24-hour business, and such an operation should not be located in a residential area. While the basketball hoop has become the focus, she says it wouldn’t be an issue if the noise of car doors slamming past midnight wasn’t commonplace.

“Taking the hoop down may seem unreasonable, but taken as a whole, it’s not too much to be asked,” she said. “From my perspective, we’re living next door to a business, and the interactions we have with a business are very different than what we would have with an actual neighbor.”

‘A question for the city’

Campbell says she’s become obsessed with finding better locations for a facility and suggested that a corner lot with a horseshoe driveway would minimize any impact on neighbors.

She and Fell say they have now turned to the county because Telecare is unwilling to move the hoop. Campbell says lobbying puts her “in a delicate position” now that she is an elected city councilor.

“As a private citizen whose window is 4 feet away from the court, I want the county to take the hoop down,” she said. “But as a councilor, that’s none of my business, I think. When I’ve emailed my fellow city councilors I am wondering how things are going with Telecare beyond issues with neighbors, as I think after five years, it’s appropriate to look at results and evaluate the program. But there is this issue, and citizens have come to me with it, so I think it is appropriate from me to advocate for them (to the county), and, yes, I am one of them.”

County Commissioner Tammy Baney says Campbell’s efforts to sway the commission are misplaced.

“The basketball issue is no different than if you had siblings and you played basketball and made noise,” she said. “That’s a noise ordinance question, and that’s a question for the city, not the county.”

Baney also said the county has no power to relocate the facility or guide the location of future facilities, emphasizing that Telecare is a contractor with the state and that federal law prohibits excluding mentally ill populations from residential areas.

However, the county does receive some state funding which it uses, in part, to help screen patients who may be located in one of Telecare’s facilities in the county. Baney said this process is in place to make sure anyone living in the house near Pilot Butte is a good fit. The facility is not able to serve sex offenders, who are treated in Oregon by the Department of Corrections, and it has not accepted any patients found not guilty of a violent crime because of insanity, though the state does not allow the de facto exclusion of such patients.

This ambiguity has some worried, Campbell said, though Telecare’s Pendygraft says this facility wouldn’t be appropriate for those with a violent past.

“We’re careful about screening, and this facility is an unlocked, small program for people who just need a little help remembering their appointments or to talk about stress and anxiety,” she said. “The idea is to have them doing something therapeutic, like playing basketball or making crafts. These people are struggling, but not with something unsafe.”

In an email to the county, Campbell raised the possibility of living next door to someone who has “chopped their mother into very small bits,” but Pendygraft says that characterization is off base.

However, Campbell isn’t the only one concerned. Holly Jackson, who is Telecare’s neighbor to the south, said she’s worried for the safety of her young children.

“Six months ago there was a person who would literally just stand outside and watch us walk into our house on a daily basis,” she said.

Campbell has said the issue with Telecare has impacted the entire street and, she suspects, even sparked some residents to move, including Dillon Schneider. Schneider, however, wrote in an email, “Telecare didn’t bother me all that much,” and his move was sparked by a divorce.

‘My house is dead to me’

Fell says his goal is to form an oversight committee with Telecare, neighbors and the county, which could make and enforce agreements about neighborhood issues.

“I admit I am rattled and angry,” Fell wrote in an email. “I have been looking into moving out of state. It is impossible for me to inhabit my home; we are in the middle of a lengthy remodel, but I have totally lost interest. I can’t stay there during daylight hours. My house is dead to me now.”

Pendygraft said Telecare has instructed employees to be quiet when arriving and leaving from the facility, adding, “we understand neighbors have the right to complain and we try to listen to those complaints.

“However, asking us to remove the hoop doesn’t seem like a reasonable request,” she said. “Folks can play basketball at their own home. I’m not willing to take it down.”