Friday, August 3, 2007

Alamar Ranch

I attended a meeting of the Boise County Planning and Zoning Commission last night. Alamar Ranch is a proposed residential treatment school for troubled teenaged boys. There has been some opposition to the project. The supposed objection had to do with increased demands on emergency services, but enough of the discussion in the local newspaper (the Idaho World) and at the hearing last night makes it clear that the real concern driving the opposition is fear that the boys that would be treated at Alamar Ranch would be there just to run away, steal cars, rape the local girls, and in general, turn Idaho City into the next Oakland. (Here you can see pictures of the historic, scenic part of Idaho City. There's no pictures of the rundown, trailer park portions of town.)

Anyway, it was a large crowd that showed up--perhaps 200 people or more. Considering that total population of Boise County in 2005 was 7,535, that's pretty impressive. This was a hot topic.

The Planning Commission staff report was clearly supportive of it, especially because Alamar Ranch has bent over backwards to satisfy every possible concern. The fire department wanted another emergency entry and exit road into the property. No problem. Alamar Ranch pointed to existing emergency service uses in similar facilities, and that they were minimal. They also offered to compare the emergency services use of any 37 home subdivision in the county, and reimburse the county for any emergency service requests above that baseline.

There were concerns that boys at Alamar Ranch could demand the Bogus Basin School District provide services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 2004; Alamar Ranch put in writing that they would be taking care of all such needs of the boys it will be treating, and would reimburse the district for expenses that might fall on them. Alamar Ranch also agreed to contribute $500 per new student to Bogus Basin School District for any children of Alamar Ranch employees that were new additions to the schools.

An economics professor from Northwestern Nazarene University shared the results of his economic analysis of the likely effects of Alamar Ranch. It would add about $800,000 to $1,500,000 a year to the local economy, because of the number of jobs. Since a lot of these jobs are pretty high paying compared to the average annual wage of $23,862 in the county in 2005, this would probably lift the Idaho City area a good bit.

Even something as trivial as exterior lighting: Alamar Ranch will use full cutoff light fixtures to preserve the dark skies of Boise County.

Contrary to my fears, quite a number of people turned out to speak in favor of Alamar Ranch. Some of them were neighbors; one was a competitor! There's a roughly similar facility in Garden Valley (another community in Boise County) that treats troubled teenaged boys and girls, and the director told of the enormous change in the lives of the troubled kids that they have helped. Another speaker was a psychiatrist from Boise who treats Idaho City kids, but because of the enormous distance that they have to travel, a fair number are medicated rather than provided the individual and family therapy that they need. Having Alamar Ranch in Idaho City would put at least one psychiatrist and many social workers and counselors in the community, where they would be available to provide services independent of Alamar Ranch.

One woman spoke of having to drive 12 hours to southern Utah each way to visit her daughter, who is in a similar program, because there is a critical shortage of space in programs like this.

Here's what I had to say:
My name is Clayton Cramer. I live at 36 Sunburst Road, Horseshoe Bend.

I don’t live in this part of the county, so I really don’t know the fine details of the concerns about traffic or fire protection. But I do know that a lot of what I have seen expressed in letters to the Idaho World sounds like prejudice against residential treatment schools, and the troubled teens that will be housed at Alamar Ranch.

So, why do I care about Alamar Ranch? A few years back, my daughter Hilary was a teenager. I think every teenager drives his or her parents crazy, but this was a bit beyond that—my wife and I were very worried that our daughter might not live to adulthood. With great reluctance, and a lot of tears, we sent our daughter from California to a residential treatment school in Utah, after which Alamar Ranch is patterned.

Our daughter was away for 6 ½ months. We visited her every few weeks, injecting vast quantities of money into the local economy each time. It was astonishing to see how rapidly our daughter recovered, while continuing her education. When she was 15, I was worried about whether she would live to 18. Instead, she came home, and finished high school. Shortly thereafter we moved to Idaho. Last year she graduated from the University of Idaho—and brought back a good husband as well. Now she and her husband are working on their master’s degrees at Boise State University.

I mentioned that Alamar Ranch is patterned on the residential treatment school where my daughter went in Utah. How do I know that? Because my daughter’s primary therapist there is Alamar Ranch’s executive director, Amy Jeppesen. What a small world we live in! I have tremendous confidence in Ms. Jeppesen, and I have seen the miracle that she performed with my daughter—and I believe very strongly in the importance of residential treatment schools for kids whose problems can’t be handled in an outpatient setting.

If there are legitimate complaints about Alamar Ranch, I implore you to find ways to work these concerns out with the neighbors. Every unnecessary roadblock that a planning agency puts in the way of a residential treatment school is really an obstacle in the path of helping a kid who is in trouble, become a success like my daughter. What Alamar Ranch will do for troubled teenaged boys is not just a business—it is, for some families, the last hope before a child spirals down into destruction.

One woman I spoke to afterwards told me that she was very impressed with what I had to say; "I think you changed my mind about this."

My daughter spoke about how the very similar program at New Haven Residential Treatment Center changed her life. As soon as she has statement up on her blog, I'll link to it.

UPDATE: My daughter's statement is here. No matter how hard it may be, don't give up on your troubled teenager.

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