Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Dim Hope For Sober Living Home Invasion

A group of elected officials and their surrogates plus a couple of lawyers spoke to more than 150 residents last night at the Costa Mesa Neighborhood Community Center on the subject of Sober Living Homes.  The news was not good.
This event, hosted by several legislators, the Association of California Cities - Orange County (ACC-OC) and the Orange County Association of Realtors (OCAR), offered a gloomy picture to those in attendance expecting to hear that the "solution" is just around the corner.  It's not.
Moderator Heather Stratman, CEO of ACC-OC, kicked off the evening by introducing Todd Leishman, a lawyer from the firm of Best, Best and Krieger.  He presented the audience with a brief primer on sober living, the local issues, legal challenges and local city ordinances.  He moved briskly through his presentation, which included an admonition to attendees.  He cautioned them to avoid saying things like, "I don't want them living next door to me." when addressing our city councils on this issue because that kind of statement could haunt the city later in court.  He told us, "Don't do anything stupid."  He spoke about the difference between licensed and non-licensed facilities, and how they must be treated differently by law.  You'll get the gist of his presentation by following along on these slides.
Next up was lawyer Patrick Munoz, with the firm of Rutan and Tucker and the City Attorney for the City of Dana Point.  He also represents the City of Costa Mesa in their current sober living legal battles.  He spoke of the City of Newport Beach's problems attempting to manage sober living homes - an effort that eventually cost them more than $10 million.  He also talked of Dana Point's situation, mentioning that sober living is a BIG business, citing one facility in that city that charges $2,500 per month per bed.  He spoke of the nuisance factor - Red Bull, cigarettes and loud talking. He stressed the "care and supervision" element and mentioned that if you can sort out the bad actors from the good ones it's likely that the bad actors will go out of business.
Next came the panel of legislators and their surrogates.  Seated on the dais were Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, State Senator John Moorlach, State Assemblyman Matthew Harper, former Huntington Beach councilman Joe Carchio representing Assemblyman Travis Allen and Leishman providing his views on Congressman Darrell Issa's pending bill.  Later Munoz and Diana Coronado of ACC-OC joined the group for the Question and Answer period.
First up was Rohrabacher, who got everyone's attention when he contradicted almost everything the two lawyers had said earlier.  He said, "It's not about bad actors.  It's about drug addicts and alcoholics in our neighborhoods!"  He went on to describe this situation as a result of bad policies.  He said the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is bad policy. He said the Fair Housing laws are bad policy.  He said the Affordable Care Act is bad policy because it throws a lot of money at the issue.  Perhaps the best way to describe what he was aiming at is to repeat what he told Stacey Butler of CBS News in an interview shown on television later last night.  Rohrabacher said, "They're putting drug addicts and alcoholics right next door to ordinary families which, of course, hurts the values of their property.  But, also, there's some jeopardy that you're put into if you have children right next door to a bunch of drug addicts and alcoholics."  He wants to move sober living facilities into commercial and/or industrial areas.
Moorlach, after composing himself following the double-take he did as Rohrabacher spoke, bemoaned the fact that he is limited to only 20 bills per year and that both he and Harper are at a big disavantage as members of a minority party in the state legislature.
Harper told anecdotes about neighbors and their problems with sober living homes nearby.  He also emphasized the limitations he has in the Assembly because the "other" party has a super-majority.  He spoke of the proliferation of hard drugs, well beyond Marijuana, expressing concern that kids today are becoming hooked on opiates.  He said, "Once they do that they're gone."  Not exactly what you expect to hear from a legislator discussing sober living homes.  He also spoke of  clustering of sober living homes; proximity to schools; the need to change state laws to permit cities to deal with their sober living issues, but agreed that some level of state oversight and regulation will be necessary. He pleaded for city's to propose legislation that he could push forward.  Funny, I thought that was HIS job.  He also cited the need for volunteers/citizen organizations to spread the word state-wide and put pressure on the governor and legislature.
Carchio gave some history to previous efforts, citing his own city as just not doing enough.  He looked forward to Costa Mesa making progress, saying everyone is watching.  He said the cities need to work together to get a bill passed, acknowledging that it will be difficult because "there is a lot of money to be made."  Gee, no kidding!

Stratman told us the ACC-OC mission is to be a powerful regional voice on important issues, and mentioned that 40% of the sober living homes in California are located in Orange County.  Yikes!
Leishman spoke briefly about H.R. 6070, Congressman Issa's bill, indicating that is will likely have to be re-visited before it can pass.

Then the panel began to respond to written questions from the audience.
The first question asked if mental health issues will be impacted by sober living homes.  Moorlach told us that Orange County has only 10 mental health beds for a county of 3.1 million people.

Another asked about background checks for owners and operators of sober living homes.  Munoz said, "sometimes.", citing Costa Mesa litigation.

Another asked if Costa Mesa's ordinance violates Fair Housing laws?  Munoz, answering as an attorney retained by the City, said, "Absolutely not!", with a grin on his face.
Another person, apparently from an unincorporated part of the county, cited their tranquil enviornment and asked how they can discourage sober living homes in their area? Carchio said "build a wall."  Moorlach replied that they should contact the county.

Another question dealt with HR 6070 (Issa's bill) and how it would be implemented by the state.  Leishman said it's a federal bill, not a state bill.  Carchio rambled on about it being a problem for realtors.

That was followed by a question of disclosure of the existence of sober living homes in the case of a home sale. That was interesting to watch, since nobody really had an answer.  Finally Munoz said, "Tell the truth.  The truth will set you free."  Leishman said if he were buying a home today he would ask every question he could about homes in the neighborhood - rentals, etc. - without actually asking about sober living homes.
What turned out to be the final question asked about sober living homes and their contribution to homelessness.  Munoz observed it is a common complaint, but he didn't have any specific information.  Moorlach spoke of AB 109, Prop. 47 and the recently passed Prop 57, all of which changed the game regarding criminals being released back onto our streets sooner.  At that point Rohrabacher launched into an echo of his earlier rant, citing failed policies.  He ended by stating, "Expect very tough legislation early next year."  He was not specific, but it was red meat for those looking for some light at the end of the sober living tunnel.  It was almost like being at a Trump rally.
I came away feeling that nobody really has a handle on the sober living industry - except those personally involved with it and making a LOT of money.  All I see ahead is many more lawsuits being generated by our attempts to enforce our two existing laws.  I found it ironic that as this meeting was going on the Costa Mesa Planning Commission was meeting to hear appeals of denials of permits from a couple such places.  I know they denied an appeal to a long-time operator - a local businessman who has operated a sober living home on the up-and-up for more than a dozen years.  More on that later.

I must observe that the only city officials I saw in the crowd last night were not quite official - John Stephens and Allan Mansoor were in the room, but Mansoor bailed out early.  Stephens stayed to the bitter end, trying to soak in as much information as he could for the tasks ahead of him on the City Council.
Was it worth attending this meeting?  Well, I guess so, because I really didn't expect to hear solutions presented.  From that standpoint I was not disappointed.  At one point I found myself looking at the men on the dais and thinking that Rohrabacher, Moorlach and Harper had just wrapped up successful re-elections based on the most recent numbers and yet they had nothing approaching a clue about how to manage this problem - and it IS a problem.  I see many more lawsuits facing our city before we get this figured out.

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Anonymous Where's My Coffee? said...

Sadly, there are no answers. I would hope that zoning could play a part in this as it is a business after all. Our entire county is under attack. Its sickening. Its sickening that this is even an issue and that there is even a need.

I'm not surprised Mansoor left early. He has never sat through a council meeting either. Only stays a few minutes. Will he be another Gary? Time will tell.

11/29/2016 07:19:00 AM  
Anonymous Steve Chan said...

Lawyers and legislators continue to demonstrate they don’t know what it takes.

Law takes a long long time to evolve and stabilize. If you don’t realize that, you are doomed to the baby step-by-step and case-by-case evolution of it.

Lawyers have no real intrinsic motivation to see an issue resolved. Their motivation is for the controversy to continue as long as billably possible.

Legislators, just like the local politicians, are generally not the ones the community should count upon to come up with policy, and solutions from this group in react mode have left much to be desired.

11/29/2016 09:57:00 AM  
Anonymous Muffin Top Bob said...

Is it just me or does Rohrabacher look like he just stumbled in from the Regal Beagle? What a joke this guy is, can't wait for him to fade away from Orange County politics.

11/29/2016 10:17:00 AM  
Anonymous Ken Nyquist said...

Thank the ACLU and the rest of the ham and eggers who live by the billable hour for putting the screws to the average guy. It used to be the majority ruled in our society, and the minority took a back seat. That is no longer the case now that we have spent the last 8 years in hand wringing mode of being politically and socially correct. I am tired of being socially correct. I am ready to call a spade a spade again.
One benefit of moving out of Costa Mesa, and moving up here to Joshua Tree, is our ability to go next door and give the bums a week to move or a problem will develop. No hand wringing going on here, just a bunch of desert rats who understand how to live in 110 degrees for months at a time and won’t take crap from anyone. Too bad that the actual powers that be were at the meeting last night telling everyone that if you are smart, you will open a sober place of your won. Can't beat em, join em. Help me, I've fallen and can't get up..
Mr. Chan has had his hands full with that lousy bar by his place. The hand wringing solution for the billable hour crowd…keep right on writing and holding hearings, get sound specialists and give Mr. Chan the bird while pulling in $5,200 a week in salary…
The Supreme Court is about to make some major changes to the hand wringing crowd, including the hand wringers on the court itself. Good luck to the booze and drug junkies in about a year. Hang on to your crying towels until then…

11/29/2016 02:55:00 PM  
Blogger kwahlf said...

There were no "experts" on that panel, only those trying to
appear knowledgeable on the subject.
None of them had any knowledge of alcoholism/drug addiction
nor recovery. Rohrabacher is pitifully ignorant on this subject.

There are good recovery homes we don't hear about that have
been here for years like New Directions and Charle Street and
many predatory ones, interested in profit more than recovery
and saving lives. Those are the ones causing problems.
SLHs need to be regulated, with a mandatory live in house
manager and quick access to a medical professional.
Every SLH should have a mandated plan for those who
cannot stay, including travel fare for a ticket home.
Dumping people on the streets is inhumane and causing
problems for the surrounding community.
We are talking about a life and death struggle here.
Having these predatory "sober living" operations serves no
one except those who make money off of them.

11/29/2016 10:35:00 PM  

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