Thursday, March 05, 2015

A Packed House Grills Officials On Group Homes

A packed multi-purpose room at College Park Elementary School greeted Costa Mesa officials and staff as Debbie Leedom and her College Park neighbors hosted a 90-minute question and answer period on two subjects about which they have great concern - the proliferation of sober living homes and crime, in general.
The meeting, which played to a standing-room-only crowd of approximately 225 in number, was run crisply and pretty much stayed on schedule.  Extraneous questions from the crowd were kept to a minimum until the very end, when time grew short and anxiety continued to build as residents from all parts of the city became not fully satisfied with the answers to their written questions.

Attending for the City were Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer, Councilwoman Katrina Foley, CEO Tom Hatch, Interim Police Chief Ron Lowenberg, Director of Development Services Gary Armstrong, Deputy City Attorney Elena Gerli, Assistant Director, Community Improvement Division Jerry Guarrancino, Police Captain Mark Manley, Police Lieutenant Vic Bakkila, Code Enforcement Officers Mike Tucker and Jon Neal and Executive Assistant to Hatch, Kelly Shelton.
In the crowd I recognized many familiar faces from all regions of the City.  I saw former council candidates Jay Humphrey, Tony Capitelli, Lee Ramos and Chris Bunyan.  Many other activists - regular attendees at many official city meetings and volunteers in may areas in town -  were sprinkled throughout the crowd of otherwise just normal residents with big concerns.
After Leedom kicked things off she handed the microphone to Righeimer, who provided some perspective and introductions.  Then moderator Jay Friedman took over and asked the written questions of the staff.  In general, the staff decided who would field which question.  As you might expect, lawyer Gerli had a big chunk of them, as did Guarrancino.  Righeimer didn't hesitate to grab the microphone, either.
Much of what was discussed was not new information to those of us who attend city meetings regularly, but it certainly was to many in the crowd.  Among the many things they learned Wednesday night were:
  • The City CANNOT regulate state licensed group homes.
  • The City CANNOT regulate homes with six (6) or fewer residents plus a house manager because they are considered a "Housekeeping Unit".
  • Our Group Home Ordinance applies ONLY to R1 (Single family residential) neighborhoods.
  • An ordinance for other residentially-zoned area is in the works, but it's more complicated.
  • The City needs the help of residents to identify group homes.
  • Righeimer and other staffers recommended the use of the Costa Mesa Connect Smart Phone App.
  • They stressed the need to report the group homes with infractions so a file can be created.
  • We must tread carefully as we attempt to enforce our ordinances to be sure we are not violating the rights of the residents in those places.
  • We learned from Lowenberg that our police staffing is up to 108 today from a low spot of 85 and that efforts are being made to recruit greater numbers of qualified officers.  He mentioned the recent report on the staffing issue on the City Website, HERE.
  • Lowenberg, Manley and Bakkila all stressed that they need our help.  Residents MUST call when they have a problem.
  • The revised Crime Mapping Program is now available, HERE, but not without some glitches.
  • We learned of a Gang/Narcotics bust on Maple Avenue that snatched up 6 criminals.
  • We learned that we should be participating in Neighborhood Watch programs.  As Lowenberg said, "Help us help you".
  • We learned that Costa Mesa has a quarter of ALL state-licensed group home in Orange County.
  • We learned that there is no limit to the time a person can stay in a group home.
  • We learned from Lt. Bakkila that they hope to resurrect their bicycle patrols, apparently a very effective tool.
  • Captain Manley told us that, for this part of town, Lt. Bakkila is a "mini-police chief" - "He's the guy who will solve your problems".
  • We learned that Officer Bill Adams, currently our only School Resource Officer, is one of the best cops we've ever had.
  • In response to a concern about Code Enforcement staffing, we learned from Righeimer that the City will "spend whatever it takes so the problem gets handled properly."  We've heard that before...
  • We learned from Hatch - in response to a question about how relapsed residents are handled because some are simply dumped onto our streets and become homeless - that the City is dealing with the homeless among us by identifying those with ties to the city, then providing services to them through faith-based organizations.  So far, of the 125 identified, 50 have been placed in housing.
  • We learned that representatives of several group homes in Costa Mesa were at the meeting, gathering information.
  • We learned that enforcement of group homes is a long process - a matter of months, as various essential steps are taken in order to be sure the operator has a chance to respond.
  • We learned that some folks co-mingle in their minds sober living patients with parolees and other criminals.
  • And, we learned a lot more.
For example, I learned that the City apparently didn't deem this meeting important enough to provide video coverage by CMTV, but it was important enough to cancel the Fairview Park Citizens Advisory Committee meeting, scheduled for the same time on the same date.  That's a shame, because this meeting is the PERFECT example of what can happen when motivated residents team up with City staff to put together an outstanding community outreach opportunity.
At the end of the evening one very impatient man stood up and strongly addressed the panel, wondering if they were aware of the Sober Living Network, and the impact they were having on Costa Mesa.  I found a link to that organization, HERE, which shows Costa Mesa as the location for  nineteen (19) facilities - more than double any other Orange County city shown.  It was unclear if he received a satisfactory answer to his questions and statements.  At Tuesday's council meeting we learned that there are another twenty-one (21) group homes in line for licenses in Costa Mesa!
The final question asked of all the City panelists was, "Do you have any relationships with any of the group home operators?" or words to that effect.  Every staffer answered a resounding NO!  Bakkila told us he had arrested a few of the residents, though.  Righeimer was the final person to answer the question, also with a NO.  It is interesting to note that for several years, HERE, his great friend, Scott Baugh - they just traveled to Israel together as part of a group and he has shared office space with him for years  - has been an advisor for the sober living industry.  I guess we'll presume they never discussed that business.  Uh, huh...
Many questions were either not answered or incompletely answered, but Leedom promised to provide feedback to those interested once the answers are determined.  Good job to our friends and neighbors in College Park for hosting and conducting an outstanding event.

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Anonymous Where's My Coffee? said...

For a very long time after the sober living homes became a problem, Righeimer did nothing and only after heavy pressure did he appoint a committee. Well now we can see why. His office mate is an "advisor" for the sober living homes.

At the very end of the meeting, all were asked if they had any connection with or received money from anyone involved with the rehab industry. All said No. Righeimer flat out lied. He has received campaign contributions from owners of rehab homes. He has been called out on it, and is aware of the issue. Just chose to lie about it.

3/05/2015 06:55:00 AM  
Anonymous Where's My Coffee? said...

Its also interesting to note that at the time the Daily Pilot article was written about Scott Baugh's involvement with the rehab homes, in 2007, is the time when Righeimer was being installed in the Planning Commission. Coincidence? I think not.

3/05/2015 06:58:00 AM  
Anonymous Teresa Drain said...

I LOVE my neighbors in College Park for rallying around this - Deb took the initiative when our neighbors home was broken into -while they were sleeping- to coordinate with the city staff, and personally coordinated and paid for the outreach. THIS is what Costa Mesa is really about, not the "brand" touted elsewhere.

A huge THANK YOU goes out to the ladies at!!! They started researching, and have consistiently updated their neighbors and city staff with the FACTS. They started the outreach to their neighbors years ago, and it has grown.

THANK YOU GEOFF, for promoting this event and covering it. We had invited Costa Mesa TV but I suppose the "fifth floor" decided it was not worth the coverage. Actions (and lack thereof) speak louder than words.

PS Good news about the CMPD staffing level increase, albeit little and late. A HUGE THANK YOU to the CMPD for all you do, all day, every day.

3/05/2015 09:59:00 AM  
Anonymous And So It Goes said...

That Jerry guy came across like a real jerk! He's not doing himself (or the people who appointed him!) any favors with his his demeanor and tone of voice. He came across as arrogant, defensive, uncaring, etc. He doesn't represent the attitude of the City staff that I've interacted with over the years.

3/05/2015 10:04:00 AM  
Anonymous It has to be said...

Righeimer arrives in Costa Mesa and is belatedly appointed to the Planning Commission:

at the same time Scott Baugh was lobbying for Sober Living Home owners?!?

Costa Mesa gets 1 out of every 4 SLH in the county, and legislative bills regulating SLH proliferation have all been killed - and the ONE that made it to the Governor's desk gets veto'd by Arnold.

And the Planning Commission continues the trend by rezoning and cramming in High Density projects all over the city.

3/05/2015 10:26:00 AM  
Anonymous Casual Viewer said...

Sounds like that Jerry guy was channeling that Jim guy.

3/05/2015 10:39:00 AM  
Anonymous David on Lorenzo said...

Why are there so many group homes in Costa Mesa compared to other O.C. cities? Is it because Scott Baugh--while doing his lobbying--advised them to set up business in Costa Mesa for some reason?

3/05/2015 11:26:00 AM  
Anonymous And So It Goes said...

What's the reason SLH's are coming here to CM? In addition to other reasons, it seems obvious there's a correlation w/ SLH's and the high # of rentals in CM vs. all other OC Cities.

CM is 60/40 rentals to homeowner occupied, whereas all other OC Cities are 40/60 rentals to homeowner occupied.

There's a different look and feel to neighborhoods which are predominately homeowner occupied vs. neighborhoods with high # of rentals. Crime, and apparently SLH proliferation, are an obvious result of too many rental properties.

The Eastside, once known for large lots with nice yards, parks, and places to park, has become a high density, high # of rental units neighborhood; SLH's abound and crime is on the rise. There's no where to park on the streets because of all the new units being crammed in; and, if you do leave your car out at night it's very likely to be broken into. Even graffiti is showing up all over the place where it wouldn't have been seen 4-5 years ago.

Our CouncilMEN who are funded by the developers don't give a XXXX. Thanks to our current CouncilMEN and their appointed Planning Commissioners, the rental trend continues. Now, add on to that the Small Lot ordinance with more and more units being crammed into spaces which were previously occupied by one home w/ a yard ... negative impacts are bound to occur.

Hats off to TBON for keeping the pressure up on this. All real estate agents who work w/ SLH's and anyone connected to SLH's should be outed, particularly if they're in public office!

3/05/2015 12:47:00 PM  
Anonymous Westside4ever said...

We need to take the sober living issue to the state level. When you realize some of the laws on the books regarding sober living and persons in recovery are 20+ years old you can see why the issue has escalated. We should be bringing pressure to change our archaic laws to address the issues of today, not living with laws and protections enacted years ago which only foster the predatory practices of some sober living operators today. It’s not fair to anyone when the laws granting protections to a group of persons are older than the persons themselves!

3/05/2015 12:56:00 PM  
Anonymous Ken Nyquist said...

So I suppose the 227 year old United States Constitution needs to be chucked in the shredder, along with the Bill of Rights, and throw in the California Constitution along with the Americans with Disabilities Act?
The only thing you can do to eliminate these homes, is buy all of the properties surrounding your home, or move. I am sure that you can overrule the Supreme Court of the United States, which is what you will have to do. How do you propose to get the state to bypass the Constitutional protections of the disabled? I am not sure how you catch alcoholism or drug addiction and become disabled but apparently you can, according to the courts.
Rentals in Costa Mesa have been in place as long as I lived in the city, which is a long time.
I think we need a whole lot less government intrusion,and a lot more individuals stepping up to the plate and confronting those you do not like if you want some action.
Geoff takes a lot of time in life to keep people posted here on the facts, and all one has to do is go back through the archives here to see where you stand on a lot of issues, agree or disagree with the opinion that go along with the facts.

3/05/2015 02:28:00 PM  
Blogger The Pot Stirrer said...

Ken, thanks, I think.. :-) For almost a decade I've been pubishing this blog at this site and another before it. I do my best to attend meetings and report the facts... and my opinion of what those facts represent. For example, at this particular meeting the three members of the CMPD, Chief Ron Lowenberg, Captain Mark Manley and Lt. Vic Bakkila, evoked the best responses from the audience - by far - of all the staff speakers, including the elected official present. They told it like it is, straight and to the point. It was refreshing...

3/05/2015 04:56:00 PM  
Anonymous Teresa Drain said...


Not sure of your point(s)? I didn't see you there, otherwise you could have put your questions to the staff.

Not sure why we have to throw out US Constitution (of which the Bill of Rights is a part), the California Constitution or the ADA. Certainly, there needs to be clarifications of their rights under ADA, as I am pretty sure they do not qualify for disabled parking because they are in recovery.

We should be concerned that the "clients" (not "patients") of sober living homes are not being cared for, and their insurance is being abused for "treatment".

The problem is the concentration of homes, especially in Costa Mesa, not that they exist. The FACT is that Costa Mesa has more than 1/4 of all SLH in Orange County.

The FACT that we lack police officers results in less patrols, and increases a need for the residents to start helping the police identify problems in their neighborhood.

My neighbors HAVE stepped up to the plate are are actively joining the other Costa Mesans to take back our neighborhood.

3/05/2015 05:29:00 PM  

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