Costa Mesa working on rehab home ordinance

Costa Mesa Mayor Jim Righeimer said the city has been working for months on an ordinance that would address rehabilitation homes.

Righeimer did not provide specifics, though he said city staff, in conjunction with the city attorney's office, may have a draft ready for the council's consideration by next month.

The announcement comes after Morningside Recovery's rehabilitation homes in Newport Beach were forced to shut down after Orange County Superior Court Judge Sheila Fell's Aug. 19 ruling.

Fell wrote that Morningside's seven facilities throughout Newport residential neighborhoods were not operating as a "single housekeeping unit," which she defined as a function equivalent to a traditional family. A company representative has said the group plans to transfer its 36 clients in Newport to Costa Mesa and other nearby cities.

The judge's decision ends a six-year legal battle between Newport and Morningside.

"I'm more than concerned about it," Righeimer said of the development. "It's not just Newport Beach. We have people from all over the country … and they're basically coming to Southern California for treatment and moving into our neighborhoods.

"It's not just Morningside's 36 people; we have hundreds of people here already."

He said many legal issues surround the crafting of such an ordinance, making the process all the more difficult.

"The basis for all this is you cannot discriminate [against] people based on where they live, especially if they have disabilities," he said. "Drug and alcohol addiction is, by law, considered a disability."

Costa Mesa officials are examining their options, he said, noting there is no blueprint for knowing how to "legally to handle this." He compared the situation to "walking a tightrope."

Councilwoman Sandy Genis suggested that Costa Mesa's ordinance be similar to Newport's.

"Why don't we just adopt whatever Newport Beach has, because clearly it's had an effect," she said. "If somebody has a wheel that works, why reinvent the wheel?"

Genis said she understands the need for the homes but that too many of them can alter the nature of a neighborhood, be a burden on public services and harm residents' quality of life.

"There's a place in our community for some facilities," she said, "but we want them to be good neighbors, not to disrupt the neighborhood."

She also suggested imposing the transient occupancy tax for rehabilitation home residents staying less than 30 days. The tax, which was raised 2% in 2010, is added to overnight hotel and motel stays.

Group sober-living facilities in Costa Mesa have been an ongoing problem for some residents, who during a July Meet the Mayor session alleged that the homes brought with them problems like syringes left in frontyards and robberies.

The city has 104 known rehabilitation homes, about 50 of which have state-issued licenses, city officials said in July.

Righeimer has said one solution may be a database of registered rehabilitation home residents.

Genis countered that such a database would be "a little creepy" and too imposing. Furthermore, a law enforcement database already tracks parolees, she said.

The council is scheduled to re-examine the Public Nuisance Abatement Ordinance, which is meant to expand the city's ability to address quality-of-life issues and problematic properties such as halfway homes.

The Planning Commission approved the ordinance in May, and after a public hearing in June, the council decided to re-examine the topic at a later meeting.

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