Sober-living homes rushing to meet Newport’s deadline
Following Newport Beach’s preliminary courtroom victory against drug and alcohol treatment homes, many facilities are scrambling to comply with the city’s strict new ordinance by today’s deadline.
Other operators, however, are labeling the process discriminatory and are refusing to obey the court order or are grudgingly filing the required paperwork.
A federal judge last week issued a preliminary ruling upholding much of the ordinance Newport Beach officials passed in January that forces about 80% of the addiction treatment centers to apply for city permits in order to stay open. Many residents contend the homes are a blight on their coastal neighborhoods.
Richard Terzian, an attorney representing the largest treatment operator, Sober Living by the Sea, described the ordinance as “discriminating against the handicapped.”
“Any group of college students is going to create a lot more noise, create a lot more ruckus than any of our” recovery centers, he said.
The city ordinance compels sober-living homes -- residential facilities where people receive treatment or counseling off-site -- to apply for the permits; larger state-licensed facilities with on-site treatment for more than six residents must also apply for permits.
Small recovery centers with state licenses, where six or fewer residents receive addiction treatment where they live, are exempt from the permitting process.
The 85 or so treatment facilities in Newport Beach are clustered mostly on the Balboa Peninsula.
The ruling marks the “first time any city in California has been able to use a permitting process on a particular class of homes,” said Newport Beach Assistant City Manager Dave Kiff.
If Newport Beach’s ordinance withstands further legal scrutiny, other coastal cities hope to emulate it.
“If that ordinance is upheld, we certainly would look into passing it in Malibu,” said Mayor Pro Tem Andy Stern, who said similar facilities in Malibu create traffic and septic system problems.
“It would become a high priority rapidly.”
Newport’s 27-page application requires sober-living homes and other treatment centers to submit detailed maps for transporting clients, floor plans illustrating the number of residents per bedroom, disposal procedures for medical waste, plans to mitigate secondhand smoke, a weekly activities schedule for residents, fire safety compliance, and information about the center’s administrator, among other data, plus a fee of $2,200.
A hearing officer will then review the packet and determine if the recovery center can continue operating; city officials expect the process to last through the summer.
So far, the city has received 26 applications from the nearly 60 centers that must meet city regulations, Kiff said.
Newport Beach’s attorney in the lawsuit, Jim Markman, believes the comprehensive application could discourage problem operators from staying in business.
If operators are denied a city permit, they’ll have about a year before they have to shut down, Kiff said.
The proliferating homes have generated controversy for years, with one citizens group bemoaning the traffic, noise, secondhand smoke, profanity and other problems they said the recovering addicts bring to the densely populated oceanfront neighborhood.
“We do not think that the city went far enough,” said Denys Oberman, chief executive of Concerned Citizens of Newport Beach, the nonprofit activist group that’s been fighting the sober-living homes.
According to Oberman, these businesses “are saturating and institutionalizing the residential neighborhood.” The group’s lawsuit against the city and program operators is one of several suits filed on the contentious issue after the ordinance was passed.
Sober Living by the Sea, with about 35 centers, expects to spend as much as $75,000 per group home on new sprinkler systems to meet city standards, said John Peloquin, vice president of operations for CRC Health Group, the parent company.
“If you need a fire clearance in there, what about all the summer rentals?” Peloquin said. “We feel that that’s again evidence of being discriminatory to us.”
A spokesman for Balboa Horizons Recovery, which treats fewer than a dozen women for drug addiction, said the business viewed the application process as onerous and the fee as more than they could afford, and was filing an application “under duress.”
Officials at Pacific Shores Properties, another treatment company, are “examining our legal options” regarding the application requirements and the city ordinance, said attorney Steven Polin.
Several of the facility operators have submitted complaints to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for review.
The judge’s preliminary ruling also upheld a prohibition on treatment facilities opening in single-family homes; instead, they must be in areas zoned for apartments or condominiums, Kiff said.
The judge did, however, strike down one part of Newport Beach’s regulation, barring the city from aggregating several adjacent facilities of six or fewer people into one larger center, which would have subjected them to the city’s rules.
Though the legal challenges have yet to play out, Kiff is optimistic that the city will prevail:
“We’re certainly hopeful that the judge will continue to see our ordinance as . . . just a practical way of dealing with the secondary impacts of too many group homes.”