ENCINITAS — The proliferation of addiction recovery centers in Southern California coastal communities has given rise to the catchy nickname “Rehab Riviera.”
Largely unregulated and often incredibly expensive, these sober-living homes and rehab facilities for drug and alcohol addiction have led to numerous homeowner complaints in cities like Costa Mesa.
Leucadia residents at the City Council meeting on May 23 voiced their concerns that Encinitas could be the next stop on the Rehab Riviera if the city does not do something to regulate sober-living homes.
Chris Rogers shared with the council that shortly after finishing a renovation project on his home, he received a text from a neighbor alerting him that a sober-living home would be operating next door.
Rogers, who lives with his wife and their two young children under age 6, is concerned that the now-open facility called Ohana House will negatively impact his family. The home’s balcony is only 20 feet away, with the potential for cigarette smoke to waft their way, he said. In addition to concerns about his children, Rogers stated, “According to the National Association of Realtors, my housing value lost 8 to 17 percent overnight because I now have a sober house next to me.”
Alcoholics and addicts are considered disabled under federal and state law and, therefore, cannot be discriminated against. That protection extends to their housing rights, including sober-living homes, where they can recover from substance abuse and attempt to stay sober in the presence of others who are doing the same. Sober homes fall within single-family zoning requirements if they have no more than six residents.
According to the California Research Bureau report “Sober Living Homes in California: Options for State and Local Regulation,” a sober-living facility “may serve as a crucial, or even indispensable, support for individuals undergoing treatment but it does not provide treatment or care, whether medical or personal (as in an assisted living facility). The state laws and licensing requirements that govern treatment and care facilities do not currently include sober living homes. This means that the state does not keep any list of registered sober living homes, conduct inspections of sober living homes or perform any of the other activities associated with licensing facilities.”
That lack of regulation as well as questions about what their rights are as homeowners were major themes in the remarks Rogers and other neighbors made during public comment.
Kim Dudnick said her daughters, who are 6 and 10 years old, ride their bikes and scooters in the neighborhood where now many cars come and go from Ohana House. After sharing that her brother had been a drug addict, Dudnick said, “I feel very strongly about protecting the rights of the people in the sober homes as well, making sure that this is a facility for them and not just a way to collect rent from people, especially across the street from me. The whole thing is a little unsettling for us.”
Rogers said Ohana House charges $3,000 to $5,000 per bed per month, but the organization could not be reached to confirm those numbers. The Ohana House website brands itself as “luxury sober living for women” and explains that “ohana” is Hawaiian for family, specifically meaning extended or intentional family.
The site also showed photos, names and descriptions of its founder, manager and nine-member advisory council — all women. The residence was described as being “exclusively for women who are seeking a retreat resort atmosphere.”
Encinitas considered enacting an ordinance in 2015 for sober-living homes, which would have included requirements 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 implemented due to concerns regarding the litigation brought against Costa Mesa for enacting a similar ordinance.
City attorney Glenn Sabine was asked about the status of the Costa Mesa lawsuits during the council meeting on May 23, but he said he was unsure and would have to follow up.
Sabine did tell Rogers and the other concerned neighbors, “I just want to make it very clear that if there are any violations of the law that any other residents would be subject to, it applies to sober-living facilities as well. So if there are disturbances, noise, trash, unkempt property, then you can report it to the city, and action will be taken.”
Shay Barnes, a neighbor living near Ohana House, suggested that the City Council look into the ordinance adopted by Prescott, Arizona. Prescott implemented regulations for sober-living homes in January 2017 that required criminal background checks for employees, exit policies for evicted occupants and mandatory training for on-site managers.
In February 2018, a Prescott-area newspaper called The Daily Courier reported that since those policies took effect, the number of sober-living homes in Prescott had decreased by 77 percent. At one point, the reporter noted, there had been about 200 such homes in the city of 40,000 people.
But in nearby Prescott Valley, where no such ordinance exists, the number of sober-living homes had risen from 34 to 56 during the same time period.
Encinitas resident Jim Dudnick warned the council members, “By doing nothing, you could invite the potential that ‘One of the 10 best places to recover from addiction’ could be Encinitas.”
Since sober-living facilities were not on the council’s agenda, no formal discussion or actions could be taken during that meeting.
Some people and organizations perceive cities’ attempts to bar more sober-living facilities as discriminatory and typical of “not in my backyard” attitudes.
Rep. Darrell Issa was quoted by Sovereign Health as stating at a San Clemente meeting on sober-living homes, “A lot of people will say that I don’t want this person in my backyard, but one thing I know is that person is going to have to be in someone’s backyard. We have to care for them, and we have to find ways to make it work.”