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City to examine compliance of sober living homes

SC logo squareBy Jim Shilander

With an increasing number of residents calling for greater city oversight for group homes, and specifically sober living homes, throughout the city, City Attorney Scott Smith announced at Tuesday’s council meeting that the city will be initiating an investigation into potential legislative options for remedying the issue. Efforts could include increasing code enforcement efforts to look at the operators of such homes, including public nuisance issues.

The uptick in the numbers of such homes throughout the city during the last year has caused major issues in several neighborhoods, residents claim.

Larry Ding, a resident of a historic area in San Clemente, said his neighborhood has changed dramatically in recent months due to several such homes moving in.

“We became concerned a year ago. Our neighbor was trying to sell his home and was apparently unsuccessful,” Ding said.

Ding said he was told that the home would be remodeled and that a group of men would be coming to do the work.

“We saw a large number of guys actually move in, and from time to time the faces would change,” he said. “We didn’t see a lot of remodeling going on. We saw a lot of meetings in the courtyard and discussions.”

When another neighbor inquired about what was going on, Ding said, he was referred to a home manager who told him the home had been converted into a sober living facility. The neighborhood at large, he said, then began investigating the issue and concluded that they would be OK with a single such home, provided there was adequate screening of those entering the facility.

“Some of them stay for only a month, others stay for about a week,” Ling said. “We have nothing against a recovering addict utilizing the neighborhood to help in their recovery, but we have concerns about the large number of transient people who don’t have the same commitment to maintaining neighborhood safety, as a homeowner would, especially with young children nearby.”

The issue came to a head, he said, when another home in the neighborhood was converted for the same purpose.

Ling said he’s heard from residents of a number of other areas of the city who have had similar experiences in southwest San Clemente, the Coast and Talega neighborhoods.

A number of residents, including Ling, spoke to the council on the issue Tuesday, urging the city to adopt legislationto help alleviate concerns.

In 2014, when residents first presented concerns to the council, the body and then-city attorney said any ordinance the city could craft would likely face major legal challenges. Newport Beach had crafted legislation that would regulate the placement of such facilities, essentially pushing them out of the city, but the ordinance was challenged in court, where it was ultimately overturned by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Such facilities are not regulated by the state, and, if kept under six residents at a time, are considered single-family residences. San Clemente actually sent $5,000 to aid in Newport’s effort to have the case heard before the Supreme Court, which declined to hear the case.

Now, residents are looking to the city to adopt a statute similar to Costa Mesa, passed last September. The statute includes a requirement that group homes receive a special permit from the city to allow such a use. Such a permit could only be issued if the city is presented with certain documents, including copies of the homes’ rules, written intake procedures and relapse policies, as well as preventing sober living homes from being located within 500 feet of one another, as well as making residents of such homes provide documentation that they are going through a recovery program.

City Manager James Makshanoff said the city is currently investigating legislative options, including investigation of statutes like Costa Mesa’s. Makshanoff said that the ordinance seems to be a good one, in terms of tackling the impact of such homes. So far, he noted, the Costa Mesa ordinance has stood up to legal challenges, but it has not yet been totally applied to a home being put into place.

Code enforcement officer Brent Panas said there are currently 85 group homes around the city, though that number includes other non-controversial examples, such as elderly care. Panas, who has often met with residents concerned about the sober living home issue, said most of the complaints he hears include worried over traffic, foul language, an increase in the number of transients and general concern over upkeep within neighborhoods.

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comments (13)

  • Super Concerned Citizen Dad Reply

    City Council AND City Manager,

    I am so very tired of all the talk, talk, talk. It is TIME TO ACT! It is time for YOU to act.
    The situation in SW SC has become unbearable. The other day I caught two black clad halfway house lurches trying to open the car door of my neighbors parked car on my street. I also witness, almost daily, these people walking up and down my street smoking cigarettes around children and flicking their butts on random lawns, including mine. Most of the time these people are carrying 6 or 12 pack bottles that they are walking “home” from the liquor store with as well. With the recent water restrictions we are experiencing there is an abundance of dry brush and grasses on the street now. Should one of these nefarious halfway house lurkers start a land/structure fire because of flicking lit cigarette butts, it will be the fault of the city who is now dutifully warned about this.

    Along my street we have suffered multiple car break-ins and minor thefts to include toys, skateboards, wetsuits, basketballs, etc. Virtually almost all of the cars have been molested by these ingrates as well. My rear door handle was removed a few months ago by “who could it be?” You guessed it, no brainer.

    Again, I and WE are so very tired of this putrid cancer in our neighborhood. If you do not act soon, I fear a tide of anger and local resentment will wash uncontrollably across and through your beloved city council halls. For the sake of the city, your comfortable positions, and lastly, as it seems, the safety and security of San Clemente citizens, PLEASE act on this. Simply, do your jobs and protect the people and property of this great city.

    Thank you for your time in reading this, I realize this message has some attached emotion, but it is heartfelt – and as a family man, I emplore you to act on all of our behalf and fix this festering, infectious, growing issue.

    Thank you,

    • I totally agree with this Dad… ship these vagrants OUT of San Clemente! Or…. move them into the neighborhoods of the bleeding hearts that support them. We, as hard-working, honest, decent family-oriented people, have no interest in these chain-smoking, littering, drug-abusing trashy people inhabiting our neighborhoods.

  • “Such facilities are not regulated by the state, and, if kept under six residents at a time, are considered single-family residences.”

    This is BS…How can the state NOT have regulations….Somebody’s making lots of $ off these druggies no matter how long they stay. Probably us taxpayers getting it in the end again.

    Copy Costa Mesa’s plan. Do something before you have serious issues in SW San Clemente.
    I know petty crime has gone up here cars broken into, Catalytic converters stolen etc.

  • There is a partial solution. Costa Mesa has an ordinance that has passed two court challenges. We could adopt the same measure and get this problem under contol.

    Several of us have appealed to the City Council. To date there is no reply. Our City Council is quick to respond to signing issues and special interest groups but had no reaction to our multiple requests at the Council meeting last Tuesday. Just vacant stares.

    Citizens need to make their voice heard. We will have a city wide petition to circulate by next week. We are demanding action now. Not to “think” about it! If our Council continues to ignore this issue and our request, we will take the next step?.

    • Completely agree, that main issue in our beautiful city is not the individual concerns including the Group Home runover and mass migration from CM and NB – it’s the out of touch City Council and government. Is San Clemente a safer city from a few years ago? No. Is there one items on the city agenda about safety, security, quality of life? NOT!.

      If you look at the makeup of the Council it resembles a replay of the Game of Thrones with the same people (for the most part) recycling every other election with the residents as “Subjects” that should feel so lucky if they get a response from someone there. It is time for major change in City Hall.

  • How does a single family home become a multi-family facility? These homes have become multi-tenant buildings. Does that mean I can subdivide my single family home and start charging rent to multiple boarders? What about city parking requirements, or any of the other multitude of codes we have? Surely there is something in there that prevents this? Quit thinking that we need to come up with a new law to solve this issue. Put Code Compliance to work! At the very least, these homes belong in a commercial district, not in R-1 neighborhoods.

    Let’s face it. There may be some that are sincerely taking recovery seriously, but there are more that are in these homes to avoid going to jail.

  • We have had a rash of peoples car’s being broken into and items stolen in our neighborhood since a “sober living” home opened down the street. Furthermore, our baby stroller was stolen from our front porch 2X in two weeks. The second time the thieves scaled a locked gate. We have had law enforcement out to our home 3 times since the start of the year and had to install motion lights and a video monitoring system. I had never had to contact them in the previous twelve years we have owned our home. Coincidence? I think not.

  • B. Carey, you have said what most of us feel but are afraid to say. I completely agree I am not my brothers keeper. This is really a scam as the operators make huge profits with little regard to actual outcomes. The success rates of these homes are poor at best. We have 5 in our neighborhood come on REALLY!!!! These people could care less about our neighborhoods why should we welcome them. We can watch them make huge profits while our property values decline. They say that’s not true………….really would you knowingly purchase a home next to a re-Hab center. I think not!

  • Extremely Concerned Reply

    This issue has been keeping me up at night. I can’t make any sense of these rulings. Sober Living homes are nothing but a huge money-making business. The occupants of these homes do not choose to be there, they are ordered there by judges and families that are tired of their crap. They have no regard for the neighborhoods they are in or pride in their home. As a result, our lovely community by the sea is being destroyed by low-life. I appreciate that people need help with addiction, these homes don’t care, they just want paid!! City of San Clemente needs to clean house!!!

  • In Newport Beach, “a number of residents of the City launched a campaign to restrict or eliminate group homes in their neighborhoods. ”

    Here is the final result:

    • Paul,

      Try again! That is old news. Since that decision the courts have upheld a Costa Mesa ordinance twice in the past year.

      This situation has to and WILL end! The sober living legislation was never intended to create an industry of sober living companies that market their residential homes as plush beach resort living. Nor was it intended to move multiple homes into the same area thus changing the very nature of the neighborhood.

      Zoning exceptions for the benefit of the disabled are just that: exceptions. Therefore they cannot be overly broad in their use nor harmful to the general population. Ours is not a fight against legitimate need but against corporate greed that abuses this legislation in order to line their pockets at the expense of our family neighborhoods.

      Move on Paul, and move out!

  • Costa Mesa & the rest of the NIMBY OC Cities are jeopardizing their HUD funding. You’ll see.

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