Redefinition could help regulate rehab homes

The Costa Mesa City Council introduced an ordinance this week that could help the city's enforcement efforts against problematic rehabilitation homes.

The council gave an initial 4-0 vote on the ordinance's first reading Tuesday night. Councilwoman Wendy Leece was absent, having left the meeting early. The ordinance faces a second council approval Dec. 3 before it is adopted.

The vote comes after the Planning Commission recommended last month that the council adopt language that would change city zoning code with a more robust definition of what's officially dubbed a "single housekeeping unit."

City officials say the definition will help legal cases against rehab homes — sober-living situations for people recovering from drug or alcohol addiction — that aren't following the rules. State law allows for six or fewer people in the houses if they're in neighborhoods zoned for single-family residences.

The proposed change comes after a judge ruled that the city's definition of a single housekeeping unit was "legally indefensible," according to city documents.

Several residents spoke in favor of the ordinance. Renee Spigarelli of the Eastside said she was worried that rehab homes would hurt property values and negatively affect children's safety.

"That's the immediate impact that we've seen, which is very disturbing to me," she said.

Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger said other than traffic, negative impacts of rehab homes are the most common complaints the council gets from the Eastside.

"We hear you loud and clear, and this is but a tool" in enforcement, he said.

A Meet the Mayor event about rehab homes in August attracted more than 50 attendees, many of whom said the homes negatively affect their quality of life.

At the time, Mayor Jim Righeimer noted that the issue is "uncharted" and in "very strange legal territory," as the city must be careful not to discriminate against people legally considered to have disabilities.

A code enforcement officer said as of August, there were 104 known rehab homes in the city limits, about half of which had state licenses.

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