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Encinitas eyeing regulations for sober-living homes

Some neighbors want stricter regulations for sober living homes, including an establishment on Neptune Avenue near Stone Steps Beach.
( / Jared Whitlock)

The Encinitas City Council on May 13 voiced support for regulating sober-living homes for recovering addicts.

But first, the council is waiting to see whether an ordinance restricting the homes in Costa Mesa holds up in court.

The council voted unanimously to bring back a clone of Costa Mesa’s ordinance for a first reading. Then, if Costa Mesa’s rules ultimately pass legal muster, the Encinitas council would consider adopting the ordinance.

“I think we owe it to our neighbors, and quite frankly the residents of the facilities,” said Councilman Mark Muir, who made the motion and initiated the agenda item.

Residents at the meeting voiced safety and nuisance concerns over the alcohol- and drug-free homes, which aren’t subject to local permitting. That’s because recovering addicts are considered disabled, and this status protects the homes under state and federal laws.

Resident Ann Sullivan, who lives near a sober-living home on Neptune Avenue, said the absence of uniform standards has created a system where profit takes precedence over treatment.

“If any of you here would like to open up a sober-living facility, you could do it tomorrow,” she said to the audience. “You have to have no qualifications, no education.”

Rich Schiavi said profanity consistently emanates from the Neptune Avenue sober-living home, adding trash piles up and he’s witnessed a fight there.

Robert Crocker, a former addict, said living in a sober-living home for a period was an important step in turning his life around. He’s the director of operations for Southern California Recovery Centers, which runs the Neptune Avenue sober-living facility.

Crocker said he started the home because he “genuinely wants to help these guys recover from a hopeless state of mind,” and not for fiscal reasons.

Three house managers onsite enforce the rules: residents must have jobs, pass drug tests and abide by a curfew of 10 p.m. on weeknights and midnight on weekends, according to Crocker. He added that he wants to “meet neighbors on common ground and find solutions.”

When Councilman Tony Kranz asked him whether Costa Mesa’s ordinance could be onerous in any way to his facility, Crocker said he would need to look into it further.

Costa Mesa’s ordinance, which passed last fall, requires that sober-living homes apply for a permit to set up in single-family residential zones. To obtain a permit, homes can’t have more than seven beds in a house, background checks are necessary for employees and the houses must be at least 650 feet from other facilities.

A group representing the sober-living homes sued the city, arguing the ordinance discriminates against recovering addicts. But last month, a federal judge dismissed the lawsuit, stating that the ordinance was a legitimate interest of the city, residents and addicts. The sober-living home group has stated it plans to appeal the ruling, according to the Orange County Register.

The California Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs requires special licenses for houses that provide on-site treatment. Yet sober-living homes are only considered drug- and alcohol-free zones, exempting them from such licenses.

Alisa Robinson, a licensed psychologist and clinical director of Southern California Recovery Centers, said that tenants of the Neptune Avenue facility are required to attend a treatment center offsite.

“We use research-based approaches to treating these men,” Robinson said.

Councilwoman Lisa Shaffer said finding a solution is all about striking a balance between regulation and property rights.

“I think an ordinance like Costa Mesa — they’ve done the hard work of trying to find where that balance is,” Shaffer said.

Shaffer also stated sober-living homes should be held to existing city ordinances that limit trash and noise. But she stated it appears public complaints against the facilities aren’t being investigated due to a shortage of code enforcement officers.

She added this is more evidence the thinly stretched code enforcement department needs more staffing.

The city will consider additional funding for staffing sometime in the future.


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