Recommended rules changes for sober-living homes aim to prevent ex-residents from becoming homeless

Operators of group homes and sober-living facilities in Costa Mesa would be required to provide transportation and information on homelessness resources to occupants who are evicted or otherwise involuntarily discharged under a series of proposed rules changes the city Planning Commission recommended Monday night.

Much of the commission’s discussion centered on the long-stewing controversy over sober-living homes, which generally house recovering drug and alcohol addicts who are considered disabled under state and federal law.

While commissioners acknowledged that Costa Mesa has an obligation to provide some protections for recovering addicts, they said the city shouldn’t have to bear an unfair or disproportionate burden to do so.

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“Federal law and state law protects these folks as being disabled — that’s the law of the land,” said commission Vice Chairman Byron de Arakal. “I think we, as a community, need to be respectful and recognize the illness and provide, to the extent that we can, the ability for them to get better. And I think we do that in spades.”

Staff presented several proposed changes to the city’s regulations regarding group homes and sober-living facilities.

The commission’s recommendations, approved on a 4-0 vote with Commissioner Carla Navarro Woods absent, are advisory. The final decision rests with the City Council.

Among the proposals that passed muster with the commission are rules intended to keep former sober-living home residents from becoming homeless.

For instance, operators would have to notify a person’s contact of record if he or she is evicted or otherwise involuntarily discharged from a group home.

Operators also would have to contact the city’s Network for Homeless Solutions and the Orange County Health Care Agency’s OC Links Information and Referral Line to determine what services might be available and share that information with the resident.

The city currently requires operators of group homes in areas of multifamily residences to make transportation available so residents who are involuntarily removed can get back to their permanent address, or the address listed on their driver’s license.

The commission Monday voted to recommend that operators of group homes with six or fewer residents in neighborhoods of single-family homes be required to do the same.

Commissioners also recommended that the City Council consider adopting rules prohibiting more than one probationer or parolee from living in a single sober-living home at one time.

They also proposed having operators be responsible for paying a transient occupancy tax — typically charged for motel or hotel stays — for any person who remains in a sober-living home for more than 30 days.

Commissioners did not support all of staff’s recommended rule changes. Among the proposals they found objectionable was allowing facilities in multifamily areas with at least seven residents to operate with a minor conditional use permit, which can be granted at the administrative level.

Currently, a full conditional use permit is needed, which requires approval from the Planning Commission.

Some residents balked at the proposal, saying they felt it would make it more difficult for the public to be involved in the process or comment on specific applications.

Commissioners agreed.

“I view any reduction in public participation in the adoption of these ordinances as a negative and not a positive,” Chairman Stephan Andranian said. “I think that having public input on the character and nature of the community is vital to the city.”

The commission’s recommended rule changes would maintain existing city regulations dealing with how close sober-living facilities can be to one another in residential areas.

The City Council in 2014 adopted an ordinance requiring that sober-living homes with six or fewer occupants in single-family neighborhoods be at least 650 feet apart. The next year, the council created similar rules for such homes in multifamily areas.

That buffer requirement is intended to prevent such facilities from clustering too close together in neighborhoods.

Even with those rules on the books, however, residents Monday said they’ve experienced several issues with sober-living homes.

Some said residents in such facilities can be overly loud, messy and disruptive to their neighborhoods. Others said secondhand smoke is a major concern or that they’re worried the proliferation of sober-living homes is fueling an increase in crime.

“We don’t want to fight,” local resident Kim Hendricks told the commission, “but we don’t want our quality of life to be constantly threatened.”

Costa Mesa currently is home to 1,748 alcohol and drug recovery beds, according to information from the city.

Officials approximate that almost 29% of the state-licensed residential drug and alcohol treatment facilities in Orange County are in Costa Mesa, even though the city has only about 3.6% of the county’s population.

The City Council will take up the commission’s recommendations at a future meeting.


Luke Money,

Twitter: @LukeMMoney