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Judge dismisses sober-living lawsuit against city

A federal judge dismissed a lawsuit against Costa Mesa on Tuesday, ruling that the city's law placing new limitations on sober-living homes is not discriminatory.

Judge James V. Selna wrote that Solid Landings Behavioral Health, which operates several sober-living homes throughout Costa Mesa, could not prove that the city violated fair-housing laws or unfairly discriminated against recovering drug and alcohol addicts.

Costa Mesa's attorneys contended that the law never discriminated against addicts, who are considered disabled and protected under state and federal law. On the contrary, they argued, it actually gave them special permission to live in group settings in single-family neighborhoods, noting that residential facilities serving nondisabled people, such are boarding houses, are not allowed in those areas of the city.

"We are encouraged by the decision and we look forward to fully implementing our ordinance," Mayor Steve Mensinger said.

Solid Landings spokeswoman Jemellee Ambrose said, “We are disappointed by the judge's final ruling. At this time, we are considering all of our options and plan to file an appeal.”

Selna's ruling echoed his earlier sentiments in January, when he dismissed Solid Landings' case but gave the company a chance to amend its complaint, first filed in November.

Costa Mesa's law, approved by the City Council last fall, required that sober-living and group homes in single-family neighborhoods apply for a new permit by April 8 and comply with new regulations within two years. The regulations require that the homes have in place a "good neighbor" policy and are at least 650 feet from one another, among other conditions.

Homes that do not apply for a permit can face fines and possible closure proceedings.

City Hall estimates that within Costa Mesa are 150 group and sober-living homes and that 37 associated facilities can be found primarily in the commercial and industrial zones. The law affects about 50 homes in single-family neighborhoods.

Some activists have contended that the city actually contains far more sober-living homes, as many as 300 to 400.

City officials are working on a second ordinance that would place similar regulations on sober-living homes in multifamily neighborhoods.

City officials said Solid Landings and its subsidiaries operate 20 to 30 homes in Costa Mesa. Eight of the homes applied for permits on the April 8 deadline.

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