City moves ahead with rehab home agreement

NEWPORT BEACH — In its second major settlement with a rehabilitation home operator, the city of Newport Beach this week moved one step closer to a deal that would restrict one operators' impacts on neighbors.

The City Council voted Tuesday night to advance an agreement with Morningside Recovery, despite an outcry from neighbors who objected to having the homes in certain neighborhoods as well as other aspects of the agreement.

"It's a very worthwhile document for us to approve," said Councilman Mike Henn, who said that the pact achieves more neighbor protections than Morningside would be obligated to under state law. "It is a very substantive agreement with substantive requirements, operating conditions and enforcement provisions."

If the council approves the document at its next meeting, it would let the city move on from one aspect of its costly legal battles against rehab home operators who serve recovering drug addicts and alcoholics. The city has spent more than $1.5 million fighting lawsuits based on its ordinances, including one in 2008 that forced operators to undergo an extensive public review and permitting process.

Even with this agreement, residents of Lido Isle, Newport Crest and West Newport said that the homes are a big problem and they came to the meeting to protest.

"It allows Morningside to bring in people (and) turn them loose on the street with no control whatsoever," said Willis Longyear, a longtime resident of Lido Isle, where a triplex rehab home is located.

The agreement caps the number of beds that Morningside can maintain in the city at 36, including 30 in the "Peninsula Zone," an area that includes Newport Shores, upper West Newport, Lido Isle and the Balboa Peninsula.

Since 2007, when the city started cracking down on the rehab homes, it has reduced the number of beds from 791 to 197, according to a city report.

City Atty. David Hunt explained the agreement's basic provisions and said the deal meets concerns that residents had expressed at previous public hearings. He said that the city will evaluate the rehab homes quarterly, and that was a result of a request made by the West Newport Beach Homeowners Assn.

But that evaluation procedure isn't thorough enough for Robert Rush, a River Avenue resident who has vociferously complained about rehab homes over the past few years. Rush, a member of the West Newport Homeowners Assn. board, said before the meeting that the city should make public a checklist of all the conditions each Morningside facility either met or failed to meet.

Some of those include "quiet hours" from 9 p.m. to 8 a.m., a ban on rehab residents' smoking close enough for second-hand smoke to waft next door, or swearing loud enough for neighbors to hear.

One common complaint at the meeting was that operators weren't truthfully counting their homes, and they could count three apartments as one unit if they were in a triplex, for example.

One woman brought out props to illustrate that point.

Morningside Chief Executive Candace Bruce said her organization had made extensive concessions during the negotiation process and it is working on being a better neighbor.

"I've spent a lot of time on training to improve our responses to neighbor complaints," she said.

In other action, the council:

•Awarded a contract for $6.4 million to Bomel Construction, an Anaheim Hills company, to build the new Civic Center's parking garage. The Civic Center project is under construction between Avocado Avenue and MacArthur Boulevard.

Voted unanimously to grant a permit to the Newport Beach Wine Co. so it can process grapes in a building near Placentia Avenue and 16th Street.

Downgraded the proposed historical designation of the Rawlins Solar House, a Balboa Island home designed by renowned architect John Lautner. Councilman Don Webb said the Class 1 historical designation was too important for this building, and would lump it in the same category as the Balboa Pavilion, a local landmark. Councilwoman Nancy Gardner argued that it was architecturally significant enough for its era; the home was built between 1977 and 1980. Ultimately, the council voted 7 to 1 for a Class 2 instead of Class 1 designation, with Gardner dissenting.

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