A sober-living home operator struck out in Costa Mesa City Hall on Tuesday as the City Council unanimously rejected its applications for conditional use permits required to keep two of its facilities open.
Council members cited the testimony of nearby residents who said the facilities — one with up to eight residents at 268 Knox St. and the other housing as many as 22 people at 3016 and 3018 Jeffrey Drive — have had several negative effects on their neighborhoods.
Among the common complaints were that the homes are too loud and densely populated, create significant parking problems and are major sources of secondhand cigarette smoke that wafts into adjacent residences.
RAW Recovery LLC has operated the properties as sober-living homes since 2015. Such facilities typically house recovering alcoholics and drug addicts, who are considered disabled under state and federal laws.
“I understand that there are frustrated neighbors — we understand that — but there has to be some sort of balance,” said attorney Garrett Prybylo, who represented the operator Tuesday. “It can’t be that … everyone who is in a sober-living home is evil, everyone’s a drug addict, everyone’s a criminal, everyone’s partying.”
Council members also pointed to the city’s requirement that group homes, licensed alcohol and drug treatment facilities and sober-living homes be at least 650 feet from one another in residential areas.
For the Jeffrey facility, RAW Recovery had to apply for separate permits for the two properties, as city codes require sober-living homes to be on a single parcel. As a result, either property would have created a conflict under the separation requirement.
Regarding the Knox home, two treatment facilities licensed by the state Department of Health Care Services are less than 650 feet away, at 236 and 240 Knox.
Those properties currently are vacant and have not applied for required conditional use permits, according to the city. From staff’s perspective, that means they don’t create a separation issue because they would be operating illegally if they tried to open.
However, council members took issue with that interpretation, pointing out that if the vacant properties on Knox reduced the maximum occupancy from seven or more to six they would not need the city permit. They could then operate with only a state license and not be required to adhere to city rules about proximity.
“It is not too far of a stretch, in my opinion, that they’re not operating and that they’re vacant right now so that you will say this exact thing on the record that ‘we’re not considering them because they’re not operating’ … and then tomorrow, if this gets approved, they’re suddenly going to be six or fewer, state-licensed, and there’s nothing we can do about it,” said Councilwoman Katrina Foley.
Council members also criticized the condition of the facility at 268 Knox, citing issues such as a general lack of upkeep, a sofa being left outside and the garage door apparently being nailed shut.
“There is no parking,” said Councilman Jim Righeimer. “This is just a bad operation; it’s not what we would call best practices in any way, shape or form.”