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Newport Beach City Council to weigh in on sober living, needle exchange proposals

Newport Beach City Council to weigh in on sober living, needle exchange proposals
Sober Living By The Sea is one of Newport Beach's sober living homes. (File Photo)

The Newport Beach City Council will consider sending a letter in support of a congressional bill that could give more local control, and grant more federal restrictions, over sober living homes when it meets Tuesday.

Councilman Scott Peotter asked the city to formally support the bill. But City Manager Dave Kiff was split on whether to submit a letter that would support all elements of the bill, introduced May 9 by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Costa Mesa) under the name “Restoring Community Oversight of Sober Living Homes Act of 2018.”

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The proposed law would amend the federal Fair Housing Act to allow a city to limit placement of — or even ban entirely — recovery facilities, in spite of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and would prohibit federal funds be used for facilities or services that aren’t sited in compliance with local laws.

The bill removes “substance use disorder” treatment services as an “essential health benefit” under the Affordable Care Act, meaning that insurance carriers would no longer be required to cover recovery.

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Kiff said the city’s legislative platform supports greater local control over the placement and management of sober living homes and other group accommodations in residential areas.

But stripping substance abuse treatment from ACA requirements is “not consistent with the platform or the city’s role in advocacy for or against issues,” Kiff wrote in a staff report.

He added that members of Congress access insurance benefits through an exchange similar to Covered California, “where it appears that every available plan has both inpatient and outpatient substance use disorder treatment as a covered benefit.”

Further, mental illness and substance abuse tend to co-occur, he said, meaning that giving input on whether to cover rehab services “may be outside of our wheelhouse.”

The bill, which was introduced late in the legislative session, has been referred to the House Judiciary and Energy and Commerce committees, but has not been heard.

Costa Mesa needle exchange program

City leaders are also suggesting a stronger take on a proposed needle exchange service in nearby Costa Mesa.

The Orange County Needle Exchange Program has submitted an application to the California Department of Public Health to operate a mobile needle exchange in four cities after the program, which formerly operated from a homeless encampment at the Santa Ana Civic Center, was shut down.

The Costa Mesa site would be bounded by West 18th Street, West 16th Street, Monrovia Avenue and the outer border of the Armstrong petroleum building — a light industrial area that borders Newport on its northwest side. The proposed service would also stop in Santa Ana, Anaheim and Orange.

Parents from Newport’s Carden Hall private school, about half a block outside of the proposed boundaries, have asked the city to oppose the service in the area. Pacifica Christian High School and Coastline Community College are also in the immediate vicinity.

In a draft letter to the state, Newport Beach Police Chief Jon Lewis offered “significant concerns.”

“In offering my concerns I am not expressing an opinion about the merits of clean needle exchange,” he wrote. “While I am not a public health official, I can certainly understand the goal of avoiding transmission of diseases like HIV and Hepatitis C. My concern is the proximity of this program to many school age children, and how the interaction of the program’s clients to these schools’ parents, students and teachers may not be a positive one.”

The Orange County Board of Supervisors registered its opposition to the program on Tuesday.

2018-19 budget approval

In other business, the City Council is set to vote on its $336.8 million 2018-19 budget.

The proposed fiscal year budget includes $209.3 million in operating expenses out of $215.6 million in operating revenues from the key general fund. The new fiscal year starts July 1.

Harbor Department organization

The city will also revisit the idea of a new standalone Harbor Department. The council continued the item last month, saying it needed more review.

The proposed department would report to the city manager and be a combination of harbor operations, which handles on-the-water issues, such as mooring management and code enforcement, and harbor resources, which handles permitting and other land-use functions.

Currently, harbor resources is a unit of the Public Works Department; harbor operations is under the assistant city manager.

Tuesday’s council meeting starts at 4 p.m. with a study session, followed by the regular session at 7 p.m. at City Hall, 100 Civic Center Drive.

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