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Newport Beach forms ad hoc committee on residential care facilities

A pedestrian walks past the lawns between City Hall and the public library in Newport Beach.
The Newport Beach City Council approved an ad hoc committee to look at the residential care facilities.
(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

The Newport Beach City Council adopted a resolution late last month to establish an ad hoc committee to examine and provide recommendations to council members on current city regulations surrounding residential care facilities.

According to a city staff report, the issue stems from a community meeting held in October by Councilwomen Joy Brenner, Diane Dixon and Councilman Duffy Duffield about sober living homes, group homes and state-licensed residential communities.

They heard from residents concerned about the number of such facilities and how they were run.

Dixon brought up the matter at the Oct. 11 council meeting, describing the community meeting as “powerful” as local and state officials, city staff and residents discussed the impacts of sober living homes on the quality of life in their neighborhoods.

“We must seek action now. That’s what the residents are asking and that’s what we, as the council, must listen to,” Dixon said at the meeting. "... a person lost his life in our city in August a few weeks ago because of the inadequate management of the state-licensed drug alcohol residential facility in [Santa Ana Heights].”

The man in question was identified by authorities as 33-year-old Henry Lehr, a Tuscon, Ariz., resident.

Lehr left a residential detox center in the early hours of Aug. 26 after having told staff that he was hearing and seeing “demons,” according to the Orange County district attorney’s office.

Shortly afterward, Lehr entered the backyard of a home a few doors away in the area of Indus Street and Redlands Drive before approaching the front door of another home.

At the second house, he banged on the door and demanded to be let in. Eventually, Lehr broke down the door and proceeded up the staircase.

The homeowner, who was cleared of wrongdoing by the district attorney in October, fired once on Lehr with his pistol when Lehr did not identify himself and continued up the staircase.

Lehr died at the scene.

“The safety of our residents is our number one priority, no less in this and other neighborhoods with state-licensed as well as the city-permitted facilities,” Dixon said.

City staff said the last comprehensive update to the city’s residential care facilities standards were in 2008.

Currently, there are about 32 residential care facilities that are licensed or state-licensed throughout Newport Beach. The formation of the ad hoc committee, which will include Duffield, Dixon and Brenner, was approved unanimously as part of the City Council’s consent calendar.

The committee is expected to look at whether or not city practices are compliant with state and federal law; recommend legislative policies or positions regarding state or federal laws related to the regulation thereof; and, if necessary, recommend changes to the city’s regulatory processes in relationship to residential care facilities.

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