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Encinitas looks to Costa Mesa for guidance on sober-living regulations

ENCINITAS — Encinitas has stayed in a holding pattern with its sober-living ordinance as it waits to see how anti-discrimination lawsuits play out in cities like Costa Mesa that have enforced more stringent requirements.

At the Nov. 28 City Council meeting, City Attorney Glenn Sabine recommended that Encinitas continue to monitor the legal landscape but take no further regulatory action for fear of litigation.

“When there comes a time when I feel that it’s safe to move forward without significant risk, I’m going to be the first one to tell you about it,” Sabine told the Council.

Encinitas, like many other affluent coastal cities in Southern California, has seen a proliferation of sober-living facilities in recent years.

Residents sharing neighborhoods with these recovery homes have argued that the largely unregulated and expensive facilities are primarily trying to reap a profit rather than help people. They complain of cars coming and going at all hours, smoking and other nuisances. Others say that type of reaction is typical of snobby, “not in my backyard” attitudes.

Alcoholics and drug addicts are considered disabled under federal and state law and cannot be discriminated against — a protection that extends to their housing rights. Sober-living homes with six or fewer occupants fall within single-family zoning requirements, which allows them to co-exist in residential neighborhoods.  

Encinitas considered enacting a sober-living home ordinance in 2015, which would have included regulations like obtaining a city permit, having a manager on-site at all times, and maintaining a 650-foot buffer from any other sober-living or treatment facility.

But those policies were not adopted due to concerns regarding the litigation brought against Costa Mesa for implementing similar measures.

Last year the city of Costa Mesa settled a lawsuit filed by Solid Landings that resulted in the immediate closure of 15 sober-living homes and the agreement that 18 more would shutter over a three-year period. Sabine explained to the council, “That’s led a number of people to believe that somehow that’s precedential from a legal standpoint, but it’s not.”

Another legal challenge against Costa Mesa now being tried in a U.S. District Court is expected to result in a decision regarding whether the ordinance is unconstitutional or anti-discriminatory, Sabine explained in his agenda report. Sabine further informed the council that Costa Mesa has filed two lawsuits in Superior Court against sober-living operators allegedly lacking city-required permits. He recommended, in general, waiting to see what the various courts as well as state legislators do.

Councilwoman Tasha Boerner Horvath, who will now represent the 76th District in the California State Assembly, expressed at the Nov. 28 meeting her prediction that legislation would be introduced.

“When I was in Sacramento the week before last, there was already word of some folks who represent districts that are even more impacted than we are on sober living, so I assume it will be coming up one way or another in this next legislative session,” Horvath said.