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Lawsuit alleges Costa Mesa’s sober-living regulations are discriminatory and unconstitutional

A sober-living home operator has filed a federal lawsuit against the city of Costa Mesa alleging that local regulations for such facilities are discriminatory and violate its civil and constitutional rights.

In the lawsuit, filed Feb. 26 in U.S. District Court in Santa Ana, Casa Capri Recovery claims the city has engaged “in a pattern or practice of discrimination ... on the basis of disability, in violation of the Fair Housing Act, Americans with Disabilities Act, the Civil Rights Act of 1871 and related state laws.”

Sober-living homes typically house recovering alcoholics and drug addicts, who are considered disabled under state and federal laws.

“I think the [lawsuit] speaks for itself,” Steven Polin, one of Casa Capri’s attorneys, said Thursday. “The city enacted an ordinance that violates the Fair Housing Act.”

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The suit asks the court to, among other things, keep the city “from taking actions that either directly or indirectly interfere in any way with plaintiffs’ abilities to provide housing to groups of unrelated disabled persons who are in recovery.”

Costa Mesa spokesman Tony Dodero said the city hadn’t been officially served with the lawsuit as of Thursday. The city doesn’t comment on pending litigation, he said.

At the heart of the lawsuit are decisions by the City Council and Planning Commission to deny permits for a Casa Capri facility housing up to 28 women in eight units at 269 and 271 16th Place in Costa Mesa’s Eastside.

According to the complaint, Casa Capri operated without incident at the adjoining properties for years, starting in 2011, “until it was swept up in [the] dragnet of the city’s official campaign against persons in recovery.”

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In 2014 and 2015, the council adopted two ordinances that imposed new permitting requirements on sober-living homes and stipulated that they, group homes and licensed alcohol and drug treatment facilities be at least 650 feet from one another in residential areas.

City officials have said the buffer requirement is meant to keep such facilities from clustering in neighborhoods. Costa Mesa residents have grown increasingly vocal in recent years about the proliferation of sober-living homes, saying they can cause problems with traffic, parking, noise, litter, crime and other issues.

Since city codes state that sober-living homes may occupy only a single parcel, Casa Capri had to apply for separate permits for the two properties on 16th Place. That meant the buffer rule would still come into play.

Casa Capri requested what it called a “reasonable accommodation” to be allowed to operate on the contiguous parcels.

After coming up short at the Planning Commission in November 2016, Casa Capri appealed to the City Council, which denied its permit applications in October last year.

According to the lawsuit, the city sent a letter on Oct. 30 stating the facility needed to close within 60 days.

An attorney for Casa Capri asked for an additional 24 months to relocate the facility’s residents. The request was denied, and the city gave Casa Capri until late February to cease operations, according to the lawsuit.

“By evicting disabled persons from their homes, the city renders them homeless and displaced, forcing them to search for alternative housing in a market that already underserves persons in recovery,” the lawsuit states. “An official policy with that effect does not benefit disabled persons.”

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According to recent city figures, Costa Mesa has 106 approved sober-living and group homes, 88 of which are licensed by the state, and more are working their way through the permit process.

The council this week unanimously denied permits for two drug and alcohol treatment facilities — including a Casa Capri location at 166 E. 18th St. — saying the properties violated the 650-foot separation requirement.

luke.money@latimes.com

Twitter @LukeMMoney


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