Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Group Home Ordinance Gets First Vetting

Last night the Costa Mesa Planning Commission - minus the thoughtful, articulate and thorough voice of Vice Chair Rob Dickson - stretched their meeting until 11:30 p.m. with some predictable results.  For example, Chairman Jim Fitzpatrick demonstrated to those who chose to stick around late in the evening that he's a sore loser (emphasis on that second word) and still holds a grudge against the Costa Mesa Sanitary District.  Vindictive grudge-holding by a powerful public official is not only distasteful, but very dangerous, as well.  More on that later.  WARNING:  This is going to be a LONG post - too many images to present.  I've decided to just cover the Group Home Ordinance on this post.  I'll cover the rest of the meeting in a subsequent post.

As previously reported, the first item on the agenda was the Public Hearing regarding the possible "Group Home Ordinance".  You can read the 137 page staff report HERE.  It includes a draft of the proposed ordinance.  The discussion took two hours!  So, in the interest of providing as much good information as possible to those of you who actually care about this issue, I'm providing you with a long series photos of the PowerPoint presentation by staff.  I think you'll find most of the images self-explanatory.  I'll address a few of them as we go along.  You can watch the streaming video HERE.

Interestingly, only a half-dozen residents stepped up to address this very contentious issue.  This was not lost on commissioner Colin McCarthy, who commented on it from the dais.  Many in this community consider it to be one of, of not THE, most important issue percolating in our city right now.  The first speaker was a grumpy old fella, actually, a shadow of his former self, who observed that he'd read the staff report and heard the presentation so far and thought the report was well done, but not worth doing!  He claimed it was just "marketing"...  Hmmm

Other speakers addressed their first-person experiences with the infestation of their neighborhoods by "group homes", meaning the sober living cash cows that have sprung up throughout the city like mushrooms in a rain forest.  (Do you know what makes mushrooms grow?  Old joke... sorry.)

Let's start with some of the images, shall we?

 Here we get the term "Integral facility" introduced.  This means a group of facilities located near to each other in which "patients" might live in one or two, but walk across the street or next door for meetings or "therapy".  The proposed ordinance will ban those kind of facilities.

 Let's pause for a moment to look at this chart.  If you look closely you will see that Costa Mesa accounts for 26% of the LICENSED Sober Living facilities in Orange County!  These numbers DO NOT include the unlicensed facilities that are proliferating.  This one should rock you back - I know it did me as I tried to read it from the audience.  The City thinks we may have 150 unlicensed facilities in our city, but the grass-roots organization Take Back Our Neighborhoods (TBON) says they have evidence of at least twice that many!

 The conversation around this issue, the "separation requirement" was interesting.  As you saw in the chart way up at the top, Costa Mesa has way, way too many group homes.  It was decided to include the 650 foot radius, which would probably pass legal muster, yet significantly reduce the number of group homes.  This will be amended and brought back for City Council approval.
 I kind of liked this image - which used my nice, evenly-blocked out neighborhood on the Eastside for purposes of an example of a radius.  This one almost captured my house! ;-)
During the comments one speaker suggested that this process should be delayed until the new City Council is seated.  Chairman Fitzpatrick slammed that suggestion as obstructionist and chided the speaker for complaining about the issue, then wanting to delay progress.  Interesting, since Gary Monahan used that very reason for walking out of contract negotiations with the Costa Mesa Police Association last week.  He said such an important issue should wait for the new council.  Apparently what's good for the goose is not, necessarily, good for the gander.  Has a faint whiff of politics, don't you think?

Another speaker wondered why restrict this to only R-1 zoned segments of the city.  Why not include R-2?  The contract staff lawyer, Elena Gehrli, said it was too complex to do all at once and might not stand up to legal scrutiny.  By the way, that was a major portion of the argument - would it pass legal muster?  Much mention was made of the current Newport Beach lawsuit that may be presented to the Supreme Court.  Fitzpatrick told us that city has set aside $1 million for legal fees if it does go forward.  Costa Mesa has filed a "friend of the court" brief in that case and ponied-up $10,000.

One of the reasons, apparently, to be VERY cautious with this process is, according to Gherli, the sober living business has $35 BILLION in annual revenues.  It's like printing money, except faster.  I mean, you rent a three or four bedroom home for $3,000 a month and house six "patients" in it for upwards of $10,000 per month a piece and you can see why this is such a booming business.  Even with food and other expenses the operator is going to CLEAR about $50,000 per month!

Mention was made of a "good neighbor policy", which would require operators to be "good neighbors".  I guess that would apply to all of us, so get ready for Big Brother - in the form of Code Enforcement - to potentially come knocking on your door.

The timing of the application process was interesting.  Current operators would have 90 days in which to complete an application.  If they fail to do so they can be shut down.  Once the application is complete they have a year to comply, which could be stretched to two years.  Sounds very cautious to me.  Fitzpatrick suggested shorter time frames, but the discussion ended up leaving them as they are.

Some of the commissioners - Fitzpatrick, in particular - seemed obsessed with who was paying for the treatment.  In actuality, it's none of our business and we should not craft an ordinance with that as a cornerstone.

In the end, the ordinance will move forward with tweaks to how to manage the Parking impacts, House managers living onsite, using the 650 foot radius and banning integral homes (mentioned way up top).

As a sidebar, once this item was finished at least a half-dozen audience members left.  They were identified to me as operators of group homes in the city by folks who have been investigating this issue.  None of them spoke during the meeting.  We'll see how that changes when this ordinance appears before the City Council, coincidentally, just before the election in October.

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Anonymous David on Lorenzo said...

There are many unanswered questions regarding these group homes: Why Costa Mesa? Are they businesses that can be regulated? If Newport Beach can't regulate them , then how can Costa Mesa? Once again, why are so concentrated in Costa Mesa? Are these rehab or outpatient facilities? $10,00 per person per month does not sound right...

9/23/2014 04:46:00 PM  
Blogger The Pot Stirrer said...

Indeed, David... one of the questions that didn't get asked last night was, "How many local realtors are deeply involved in this rehab business?" "How many buy homes under market price, then rent them to rehab operators for high rates because they know they can get them?" When that issue was broached a few months ago by inquisitive Eastside neighbors a well-known realtor threatened them with a lawsuit. Just askin'... seems like a fair question.

9/23/2014 05:14:00 PM  
Anonymous sk said...

$10,000 a month is a good average.

9/23/2014 05:49:00 PM  
Blogger zennymoon said...

Having been one of those women who received a c&d, for asking that question and being told "we would be machined gun down with lawsuits.". Coincidently that was Jim Fitzpatrick who threatened us outside city council, under the security camera, which also councidently wasn't operational....He told us THE DAY before we were served, so obviously he was in the know...this ordinance's timing is wrong...our mayor accepts $1,000 from Newport Coast Recovery, a named litigant in the NB Supreme Court legislation and the CM representative who signed the Amucus brief....the mayor says this is a surefire lawsuit.76

9/23/2014 06:23:00 PM  
Anonymous Arthur Nern said...

Get to know your dictator- follow the money.

9/23/2014 09:17:00 PM  

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