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Neighbors in Napa's Old Town speak out against planned therapy home for former prisoners
Land Use

Neighbors in Napa's Old Town speak out against planned therapy home for former prisoners

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Gray Haven group home planned at Napa's Yount mansion

The historic Eliza G. Yount House in Old Town Napa, built in 1884 and once slated for conversion into a bed-and-breakfast inn, is currently being refitted to become the hub of Gray Haven, a transitional home for recently released inmates receiving treatment for mental illness.

With a group home for recently jailed people with mental illnesses perhaps weeks away from opening in a restored 19th-century Napa mansion, several neighbors in the Old Town district are urging the city to stop, slow or scrutinize the project — however little power local government may have to stand in its way. Gray Haven, a residential care program to be based at the Eliza G. Yount House at 423 Seminary St., got a frosty reception from nearly a dozen people whose letters of opposition were read to the City Council at its Tuesday afternoon meeting. Homeowners branded the Gray Haven home, where clients would spend up to two years of live-in therapy and training to prepare for independent living, will threaten the safety of a neighborhood where Fuller Park and Shearer Elementary School are each a block away — and with apartment buildings and houses next door or across the street.

While many of the critics attacked Gray Haven’s placement near gathering places for children or demanded stronger security measures, what especially irritated some was what they called a lack of candor by the home’s operators. The program’s director Patricia Gray, a former judge in Sonoma County Superior Court, came in for scorn for what foes called a secretive process that kept many people in the dark about the future of the Yount house, whose previous owner planned a 25-room bed-and-breakfast inn before the mansion was damaged by the 2014 earthquake. Some letter writers said they learned of the therapy home’s impending arrival only after the Napa Valley Register reported on the project Friday. “Why the secrecy? Why did we learn about something this important in our neighborhood through a newspaper article?” wrote one resident, who asked to remain anonymous. “It is possible that these former inmates could have violent backgrounds; how can we be assured that property or life will be safeguarded?” “As a Napa resident and father of two students at Shearer Elementary School, I’m deeply surprised and scared by the … decision to open Gray Haven (home) for people with mental illness and criminal background almost in front of an ELEMENTARY SCHOOL,” wrote Dejan Kovacevic said in another email. “I believe that here in Napa, we have better and more appropriate locations for that kind of business.” Because Gray Haven was not mentioned in the meeting agenda published Thursday, California’s Brown Act open-meeting law prevented council members from weighing in on the project. Earlier, Planning Manager Erin Morris predicted that state law governing the smallest group homes likely prevents Napa from blocking Gray Haven’s opening. Gray said last week the facility will open with six clients, which would place it under a law exempting homes with six or fewer residents from the need to gain a use permit from their local government. An online brochure on Gray Haven’s website details plans for additions and upgrades that would accommodate 20 or more clients at the landmark. In an interview with the Napa Valley Register, Gray said she would seek city permits to increase the number of residents as those additions take place, with a bid to increase capacity to 10 beds possible this summer. The organization has received a city business license as Gray Haven Inc. to provide outpatient mental health counseling, although that permit makes no mention of living quarters on the premises. Among the criticisms lodged against Gray and the therapy home were allegations that employees and building contractors working at the Yount house refused to answer neighbors’ questions about the program, or what kinds of clients would take part, thus eroding the trust of Old Town residents. “To be clear, I have no issue with the mission of the Gray Haven; my issue is related to the location and the secretive process in which the organization has operated to this point,” wrote Tom Darling, who said he and his wife recently finished renovating their home ahead of their first child’s expected birth in August. “The planned use as an adult residential facility for post-incarcerated individuals with diagnosed mental health conditions has been veiled in secrecy for almost a year from local residents, City Council members, county mental health, and the general public,” added Marc Tatarian. “One has to question this strategy to fly under the radar without any input or partnership from their neighbors and community partners. If this is the way they intend to run their business and potentially treat their clients, then Napa does not need this.” Kevin Alfaro, a near neighbor of the Yount house who shared his concerns about Gray Haven in a letter to the Register, told council members of a profanity-filled text-message threat he received the morning of his letter’s publication from a person who promised to “visit my home to talk to me in person.” Like other letter writers, he did not criticize the Gray Haven’s program but rather its location and relations with homeowners. “To be clear, for me, it’s not about the merits of the program,” said Alfaro after describing a 50-minute conversation with Gray. “It’s about being a good and respectful neighbor. Why hasn’t Gray Haven reached out to the neighbors or the City Council or planners?” Built in 1884 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1992, the Yount mansion previously was owned by Jim Keller, who in 2013 announced plans to convert the landmark into a B&B with 25 rooms. Following the 2014 quake, the property was sold in March 2019 to Luis Nieves, founder and former chief executive of the Napa-based AUL Corp. automobile service contract insurance firm, which he sold in 2017. (Nieves is also a member of the Gray Haven board.) During an interview last week with the Register, Gray predicted Gray Haven would be a “positive influence” on Old Town and fill a gap in treating those with mental illness, by providing the training and counseling to help patients lead normal lives after jail despite largely unaffordable housing in Napa. Recently released inmates would be chosen using recommendations from Napa County, as well as face-to-face meetings and a review of personal histories, according to Gray, who said Gray Haven will not accept sex offenders or people without a diagnosed mental condition. Services described by Gray and the Gray Haven website are to include lodging, meals, psychological and medical care, and time with mental health professionals and recovery coaches, as well as various kinds of job skill training. Clients will be randomly drug-tested during their stays and will be overseen to make sure they take any prescribed medication, said Gray, although she added Gray Haven will not serve as a drug rehabilitation clinic. “We have two hats we wear: to advocate for the success of our clients, and make sure we are keeping the community safe,” she told the Register. Although Gray contacted Napa County Mental Health last fall to discuss contracting with the county for the housing program, Gray Haven must first gain Medi-Cal certification from the state to enter a deal with the county, according to Sarah O’Malley, deputy director of the county agency. Thus far, the county has had no further contact with Gray Haven and is not involved with the program, she said in a Friday email. “Once any program is Medi-Cal certified, the County would then evaluate if a contract with that provider makes sense and if there are sufficient funds to do so,” wrote O’Malley. For the time being, the Gray Haven project has not won over people like Linda Ghiringhelli, who described the group home in a letter to the city as “a disaster waiting to happen at that location” and demanded it be moved to an area with stronger security. Great idea, bad location,” she wrote. WATCH NOW: NAPA COUNTY WILDFIRES TAKE TOLL ON WINE COUNTRY LANDSCAPE(tncms-asset)7f85d885-b320-5ba9-8cf3-65b7dc80fe8a[1](/tncms-asset) PHOTOS: CHECK OUT THE MOST EXPENSIVE HOME SOLD IN NAPA COUNTY IN JANUARY(tncms-asset)c7cb8934-6804-11eb-a622-00163ec2aa77[2](/tncms-asset)

Catch up on Napa County's top news stories

In case you missed it, here is a look at the most-read stories on NapaValleyRegister.com.

With a group home for recently jailed people with mental illnesses perhaps weeks away from opening in a restored 19th-century Napa mansion, several neighbors in the Old Town district are urging the city to stop, slow or scrutinize the project — however little power local government may have to stand in its way.

Gray Haven, a residential care program to be based at the Eliza G. Yount House at 423 Seminary St., got a frosty reception from nearly a dozen people whose letters of opposition were read to the City Council at its Tuesday afternoon meeting.

Homeowners branded the Gray Haven home, where clients would spend up to two years of live-in therapy and training to prepare for independent living, will threaten the safety of a neighborhood where Fuller Park and Shearer Elementary School are each a block away — and with apartment buildings and houses next door or across the street.

While many of the critics attacked Gray Haven’s placement near gathering places for children or demanded stronger security measures, what especially irritated some was what they called a lack of candor by the home’s operators.

The program’s director Patricia Gray, a former judge in Sonoma County Superior Court, came in for scorn for what foes called a secretive process that kept many people in the dark about the future of the Yount house, whose previous owner planned a 25-room bed-and-breakfast inn before the mansion was damaged by the 2014 earthquake. Some letter writers said they learned of the therapy home’s impending arrival only after the Napa Valley Register reported on the project Friday.

“Why the secrecy? Why did we learn about something this important in our neighborhood through a newspaper article?” wrote one resident, who asked to remain anonymous. “It is possible that these former inmates could have violent backgrounds; how can we be assured that property or life will be safeguarded?”

“As a Napa resident and father of two students at Shearer Elementary School, I’m deeply surprised and scared by the … decision to open Gray Haven (home) for people with mental illness and criminal background almost in front of an ELEMENTARY SCHOOL,” wrote Dejan Kovacevic said in another email. “I believe that here in Napa, we have better and more appropriate locations for that kind of business.”

Because Gray Haven was not mentioned in the meeting agenda published Thursday, California’s Brown Act open-meeting law prevented council members from weighing in on the project.

Earlier, Planning Manager Erin Morris predicted that state law governing the smallest group homes likely prevents Napa from blocking Gray Haven’s opening. Gray said last week the facility will open with six clients, which would place it under a law exempting homes with six or fewer residents from the need to gain a use permit from their local government.

An online brochure on Gray Haven’s website details plans for additions and upgrades that would accommodate 20 or more clients at the landmark. In an interview with the Napa Valley Register, Gray said she would seek city permits to increase the number of residents as those additions take place, with a bid to increase capacity to 10 beds possible this summer.

The organization has received a city business license as Gray Haven Inc. to provide outpatient mental health counseling, although that permit makes no mention of living quarters on the premises.

Among the criticisms lodged against Gray and the therapy home were allegations that employees and building contractors working at the Yount house refused to answer neighbors’ questions about the program, or what kinds of clients would take part, thus eroding the trust of Old Town residents.

“To be clear, I have no issue with the mission of the Gray Haven; my issue is related to the location and the secretive process in which the organization has operated to this point,” wrote Tom Darling, who said he and his wife recently finished renovating their home ahead of their first child’s expected birth in August.

“The planned use as an adult residential facility for post-incarcerated individuals with diagnosed mental health conditions has been veiled in secrecy for almost a year from local residents, City Council members, county mental health, and the general public,” added Marc Tatarian. “One has to question this strategy to fly under the radar without any input or partnership from their neighbors and community partners. If this is the way they intend to run their business and potentially treat their clients, then Napa does not need this.”

Kevin Alfaro, a near neighbor of the Yount house who shared his concerns about Gray Haven in a letter to the Register, told council members of a profanity-filled text-message threat he received the morning of his letter’s publication from a person who promised to “visit my home to talk to me in person.” Like other letter writers, he did not criticize the Gray Haven’s program but rather its location and relations with homeowners.

“To be clear, for me, it’s not about the merits of the program,” said Alfaro after describing a 50-minute conversation with Gray. “It’s about being a good and respectful neighbor. Why hasn’t Gray Haven reached out to the neighbors or the City Council or planners?”

Built in 1884 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1992, the Yount mansion previously was owned by Jim Keller, who in 2013 announced plans to convert the landmark into a B&B with 25 rooms. Following the 2014 quake, the property was sold in March 2019 to Luis Nieves, founder and former chief executive of the Napa-based AUL Corp. automobile service contract insurance firm.

During an interview last week with the Register, Gray predicted Gray Haven would be a “positive influence” on Old Town and fill a gap in treating those with mental illness, by providing the training and counseling to help patients lead normal lives after jail despite largely unaffordable housing in Napa.

Recently released inmates would be chosen using recommendations from Napa County, as well as face-to-face meetings and a review of personal histories, according to Gray, who said Gray Haven will not accept sex offenders or people without a diagnosed mental condition.

Services described by Gray and the Gray Haven website are to include lodging, meals, psychological and medical care, and time with mental health professionals and recovery coaches, as well as various kinds of job skill training. Clients will be randomly drug-tested during their stays and will be overseen to make sure they take any prescribed medication, said Gray, although she added Gray Haven will not serve as a drug rehabilitation clinic.

“We have two hats we wear: to advocate for the success of our clients, and make sure we are keeping the community safe,” she told the Register.

Although Gray contacted Napa County Mental Health last fall to discuss contracting with the county for the housing program, Gray Haven must first gain Medi-Cal certification from the state to enter a deal with the county, according to Sarah O’Malley, deputy director of the county agency. Thus far, the county has had no further contact with Gray Haven and is not involved with the program, she said in a Friday email.

“Once any program is Medi-Cal certified, the County would then evaluate if a contract with that provider makes sense and if there are sufficient funds to do so,” wrote O’Malley.

For the time being, the Gray Haven project has not won over people like Linda Ghiringhelli, who described the group home in a letter to the city as “a disaster waiting to happen at that location” and demanded it be moved to an area with stronger security.

Great idea, bad location,” she wrote.

This story has been modified since the original posting to update the ownership of AUL Corp. and detail company founder Luis Nieves' membership on the Gray Haven board of directors.

WATCH NOW: NAPA COUNTY WILDFIRES TAKE TOLL ON WINE COUNTRY LANDSCAPE

Thousands of fire-damaged trees are being removed at a cost of millions of dollars in the wake of Napa County wildfires.

PHOTOS: CHECK OUT THE MOST EXPENSIVE HOME SOLD IN NAPA COUNTY IN JANUARY

Catch up on Napa County's top news stories

In case you missed it, here is a look at the most-read stories on NapaValleyRegister.com.

You can reach Howard Yune at 530-763-2266 or hyune@napanews.com

You can reach Howard Yune at 530-763-2266 or hyune@napanews.com

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Public Safety Reporter

Howard Yune covers public safety for the Napa Valley Register. He has been a reporter and photographer for the Register since 2011, and previously wrote for the Marysville Appeal-Democrat, Anaheim Bulletin and Coos Bay (Oregon) World.

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