The Costa Mesa Planning Commission denied a permit for an Eastside psychiatric group home Monday after determining it is too close to other communal housing in the area.
Nsight Psychology & Addiction has operated out of the six-unit compound at 2641 Santa Ana Ave. for about four years. Initially, the property functioned as a sober-living home housing recovering addicts but, for the past several years, it has offered therapeutic housing for up to 30 patients with primary diagnoses such as post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder and severe depression or anxiety after leaving structured inpatient treatment.
In either case, the property is subject to Costa Mesa’s group-home ordinance — which stipulates that such facilities must obtain city permits and requires a 650-foot buffer between them in residential areas.
The complex in question is between 476 and 636 feet of four state-licensed residential detox facilities on nearby University Drive, which led to a staff denial that the commission upheld 5-0, with members Kedarious Colbert and Jenna Tourje absent.
The commission’s decision is final unless appealed to the City Council within seven days.
The shadow of sober living lingered over the discussion Monday. Nsight ran the facility as a sober-living home from 2015 to 2016 and initially filed a permit application for a sober-living home in 2016, according to city Zoning Administrator Willa Bouwens-Killeen.
Nsight later resubmitted an application under its same letterhead outlining a plan to offer housing for the “mentally disabled.” However, the facility still had house rules addressing a substance abuse policy and toxicology screening.
“Without this facility limiting the residents to [those who are] mentally disabled and specifically not in recovery from drug and alcohol abuse, it cannot be determined that the facility will not operate by default [as] a sober-living home,” Bouwens-Killeen said. “Regardless, the separation conflict applies.”
Mary Helen Beatificato, Nsight’s chief executive and general counsel, said current residents are not receiving treatment for substance abuse. Sober-living facilities also have fundamentally different operational characteristics, she added.
Beatificato said Nsight would agree not to operate a sober-living home on the property as a condition of approval. She said there are plenty of recovery homes in the area, but nothing else offering step-down housing for people with mental illnesses. The home does not employ addiction counselors, and its drug screens are to ensure residents are taking their prescribed medications as directed, she said.
“There’s obviously a mental health crisis in this county and the homeless problem is also a result of that mental health crisis,” Beatificato said. “[The] applicant is really bending over backwards to make sure that a very needed service is available to people who need it so that we can do our part to fix that. We’re bending over backwards to agree to things that we don’t have to in order to alleviate concerns that the city will have.”
One former resident told the commission she lived at the Nsight home as an interim measure after receiving inpatient treatment for anorexia and PTSD that resulted from continuous childhood sexual abuse. She relapsed after her inpatient treatment and “it had everything to do with not having transitional living options because I wasn’t an addict,” she said. Nsight gave her her life back, she added.
Beatificato said she doesn’t believe Nsight runs a group home, which she equates with sober living, and she doesn’t like the city’s group-home ordinance — but is following its steps to exhaust administrative remedies.
That didn’t sit well with Commissioner Jon Zich.
“There’s a lot of conditions of approval and, if you don’t think this applies to you, then I have very low confidence that you would feel compelled to comply with the conditions of approval,” he said.