Court orders Morningside to move

After six years of litigation,  a rehabilitation center long at odds with residents and City Hall has decided to move out of Newport Beach.

Morningside Recovery, located in Lido Village, plans to transfer 36 sober-living clients to new facilities in Costa Mesa and other neighboring cities by October, said Mary Helen Beatificato, Morningside’s chief executive.

She declined to specify the other cities.

Morningside’s announcement comes after Orange County Superior Court Judge Sheila Fell ruled Aug. 19 that the recovery center violated municipal code by operating residential care facilities in neighborhoods.

“Morningside Recovery … shall not operate any residential care facility within the jurisdictional limits of the city of Newport Beach,” according to the proposed judgment, which still awaited the judge’s signature.

The judgment is enforceable only after Fell signs it; City Attorney Aaron Harp said he expects that to happen soon.

Beatificato calls the move a “business decision.” Morningside will relocate four of its facilities from Lido Isle to outside the city limits no later than Oct. 31 and three in West Newport by Nov. 30.

Morningside currently operates sober-living properties — group homes for recovering drug addicts and alcoholics — in Costa Mesa and Newport Beach.

“The litigation has been going on a long time, and I want our work and all the good we do to be our focus,” Beatificato said Monday.

Residents have long complained about the homes, saying they are filled with people who can be loud and who come and go. Neighbors have also complained of continuous cigarette smoke and other quality-of-life issues.

“I think it’s a big win for Newport Beach that residents are not going to have to live next to an illegal business operation any longer,” Harp said.

Bob Rush, a Newport Beach resident who has long sought the removal of the group homes, said he is fine with Morningside moving out of the community but that the city wasn’t swift enough in its response to the issue.

“For the city to call this a win for the community is disgusting,” he said. “This is nothing more than the proper cleanup for a problem they created.”

Newport Beach has been engaged in litigation with Morningside since September 2007, when the city began to enforce a section of its municipal code that defines who is allowed to live in residential areas.

The court rejected Morningside’s claim that it was operating as a single housekeeping unit, meaning it acted as the equivalent of a traditional family. According to documents, the court cited the short-term stay of Morningside’s clients and the fact that they don’t individually contribute to household expenses or have any say over the house they live in or with whom they live.

The city said Morningside breached its original zoning agreement in June 2012 because of its multiple violations, including failing to provide information on the number of parolees and probationers at each facility; using the city seal on its website without authorization; and exceeding the maximum number of beds at its facilities, according to court documents.

In response, Morningside filed a lawsuit against Newport Beach asking the court to nullify the city’s decision to revoke the center’s zoning agreement. The city filed a cross-complaint stating that the recovery center was violating the municipal code.

If the judge signs the proposed ruling, the city will be eligible to recover the cost of the lawsuit from Morningside.

[For the record, 2 p.m., Aug. 29: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that a Superior Court judge’s ruling forced Morningside Recovery to relocate its properties out of Newport Beach. In fact, Morningside made the decision to relocate from Newport Beach during private negotiations with the city.]