About two dozen drug addicts facing eviction from a treatment center near Santa Paula received a reprieve Tuesday, with county officials saying they support the center's bid to move to a U. S. Forest Service camp north of Ojai.
Victory Outreach, an Oxnard-based church that treats drug addicts with a regimen of hard work and Bible study, had begun converting a 34-acre farm on South Mountain Road into a treatment center for about two dozen men in April.
But last month, authorities filed criminal complaints against Victory Outreach, saying the church was in violation of the county's zoning, building and health laws.
Officials cited the center for illegally converting a barn into a dormitory, improperly disposing of waste water into the ground and storing two mobile homes illegally on the property. The county counsel's office has delayed prosecution as negotiations continued between Victory Outreach and county officials, said Frank Siegh, who oversees litigation for the county.
After earlier meetings ended in an impasse, a possible solution surfaced Monday during a meeting between church and county officials.
After dismissing Camarillo State Hospital and Camarillo Airport as viable sites, the officials discussed the possibility of leasing the Rose Valley Work Camp from the U. S. Forest Service.
The camp has been used as a minimum-security detention facility by the Ventura County Sheriff's Department but is scheduled to be closed this month because of budget cuts.
"The timing of it is almost obvious," said Philip Dunn, an attorney for Victory Outreach. "The Sheriff's Department is closing it right at the time we need it."
Cmdr. Bob Brooks, who heads the sheriff's custody division, identified a number of matching elements between what Victory Outreach needed and what the Forest Service might want in a tenant.
Detention center inmates had performed a number of tasks for the Forest Service, from cleaning campgrounds and maintaining trails to building restrooms and constructing road signs, Brooks said. In exchange, the Forest Service leased the camp to the county for a nominal fee.
Brooks praised the work of Victory Outreach, which was started by the Rev. Bob Herrera in his Ventura home seven years ago. "This program is highly regarded by our staff," Brooks said.
The idea quickly gained support among officials.
On Tuesday, about 100 Victory Outreach members and supporters attended a meeting of the Ventura County Board of Supervisors after church leaders submitted a supportive statement with 14,400 signatures that the group had gathered.
Supervisor Maggie Kildee, who had opposed the Santa Paula ranch site as inappropriate, welcomed the possible solution. "Victory Outreach has a long history of doing good things," Kildee said. "It would be tough to make a ruling against a group that does such good work."
Afterward, Undersheriff Larry Carpenter said use of the Rose Valley facility by Victory Outreach would preserve much of the hard work performed by the 50 to 75 inmates at the 12-acre camp.
"We put our heart and soul into Rose Valley to make that facility work," Carpenter said. "I'd like to see that work continue."
Ron Bassett, a Forest Service district ranger, said the Forest Service has received several proposals for the camp. But the county's support of Victory Outreach would carry a great deal of weight, he said.
Bassett said the Forest Service will probably issue a prospectus before deciding which group should operate the facility. "We don't have a dime to run it or maintain it," Bassett said. "We need to get somebody in there who will take care of it."