Appeals court grants injunction in sober-living case

Two federal appellate judges ruled this week that, for the time being, the city of Costa Mesa’s cannot enforce one of its regulatory ordinances on sober-living homes.

Judges Edward Leavy and Milan D. Smith of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday granted a motion for injunctive relief filed by Solid Landings Behavioral Health, an operator of several sober-living homes throughout Costa Mesa.

The judges made no further comment on the decision.

The company had argued that the city’s law singled out its recovering addicts, who are considered a class of protected and disabled people under state and federal law, and that it violated fair-housing statutes.

“Solid Landings is profoundly pleased to learn of this decision,” Kristen Ford, the company’s chief legal officer, said in a statement. “We felt from the beginning that this ordinance was unfair and discriminatory to men and women who are trying to better their lives by seeking and maintaining sobriety. This is not only a great day for our company, but for the entire recovery community in Orange County.”

The ordinance, adopted by the City Council in October 2014, requires the sober-living homes, if they are in single-family-zoned neighborhoods, to obtain a special operating permit and be at least 650 feet from one another, among other provisions.

“While we are disappointed in this ruling, we believe this is just a temporary delay in the implementation of our ordinance for now,” Costa Mesa City Attorney Tom Duarte said in a statement. “We are still looking forward to the entire court reviewing our ordinance and ruling on its merits.”

City attorneys argued that their law was never discriminatory, because other types of housing in single-family neighborhoods — including boarding houses and bed and breakfasts — aren’t allowed in those areas. Therefore, sober-living clients have received an exception otherwise denied to others without disabilities.

Solid Landings’ case, filed in November 2014, was twice dismissed by a lower federal judge this year. The company then appealed it to the 9th Circuit.

Costa Mesa city officials on Thursday stressed that while they can no longer enforce the ordinance, they will continue addressing nuisance-like activities associated with group homes, per code enforcement laws.

Solid Landings’ federal case precedes another, unrelated one it filed in October in Orange County Superior Court against the city.

The ongoing lawsuit relates to Solid Landings’ leased office building at 657 W. 19th St. The city denied the company permission to host group-counseling sessions there, arguing that the building didn’t have enough parking for that type of use.

City officials have filed a cross-complaint, following code enforcement reports and citations that allege Solid Landings continued to host group counseling in the building, despite losing its permission to do so.

Of the estimated 150 sober-living facilities throughout Costa Mesa, according to City Hall estimates, Solid Landings operates between 20 and 30 of them.

The ordinance in question affected about 50 homes in single-family neighborhoods.

Earlier this year, the council adopted a second, similar law specifically regulating sober-living homes in multifamily-zoned neighborhoods. The 9th’s ruling Wednesday did not affect the city’s ability to enforce it.