Caption: About 600 people joined local lawmakers in Laguna Hills for a town hall meeting to discuss sober living homes and how to regulate them.
Caption: About 600 people joined local lawmakers in Laguna Hills for a town hall meeting to discuss sober living homes and how to regulate them.

 

By Eric Heinz and Matt Cortina

As it struggles to find a way to regulate sober living homes, like many other Orange County communities, San Clemente now finds itself the setting for a lawsuit that claims efforts to stop a sober living home’s operations violate fair housing and anti-discriminatory rules.

Sober Network Properties, which has several sober living homes in San Clemente, recently filed a counter-complaint in Orange County Superior Court against a lawsuit Talega resident David Hurwitz previously filed against them. In his suit, which is scheduled to receive a ruling on June 6, Hurwitz claimed a sober living home moved into the house next to his, which subsequently “changed the character of our neighborhood.” Eighteen months of living conditions he wouldn’t wish on his “worst enemy” forced Hurwitz to try to remove the facility through the courts.

“We went as far as to bring in a CSI-type investigation company that did chemical testing on our windows that shows nicotine stuck on our glass,” Hurwitz said at a community meeting on May 12. “We are constantly having interruptions in the middle of the night … lots of people drinking Red Bulls, staying up late. It became unlivable next door [to the facility].”

Hurwitz says the facility’s paperwork was subpoenaed and hopes the court rules that the facility is unlawfully operating a commercial business in a residential area. But the countersuit from Sober Network Properties claims Hurwitz’s suit violates the Fair Housing Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act and “various California statutes.”

Pasquale Neri, an attorney working as a liaison and director of strategic planning with Sober Network Properties, claims San Clemente officials entered the homes on several occasions to conduct “thinly veiled raids” regarding code compliance. They were also unlawfully sent cease and desist letters by the city, Neri said.

“We do not want to bring this lawsuit,” Joe Scolari, the CEO of Sober Network Properties, said in a press release regarding the lawsuit. “Our company is not controlled by detached investors or executives in distant headquarters. My wife and I own and run it, and we live in this county. We have two children who go to school here and a third on the way. The last thing we want is to be involved in litigation with our local government and our neighbors.”

Neri said the support from the city of San Clemente against sober living residences has prompted the organization to take legal action. He added that the sober living home next to Hurwitz’s property “hasn’t had any problems” since they converted it from a men’s home to a women’s home.

Neri said the organization he represents is not in favor of two proposed bills that are working their way through the state house, but they are “more than willing to work with the local government,” to find a more amenable solution.

One of the bills Neri mentioned is co-authored by State Sen. Pat Bates (R-Laguna Niguel), Assemblyman Bill Brough (R-Dana Point) and Assemblyman Matthew Harper (R-Huntington Beach). If passed, that bill would enforce a certification program on sober living homes and require contact information for the home operator and at least one tenant. The other bill, co-authored by Bates and Brough, would allow cities to request that the state not allow new treatment facilities to be built within 300 feet of other treatment facilities. Such a law would prevent the over-concentration of sober living homes that many South Orange County communities are reporting. The city of San Clemente recently pledged its support of the two bills.

“What I can say is that the proposals so far are not something that we agree with, certainly not wholeheartedly,” Neri said.

Bates, Brough and Harper were joined by city officials from throughout South Orange County and about 600 residents at a town hall meeting on sober living facilities in Laguna Hills on May 12. The discussion included a presentation on how existing laws govern sober living homes and the presentation of two case studies that show how litigation may or may not be successful for towns looking to manage sober living homes.

To much applause, Brough made a case for regulation at the meeting.

“We can’t even get in there to find out if these things are working,” Brough said. “I agree that people need help … but these homes are not the right facilities to go to. I’m not a doctor, but it doesn’t make sense to me to put six addicts in a home and [then] they’re free to do what they want to do at night.”

Without commenting on the commercial side of sober living home operation, Neri said Sober Network Properties ensures that life inside their properties is safe and clean.

“We make sure that our properties are well taken care of,” Neri said. “You hear sober living homes without electricity or something like that because those owners don’t give a damn. That never happens with us. (SNP) takes care in making sure the houses are fully operational and everything in working order.

“Being in a residential neighborhood is part of the sober living process,” Neri added. “Is there any room for regulation? I don’t know. We haven’t seen a proposed ordinance that would alleviate the problem that residents are having. These bills just put in red tape.”

San Clemente has a current year-long moratorium on the establishment of sober living homes that ends in July. Whether they seek to extend the moratorium or enact legislation remains to be seen, but what the Orange County Supreme Court decides on the Hurwitz case could indicate action. That, and the cases of Newport Beach and Costa Mesa, which were detailed at the town hall, can be used as examples.

Tarquin Preziosi, the city attorney of Costa Mesa, talked about his city’s successful efforts to enforce regulation on sober living homes—something other municipalities haven’t been able to do yet.

Preziosi outlined how Costa Mesa passed laws that put a 650-foot buffer between sober living homes, banned them from residential areas and required contact information for operators. Solid Landings Behavioral Health, which owned 33 homes in Costa Mesa, sued the city. A district court ruled in favor of the city before a U.S. appellate court granted an injunction upon appeal, meaning that the city would not be able to enforce its law.

However, the city and the sober living home operator reached a settlement, and over time, 15 homes were closed, with the other 18 scheduled to shut down over the course of two years. Solid Landings will still be allowed to operate two community centers.

It’s also important to note that such a strategy incurs many costs—Newport Beach was forced to pay more than $5 million in settlement money alone when sober living home operators sued legislation they had enacted that was similar to Costa Mesa’s.

Litigation and policy is one way to address sober living homes, but Assemblyman Harper said at the town hall that cities also need to address the underlying problem associated with sober living homes: substance abuse.

“Places that we never would have thought about it, there are young kids who are getting addicted to opioids,” Harper said. “When heroin does hit, it’s significant.”

Absent from the event was an opportunity for sober living home residents and operators to speak, though a show of hands revealed about four dozen of such people in attendance.

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comments (19)

  • my life was threatened by a patient at one of these homes and when the sheriff arrived his statement was there was nothing he could do this made me very uncomfortable and eventually i moved

  • @George, I am sorry you went through this. This is horrible.

    The abuse of the American Disabilities Act is reprehensible and will also end up hurting people, that are chronically disabled, that the law was written for back in 1990.

    This has not been further compounded at the state level in California when the voters passed the Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act (aka Prop 47) in 2014. The voters were misled by the name and description and did not realize that this actually made it harder to put people in jail. The career criminals have been exploiting this ever since. It was intended to save money for prisons and given certain cases the benefit of the doubt. Instead, it has resulted in a revolving jail door, more work for police services statewide, and less safety for all California residents.

    Thankfully our city representatives have been listening to residents and doing what they can within the limitations of current laws.

    Residents need to send a clear message to the Governor and their state representatives that this is not working nor acceptable.

    Here’s the contact info:
    Governor Jerry Brown
    c/o State Capitol, Suite 1173
    Sacramento, CA 95814

    this is a link to a web form to send an email – https://govnews.ca.gov/gov39mail/mail.php (it dosn’t always work – wonder why.)

  • Time for these cities to protect their tax payers and stop shoving these derelicts into nice neighborhoods. Start supporting the good people and quit shoving the criminals and derelicts into places where they do not belong. If you think for a moment that it will rub off and make them responsible, think again. It does not happen and stop this nonsense. Putting rotten apples into a barrel of good apples only produces more rotten apples. The liberals keep trying to do this over and over and it never works. Isn’t that a sign of insanity?

  • Ironic that this case will be decided on June 6th. It’s the anniversary of my fathers’ death in 2014. He was a 90 year old WWII vet who died in his bed surrounded by his children (he had chronic pulmonary failure even though he was not a smoker). My father was subjected to CONSTANT cigarette smoke drifting into his bedroom from the sober living home next door. The smoke became so bad at times that it actually SET OFF THE SMOKE ALARM UPSTAIRS. I can’t understand why sober living homes can run roughshod over the rights of tax-paying members of the community who have no recourse and no voice regarding THEIR health and well-being.

    • One may assume that the sober living concept is a valid attempt to provide comradeship and support to transitioning lives. However, there is a modeling problem inherent in the juxtaposition of the vectors in the lifestyle of recovering individuals, such as heavy smoking, late hour lifestyle discussions and vocally demonstrated breakthrough experiences, that are certainly not the realm or responsibility of families and residents settled where a corporation seeking the bottom line profit has secured a structure from which to experiment with salvation – at the cost of the neighbor’s sleep, comfort level and health.
      The act of legally permitting and enforcing a business in direct competition for living space and lifestyle with an individual, a family, or any private home is directly within in the intent and legal framework of the disruptive Citizens United decision of the Robert’s Court in that the corporate personhood exhibited as a Sober Living business, is allowed and supported by State Law to place their financial strength in direct competition with an individual’s priorities in the private sector, not within the commons of business zoning.
      Therein lies the major medical treatment and business flaw – what should be considered by definition a hospital environment, is placed in a living neighborhood community as a “home” for sober living and left to disrupt the flow of lives native to the community as a corporate experiment in saving the lives of recovering individuals.
      If a hospital were to ask for a planning variance to build an emergency room there would be City Council meetings to hear public testimony on the effects of ambulance noise, increased traffic, lighting issues, and heavy traffic. The consideration to those families and individuals native to the area aren’t considered at all by the legal framework of State and local government, and the rule of law swings to the business experiment rather than the citizen because of a strangely twisted definition of a sober living home to be equal to a family residence.
      A change of the status quo is required to bring solutions forward against the financial power of corporate bourses and aligned corporate entities favoring profit over the health of neighborhood networks that are damaged and destroyed by the non-compatibility of a hospital business in a residentially zoned neighborhood.

  • I am a three tour combat Veteran. After 10 years of service, I was discharged from the Air Force with PTSD and started self medicating with Alcohol. In three years I lost my home, my family, my job, my drivers license, and, almost, my life. The generous owner and operator of Northbound Treatment Center SCHOLARSHIPPED me for a 90 day treatment program during which I went thru specialized trauma therapy, addiction treatment, and even a College Bound program they have that helped me get enrolled to become an addiction counselor so I can help other Veterans. Addiction and mental illness are illnesses that feed off isolation. By living in community with others, suffering alongside one another and relying on the compassionate presence of our neighbors–like Jesus did– many of us have come into recovery. Northbound provided a service for me that NO ONE else, not even the country I served, was willing to provide. It’s such a shame that people don’t hear these stories– they’re happening at most of these treatment centers, yes, in your neighborhoods. I’m not a “derelict”. I’m a decorated Veteran with a clinical diagnosis and the good fortune to have received free treatment. Please think of me when you refer to the people living in these residential treatment homes.

    • hello robert thank you for your service ,,, i hope you know you are the exception and not the problem ,,,i don’t know what kind of home it was you received treatment in or how many patients it had ,, i do know i lived next to two four plexes with up to 50 patients 99% of which were young drug abusers not mature folks in need of help like your self and i doubt you were foul mouthed loud threatening or antagonistic to the neighbors like the pacific hills crowd

      if i may robert a good answer to this problem is to only issue a license for two years and have them change location that often this spreads the problem out and helps a neighbor and neighborhood be able to market their home with far less impact on their property values ,,and also their peace and security will only be impacted temporarily,,,,, its not a perfect answer but who’s perfect (-:

  • If SNP’ s CLIENTS are disabled, then a halfway house is not the properly place for them. Especially, if it is a mental disability where the clients need to be in a state licensed facility. No discrimation ! Just proper placement of these individuals who probably should not be placed in an INDEPEDENT LIVING environment. And, most of these individuals should be in rehab but just can not pay for it. Social Services should pay for a medical facility or rehab. This type of living situation gets Social Services out of paying for it but at a huge cost for the CLIENTS who do not get the proper help and the family members who worry about them and nearby residents who are forced to take on the effects of the whole situation. Medical is okay with these “free for all homes” because it does not have to pay for it and the CLIENTS’ services are not regulated because it is not licensed for medical care just licensed to rent cheap rooms out. Brought is right– “these homes are not the right facilities to go to”. Joe Scolari — put the sober living house next door to your house! And how is this sober house being funded?

  • san clemente…my home of 33 years….these fu#king losers buying our local homes…it’s tragic…we as a community need to “grow-a pair”…and put an end to these sleezy re- habs and the losers driving around town lately? you know who you are…..with your OVER-SIZED MERCEDES GIGANTIC VAN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! you A-Holes are disgusting, gorrible scum….NO ONE WANTS YOU HERE !!!!!!!!!!!YOUR LOSER DRUG-ADDICT TRASH LITTER……CIGG BUTTS POLLUTE MY STREETS !!!!!!!!!!!!! WE HATE YOU !!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • @robert bride ~ thank you.

    Thank you for taking the time to respond to this thread. It is important to everybody for both sides to share their perspective. I understand the position of each of you who oppose this movement. I do have small children and the unknown is scary. It’s speculative to assume that people in our community who live in sober living homes are troublemakers, most of them are people who want to be just like us and have a normal life but cannot because their life is unmanageable beyond their control. Robert, you are an example of why this works. We must all reach out to those in need of help. I can tell each of you from working with people who suffer from addiction that this is not a choice. More than anything, they just want to feel normal and when the community says hurtful things and treats them like criminals it makes it worse. Addiction causes isolation and the opposite to that is connection. Showing people suffering from drug and alcohol addiction love & compassion goes further than any monetary value. It saves lives, there’s examples of these miracles with many people who have been in our homes and continue to work side-by-side us daily. I understand this is a long process for all of us but please know that we are considerate to the community and know that our passion for this cause is the reason why we exist and is our purpose. #helpsavealife #wearepeopletoo.

    • joe i say BULL most of these folks are blaming their bad behavior on drugs and its that bad behavior that should put them in jail where they belong,, not the drugs that are used as a scapegoat and excuse

  • @George Gregory ~

    I can appreciate your concern. The challenge with this disease is that it’s a behavioral disorder. It affects the people around us and mostly the loved ones of those suffering. There is a very clear difference to what people refer to as “halfway houses” vs. “sober living homes”. Halfway houses are court ordered homes provided to parolees who are making an effort to re enter society. Our sober living homes are not court ordered and are for people who notice a patern of self destruction and want to live and change and prevent future hard ache. These are our spouses, children, parents and friends. Many who suffer, do so from behind closed doors. Addiction needs a voice and for those of you who want to listen or care to see the positive impact these homes have on the many who truely want to get help, I invite you to email me, visit our office and meet some of those that have succeeded in the journey of sobriety. Come meet us, email me direct ~ jscolari@sobernp.com. Let’s work together to make a difference. Help me understand what we can do as team to address concerns on both sides. We are all equal and the value to human life is priceless.

    • To Joe Scolari – if human life was priceless to you and your rehab community of money hungry people – YOU WOULD BE NON-PROFIT!
      This Rehab industry that has taken over San Clemente is about one thing: $$MONEY$$
      at the expense of the residence that have worked their whole lives to own a home and be responisible citizens.
      If your industry really cared, we would not have all the homeless from the fall out of your facilities, you would take care of your own by the millions $$ in profits earned.
      The Sober Living Homes would pay well educated and trainned individuals a fair salary to care for patients, instead of hiring past patients for $10-14 an hour to manage a house full of recovering addicts. However, they do pay HUGE salaries to highly skilled Marketing Companies to attract new insurance covered addicts.
      If the Rehab Industry cared about the patients, it would look much different.
      The “pretending to care” is shameful based on the profits and fraud of the industry.

  • I second S Jones. > enter Applause here.

  • 99% of addictions are choice not a handicap and the use of ADA rules and laws to protect these neighborhood devaluing businesses is shameful behavior and pure BS ,,,move away and stay away

    • Our children are in contact with these “sober” people more than you think. The city should consider the influence that the people who are just coming off drugs can have on young minds. What scares me is that the city code enforcement and the local police can not do anything to protect us if one or some of the “sober” people “go back” to what they were doing before. Once they are living in our neighborhoods, it is hard to prove that anything wrong is being done. We recently had to leave a motel where the “live-in” maids were smoking cigrettes non stop-even while they were working (which was not very often). In the middle of the night, the cigrette smoke would turn into pot and then “crack”. We had a connecting door to the their room. I had three children in my room. City code enforcement said that there was no code volition regarding sealing the door to make the room non smoking like the front door says that it is supposed to be. State Tabacco enforcement said the laws are there but the city has to make it part of there law too. The police said that all they can do is knock on the door and ask them to stop smoking (even though I told the police that we saw needles in there room and smell other things than cigrettes). I had to keep calling the police because the “live-in” maid couple would fight too. It was very scary. Young adults with sores on their faces would come and go all night. The police finally urged the manager to refund our money so we could go to a safer hotel. Those young people who connect with the people at this motel (that local organizations use as a halfway house into their rehab programs) went to our local schools! They probably know your children! Or know someone who knows how to connect to your children. Oh yeah, the code enforcement officer did say it is against code to dry our beach towels and clothes outside. After all, this is the Gatewsy to Surfing History.

      • i’m sorry pamela between the sober houses and vacation rentals our privacy and safety is out the window ,,,next we will hear how tiled sidewalks improve property values even through some neighborhoods and streets have no sidewalks ,,or how train loads of beach goers are more important than the city’s citizens,,,so pay your taxes so we can underground alleys for tourists instead of sidewalks for our citizens

  • Consider the need for de-stressing, Becky. All are feeling the strain of the last few months of indescribable loathing politics has subjected on this nation. We are in a time where patience and kindness are needed more than ever. Reacting is not the option, an attempt to understand one another is the need. Were you referring to homeless neighbors or resident tenant-owner neighbors in discussing the issues?

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