TUSTIN The city’s Planning Commission has postponed its decision on an urgent mental health clinic proposed for the Packers Square center after a contentious four-hour discussion.
Exodus Recovery, with locations throughout California, wants to put a clinic — its first in Orange County — in 7,600 square feet of office space in Packers Square at the corner of Irvine Boulevard and Newport Avenue.
The clinic, which would be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, would provide short-term treatment to patients in the midst of psychiatric crisis, said Luana Murphy, president of Exodus Recovery.
Dozens of residents both opposing and favoring the clinic took turns speaking at the meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 26.
Many expressed concerns that the clinic would attract transients and increase crime. But others said Orange County sorely needs more services for people in crisis.
Packers Square — a mixed-use mall with offices, eateries and a hair salon — is already zoned for medical businesses, said Commission Chair Ryder Smith. However, operating hours are limited to 7 a.m. through 7 p.m. – so the city would need to make an exception for the clinic.
Murphy said that centers typically see 16 to 20 clients a day. About 40 percent of patients are referred by law enforcement; others come from hospitals.
And some simply walk in.
“They are your neighbors – they live here,” Murphy said. “They are no different from people going to therapists.”
Within 24 hours of treatment, patients return home or transfer to a hospital or rehab center, she said.
Law enforcement brings people in crisis who are not suspects in a crime, Murphy said.
Tustin police Chief Charlie Celano said he toured an Exodus center in Culver City and found it “an outstanding facility.”
“This is a benefit not only to the police department but also to the community,” he said.
Currently, Tustin police must take people suffering mental crises to a hospital emergency room and wait there for several hours, Celano said. Medical personnel must juggle those patients with everyone else in need of help.
At a mental health urgent care clinic, Celano said, officers could escort patients inside and “within 15 minutes be back out in the field preventing crime.”
Celano emphasized that officers would not activate lights and sirens for such drop offs.
Commissioner Austin Lombard said residents had conveyed fears that homeless people referred from other areas of the county might “leave the…