New ordinance would address sober-living homes


Costa Mesa City Hall is proposing a series of new regulations for sober-living homes in the city that include new permits and measures to prevent the homes’ concentration in neighborhoods.

On Monday, the Planning Commission will examine the ordinance and potentially recommend it to the City Council, which would give final approval.

The ordinance would require new and existing sober-living homes — where residents are receiving treatment for drug or alcohol abuse — to obtain a permit from the city’s development services director.

The permit would require the name, address, phone number and driver’s license number of the owner, operator and house manager. Its fee is yet to be determined.

It would also require that City Hall have information about the house’s rules, its intake procedures for patients, relapse policy and an affirmation that the home’s residents are only those defined as handicapped, because of their addiction, in accordance with state and federal law.

Any existing rehab homes would have 90 days to apply for the permit and a year to comply with its conditions.

Like current law, the ordinance would not allow sober-living homes to have more than six tenants if they operate in neighborhoods zoned for single-family homes. City staff noted that some facilities “often have numerous building code violations and unpermitted additions, and often ignore the city’s six-tenant limit.”

To prevent concentration of the homes, they cannot be within 500 feet of each other.

The ordinance also requires a “good neighbor policy,” which “shall direct occupants to be considerate of neighbors, including refraining from engaging in excessively loud, profane or obnoxious behavior that would unduly interfere with a neighbor’s use and enjoyment of their dwelling unit,” according to city staff.

Sober-living homes have come under fire in recent years in Costa Mesa, with many residents contending that the homes are both numerous and spur crime in their neighborhoods.

Among the complaints are alleged drug use, wafting smoke, parking problems, excessive noise and a transient population.

According to a City Hall estimate provided to the Daily Pilot last week, Costa Mesa has 163 sober-living homes containing 1,226 beds. Many of the homes are clustered together on the same or nearby streets.

Some numbers are higher. Take Back Our Neighborhoods (TBON), a grass-roots Costa Mesa group, in May estimated there are more than 300 homes in the city.

City staff have examined TBON’s listing but have taken a different approach in their calculations.

Costa Mesa’s ordinance was influenced by a similar one the Orange City Council adopted in 2009. Councilwoman Wendy Leece called for Costa Mesa to look at Orange’s law during the July 1 council meeting.

“It’s time to make a stand,” Leece said at the time. “We need to have our own city structure and not assume that the sober-living operators are giving that structure.”

Laws surrounding sober-living homes are complex, given the various state and federal law that classify recovering addicts as a protected and disabled class.

Costa Mesa’s law seeks to balance the needs of both residents and those in sober-living situations.

“The goal of the proposed ordinance is to provide the disabled with an equal opportunity to live in the residence of their choice, and the need to maintain the single-family residential character of these neighborhoods,” according to city staff.

Jerry Guarracino, a city administrator whose new full-time directive at City Hall includes handling sober-living homes, said the city’s attorneys and staff have tried to make the ordinance as legally defensible as possible.

Mayor Jim Righeimer, however, has repeatedly warned in recent months that Costa Mesa’s law will likely be challenged in court.

The city of Newport Beach has been engaged in a years-long legal battle to defend its 2008 ordinance on sober-living homes, which was declared unconstitutional. The city is petitioning the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case, and Costa Mesa and other Southern California cities have filed supportive legal documents to aid that effort.