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Local Legislators Craft Controls on Sober Living Homes

Photo by Mirjam Swanson / OUTLOOK
California Assemblywoman Laura Friedman, who asks for communities to be “compassionate” when accepting sober living facilities, has introduced a bill that could bar them from clustering and creating “a hospital facility” in one neighborhood.

Neighbors living on or near the 900 block of Green Lane were shocked to learn last August that a house on the street was being used as a for-profit drug and alcohol treatment center. They were clued in only after a break-in at the then-unoccupied site was called in to the Crescenta Valley Sheriff’s Department and then reported in the newspaper.
They also were taken aback by the fact that the city of La Cañada Flintridge had no discretion over what was happening at the six-bedroom, seven-bathroom house beside enforcing zoning code requirements or responding to nuisance complaints if any arose.
State law is clear, Robert Stanley, director of community development, explained last year: The city is preempted from regulating such residential drug and alcohol treatment facilities if six or fewer people are being treated there. Residents of such facilities are considered to be a family and the city is barred from requiring any type of Conditional Use Permit, zoning variance or zoning clearance.
But local legislators are trying to adjust the law to give local municipalities a little more control of sober living homes, even if they know passing legislation on the matter will be tough.
“They have credible advocates, powerful advocates,” state Assemblywoman Laura Friedman acknowledged during a recent YMCA of the Foothills Strategic Partners Network discussion. “The legislature is riddled with the dead bodies of bills that try to tackle the subject.”
Still, she’s introduced a bill in the Assembly that seeks to nullify the grouping of such homes, which is an issue that has plagued other cities and could potentially affect LCF.
If it passes, Assembly Bill 3162 would direct the State Department of Health Care Services to deny an application if the proposed location is in proximity to an existing facility that would result in overconcentration, which is defined as two or more alcoholism or drug abuse recovery or treatment facilities within 300 feet of each other.
“We believe there’s a need for sober living homes,” said Friedman, who authored the bill with Sens. Ben Allen (of Redondo Beach) and Henry Stern (of Calabasas).
“However, they can make a tremendous amount of money, even in this housing market, so they’re able to go to a place like Malibu and Burbank and probably La Cañada and buy up not just one house, but several houses in one block,” she added, noting that often the price tag is $5,000 per month per patient. “There could be five or six houses on a street, leaving two or three families sort of isolated.
“Instead of having people live in each home as intended, there will be one house that’s a meeting area, one for meals, so what they have done is create a hospital facility in the middle of a residential neighborhood.
“It’s my belief that that’s not what the law was trying to do; it was trying to create a model where they really are mixed in with the neighbors. If a city wants to allow a sober living hospital, that’s fine, but it’s up to the local government to decide where they want to place those.”
Meanwhile, state Sen. Anthony Portantino — a resident of LCF — recently introduced Senate Bill 1317, which would require facilities with six or fewer patients to begin providing written notification 30 days prior to operation. They also would have to present parking plans, service plans, medical waste disposal plans and certification that the facilities meet the requirements of the federal Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990.
Cities still would not be permitted to require conditional use permit, zoning variance or other zoning clearance of any such treatment facilities.
But because local communities have been preempted from requiring public safety inspections or regulations, Portantino’s bill seeks to provide cities some land use authority without undermining necessary care, he said in a statement.
As for the Green Lane house that alerted LCF to the issue?
The home that was for more than a year being leased by Ridgeview Ranch — and used to quietly treat clergy members suffering from substance abuse, according to COO Larry Parton — currently is vacant, with a for-lease sign in the front yard.


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