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Costa Mesa tightens regulations on sober living homes

This file photo shows a a sign for a residential treatment facility for drug addicts and former prison inmates near MacArthur Park. In neighboring Orange County, Costa Mesa plans to tighten regulations on residential treatment and sober living homes.
This file photo shows a a sign for a residential treatment facility for drug addicts and former prison inmates near MacArthur Park. In neighboring Orange County, Costa Mesa plans to tighten regulations on residential treatment and sober living homes.
Frank Stoltze/KPCC

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Costa Mesa City Council voted on Tuesday to tighten some regulations on group homes for recovering alcoholics and drug addicts, which have been highly controversial in the city.  

If passed in a second reading, the new rules would expand existing regulations that require some sober living home operators to pay transportation costs for individuals who have been evicted from those homes.

All sober living home operators would now have to pay for evicted residents to get back to their permanent home or to an alternative sober living home or treatment facility.

Operators would also have to connect evicted residents with local homeless services to make sure they don’t get left out on the street. 

The city also plans to start keeping a list of sober living homes on its website with their regulatory status, and require them to disclose information about their business structure.

At the meeting, Councilman Jim Righeimer sought to eliminate the city’s ability to make exceptions to its rule requiring sober living homes to be 650 feet away from each other, but the proposal was rejected. Righeimer served as mayor when the city’s first sober living home regulations — among the toughest in Orange County — were passed in 2014. 

Costa Mesa is home to around 180 sober living homes and drug and alcohol treatment facilities, according to city data. Less than half of them are licensed by the state to offer treatment; the rest are group, drug and alcohol-free homes intended to help recovering addicts stay sober and get back on their feet. 

Costa Mesa residents have complained about traffic, trash and frequent turnover at group homes. Some residents and officials have also blamed them for the city’s growing homeless population.  

Stephen Polin, an attorney for several sober living home operators in Costa Mesa that are suing the city over its regulations, called the link between group homes and homelessness "a red herring.”
 
“The city is blaming the sober housing industry for all types of problems that are not related to sober housing,” he said. 

The lawsuit alleges that the city’s regulations on sober living homes discriminate against recovering addicts, who are considered disabled under state and federal law. 

Costa Mesa settled a similar lawsuit last year.