Commentary: Debates over sober-living homes often turn into bullying sessions

Signs promote a bully-free environment at an establishment in San Francisco.
Signs promote a bully-free environment at an establishment in San Francisco.
(Photo by Marcio Jose Sanchez / AP)

No one likes to be bullied. It’s a national problem at schools, in the workplace and in Costa Mesa. Sadly, some of my Costa Mesa neighbors are being bullied.

Outspoken Costa Mesa residents are being bullied by representatives of the sober-living industry.

Why? Because they are determined to publicly expose how sober living homes are ruining our neighborhoods and whose recovering clients pose a threat to our safety and property when clients are not good neighbors or when they relapse.

These residents have been complaining about the proliferation of sober living homes to the Costa Mesa Planning Commission and City Council. They vocally oppose sober living home operators’ applications required by the city. They complain about parking, noise and smoking code violations, and cite their calls for service to the city for help.

These operators charge clients anywhere from $800 to $4,000 per week, but the city ordinance does not require them to have a business license, which pays for services to help residents.

The bullying is escalating.

In 2013 Eastside residents received “cease and desist” letters after making comments on about their concerns. They were threatened with lawsuits.

A senior citizen was assaulted at a public event. When the resident went to court to get a temporary restraining order, the judge ruled against the TRO. Now, the resident must pay court and defense attorneys’ fees of $2,500. The criminal complaint is winding its way through the state courts.

A Costa Mesa business owner spoke up to oppose a sober living home city permit application. As a result, the resident was “doxxed” on the Internet, resulting in the resident’s identifying information being made public.

During a City Council public hearing a sober living home operator shouted out to residents and business owners in the council chambers who had spoken against the home.

That’s bullying. We have a right to speak out without fear of being bullied or dragged into court to pay attorneys’ and court fees.

Restoration of our neighborhoods is the goal. Proposed federal and state legislation may help. But it will take more time. We must be patient.

In the meantime, I hope my neighbors will be fearless and continue to speak up and not be intimidated by the bullies. I believe the united strength and courage of a group of people will stop the bullying.

WENDY LEECE is a former member of the Costa Mesa City Council and the Newport-Mesa school board.