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City to examine compliance of sober living homes
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.