One Costa Mesa sober-living home wins permit approval; 9 others denied or delayed

One local sober-living home won permit approval from the Costa Mesa Planning Commission on Monday night, but nine other requests were turned away or put off.

The commission's meeting, which ran for nearly eight hours and ended shortly before 2 a.m., was largely a microcosm of the sober-living debate that has raged in Costa Mesa and elsewhere in Orange County for years.

Critics of the homes, which generally house recovering drug and alcohol addicts who are considered disabled under state and federal law, say they can disrupt neighborhoods and contribute to parking and traffic problems, crime, noise, secondhand smoke and other negative effects.

Sober-living home supporters and operators say the facilities work to be good neighbors and provide a much-needed service by giving people a safe and secure place to maintain a lifestyle free of alcohol and drugs.

The operators on Monday's agenda were seeking permits they need to remain open under city ordinances restricting how close sober-living facilities can be to one another.

One ordinance requires sober-living homes with six or fewer occupants in single-family neighborhoods be at least 650 feet apart. Another ordinance created similar rules for such homes in multifamily-zoned areas.

The goal of the regulations, city officials have said, is to prevent the close clustering of sober-living facilities in residential areas.

When all was said and done, commissioners had approved only one of the 10 requested permits, allowing up to 11 occupants, including a live-in manager, in two condominium units at 165 E. Wilson St.

That property is owned by Keith Randle and has been open for years under the name Summit Coastal Living.

Attorney Steven Polin, who represented Randle and most of the other sober-living permit applicants at Monday's hearing, said city staff has "has done a pretty thorough job of investigating and evaluating the type of organization Summit Coastal Living is and rightfully has concluded that not only are they a good citizen in Costa Mesa, not only are they an asset for the neighborhood, but having 11 residents would not adversely impact the neighborhood."

A state-licensed facility at 2379 Orange Ave. is within 650 feet of the Wilson property. However, Randle submitted his permit application and was originally scheduled to appear before the Planning Commission before the other facility was licensed in April.

Given the circumstances, city staff members determined it was reasonable to accommodate Randle's request.

The commission voted 3-1, with Commissioner Stephan Andranian opposed and Commissioner Colin McCarthy absent, to approve the application.

Andranian said his vote wasn't necessarily an indictment of the operation but rather that he had concerns with allowing so many people to live at one particular property.

"I guess the question is, at what point does it become an institutional, campus or dormitory type of living situation?" he said. "And that's what I'm struggling with."

Commissioners weren't sold on Randle's other permit application to allow as many as 13 occupants, including a manager, in three units at 2041 Tustin Ave.

They unanimously opted to push that to their Dec. 5 meeting and directed staff to prepare a resolution to deny the request, citing concerns with the intensity of the proposed use.

Commissioners also were unified in denying three other sober-living permit requests in single-family neighborhoods because the residences were deemed too close to other drug and alcohol recovery or treatment facilities.

Two of the properties are next to each other at 647 and 653 Joann St. The other is at 1180 Augusta St.

"When are you guys at the city going to embrace the opportunity to work with people instead of against us?" Richard Perlin, the owner of the properties on Joann, said Monday. "We are anxious to be good neighbors. We are anxious to bring something to this community."

The owner of the Augusta property, Ryan Hampton, said his property is just 30 feet short of meeting the city's buffer requirement.

"I put a lot of work into this, and to be denied over 30 feet just seems a little trivial," he said. "There are so many recovering addicts and alcoholics in the community that have been affected by places like this, and I feel it's really unfair to exclude us from this community."

Commissioners deadlocked on a request to allow Casa Capri Recovery to house up to 28 people in four units at 266 and 271 16th Place.

City staff said Casa Capri could operate at either of the adjoining properties but not at both because of the distance requirement.

Commissioners were unable to decide which of those properties should be allowed to operate, so permits for both failed on a 2-2 vote.

The commission's rulings on all the permits can be appealed to the City Council.

Commission Vice Chairman Jeff Mathews said he generally made his decisions Monday "based on a strict interpretation of the ordinance."

"I completely support recovery and sobriety, but in this case we are looking at a carefully crafted city ordinance," he said.

Commissioner Tim Sesler said the city's regulations seek to strike a balance between the rights of sober-living operators and their neighbors.

Those worried about the current or potential effects of sober-living homes should push legislators to tackle the issue at the state level, he said.

As Monday's meeting dragged on and what had been a capacity audience at City Hall dwindled to a handful of people, commissioners delayed hearing some permit applications.

Those include a separate request from Casa Capri to house up to 14 people in three units at 166 E. 18th St. and one from Windward Way Recovery, which is seeking permission to house up to 28 men in eight units on adjoining parcels at 351 and 357 Victoria St.