COSTA MESA As sober-living and group homes continue to sprout up, the city is grappling with ways to regulate the facilities and address complaints from residents and business owners who view them as a threat to neighborhoods.
This week, the City Council set aside $125,000 in its 2017-18 budget to fund a state employee to inspect its state-licensed homes, which are exempt from the city’s sober-living ordinances. The idea is to create better oversight of the drug and alcohol treatment centers within its borders, officials said.
Costa Mesa is one of the premier locations for drug rehabilitation facilities in the state, a Register investigation found. The city is home to 20 percent of state-licensed sober-living homes in Orange County, but only has 3 percent of the county’s population.
Costa Mesa has 79 state-licensed facilities and around 100 that are non-licensed, City Manager Tom Hatch said.
“We have quite a bit of resources… and a lot of folks that are focused on supporting local sober-living efforts,” Hatch said. “This would be a higher level of service on those homes that we do not have the authority to inspect.”
Complaints regarding non-licensed facilities are handled by the city’s nine code enforcement officers.
But complaints against state-licensed homes go through the California Department of Healthcare Services, which has 16 inspectors — all headquartered in Sacramento.
Most of the state agency’s staff is located “in Sacramento for more efficient and effective operation of statewide activities,” the department said in an email.
“Meanwhile, we have hundreds of beds in our city and when there’s a complaint we have to bring it to the state, and there’s no one there to come here,” Councilman Jim Righeimer said.
The state employee would be based at Costa Mesa’s city hall, though other Orange County cities could chip in toward the cost if they needed inspection services.
However, the position is contingent on the passing of AB 572 – a bill sponsored by Sharon Quirk-Silva, D-Fullerton – in the state Legislature that would create a pilot program in Orange County to have an investigator address issues related to state-licensed drug and alcohol treatment facilities.
“We’re trying to make sure that when there is an issue within a neighborhood, there are channels for a complaint to be made and resolved in a timely fashion,” Quirk-Silva said. “When cities have issues it takes much longer than what we would like to get the case resolved.”
As of Thursday, June 22, the bill was referred to the State Assembly’s health committee.
In Costa Mesa, non-licensed facilities must comply with city regulations, such as adhering to a 650-foot distance requirement between all sober living homes, and following a series of protocols when evicting drug and alcohol patients.
For years, residents have complained about the unintended consequences arising from sober-living homes in their neighborhoods. Complaints include an uptick in noise, littering, homelessness and crime, such as vehicle break-ins, and that sober-living operators have sacrificed their residents in favor of their bottom line.
Some operators have been known to engage in “curbing,” the practice of evicting residents — most of whom come from another state — onto the street with nowhere to go and almost no resources to assist them.
“There’s a few bad operators that are looking to make money, looking to make a profit and that aren’t operating as good neighbors,” Hatch said.
In May, the council passed a 2 Comments to prevent evicted sober-living residents from becoming homeless and to create greater transparency of who actually owns and operates the facilities. Before an eviction, operators must contact the resident’s emergency contact at least 48 hours prior to an eviction and provide transportation to their permanent address.
Evicted drug and alcohol treatment patients are the fastest contributors to the city’s homeless population, city officials said.