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Carlsbad approves committee to address sober living homes

CARLSBAD — Sober living homes have become a contentious issue with residents in the neighborhoods where they have developed. As a result, the City Council formally approved an ad hoc committee to address them during its July 23 meeting.

Thousands of sober living homes have popped up throughout the state, mostly in Southern California from Los Angeles to Orange and San Diego counties.

Serving on the committee will be council members Keith Blackburn and Barbara Hamilton.

“It would be to address the issue of sober living homes, to engage community stakeholders, listen to and discuss their concerns and recommendations regarding sober living homes and to recommend potential state and local regulatory and legislative strategies for the City Council to pursue,” said Jason Haber, assistant to the city manager.

The council approved the concept for the committee on Feb. 19 after residents lobbied the council to take action. The committee will also be automatically dissolved after one year.

Some of the issues residents have are with noise, littering, drug paraphernalia, empty alcohol bottles and general disturbances by those living in the homes. However, addicts are a protected class under the Americans with Disability Act, along with the Fair Housing Act, making it difficult for elected officials to tackle the issue.

One tactic has been to address the business model, but it is difficult. Currently, sober living homes with six or fewer residents are not required to disclose their business.

“A sober living facility snuck in without notice,” resident Rosemary Eshelman said in February. “How can the city protect itself? We need to regulate the businesses.”

Sen. Pat Bates (R-Laguna Niguel) has been working on the issue throughout her tenure in the state senate. She has introduced numerous bills, most of which have been killed, to curb some of the actions by those businesses.

She represents parts of North and Orange counties, and the latter has been dubbed the “Rehab Riviera,” due to the hundreds of facilities operating there. Sober living home issues have also affected cities such as Oceanside, Vista, San Marcos and Escondido.

Bates and Assemblywoman Laura Friedman (D-Glendale) co-authored a bill passed last year to provide a probation period for residential treatment facilities to show at the end of the yearlong process the goals set forth have been met.

Sober living homes have been the toughest obstacle for the state and local municipalities to tackle, Bates said.

Due to the structure of the law, they are not required to have licenses, a licensed caseworker and cannot provide treatment, thus leading to many issues with residents in those neighborhoods.

“Those are the ones where probably the greatest abuses are taking place,” Bates said, “because there is no regulation that local government or state government can put on that because they are protected as a group home and a protected class.”

Bates said she views many of those in sober living homes as being pawns and victims of patient brokering, which is another piece of legislation she is working on to pass.

Operators receive $3,000 per month per patient. Revenue is generated, generally, though the patients outright or through insurance.

Her goal, Bates said, is not to violate patients’ rights, but to ensure their protection, while also providing relief for homeowners or renters in those neighborhoods.

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