CARLSBAD — Sober living facilities throughout the state have become growing concerns, especially for residents who live nearby.
Carlsbad is no exception as residents in Olde Carlsbad, specifically on Pine and Oak avenues and Camino Del Sol Circle, railed against such facilities describing how residents don’t act as good neighbors and property owners exploiting a protected class of residents for massive profits.
However, cities and counties have few options in dealing with such residences as there are numerous state and federal laws protecting addicts, who are also considered disabled by the federal Fair Housing Act.
Regardless, the City Council approved the formation of a resident ad hoc committee and for staff to return at a later date with a work plan on how to move forward.
“A sober living facility snuck in without notice,” said Rosemary Eshleman, who lives on Camino Del Sol Circle. “How can the city protect itself? We need to regulate the businesses.”
Debbie Fountain, director of Housing and Neighborhood Services, told the council the city is keeping a close eye on possible legislation and legal cases throughout the state.
In addition, the sober living homes are classified as single-family homes if six or fewer people reside there. Also, no license or permits are required to operate those facilities.
Notably, the city of Costa Mesa is currently engaged in a lawsuit over its attempt to add regulations to its city code regarding sober living homes. The city won a federal jury trial, but the case is being appeal and will eventually be heard by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
However, there is no specific timeframe for a ruling from the appellate court, thus pushing Carlsbad to avoid a wait-and-see approach. To date, Fountain said, Costa Mesa has spent about $2 million on the case.
Other cities, such as Encinitas, are in a holding pattern.
The legal option is not only expensive — Newport Beach spent $10 million fighting its case and lost — but also requires cities to cover the legal expenses of the plaintiffs.
“This will only continue to grow,” Fountain said. “Legal options are costly and likely to fail.”
Since 1998, 22 pieces of legislation have been introduced to the California State Legislature, with only one bill being signed into law.
According to the staff report, the last bill introduced was from Sen. Pat Bates (R-Laguna Nigel), who also represents Carlsbad, in 2016, but is inactive.
Bates also authored two bills last year — SB 902 and SB 1290 — to regulate some aspects of sober living homes, but those did not pass, according to a letter she sent Carlsbad Mayor Matt Hall.
SB 902 would have required background checks for licensed operators and SB 1290 was to prevent insurance fraud, similar to Florida’s “Patient Brokering Act.”
But therein lies the challenge, Fountain said. In addition to the city not knowing how many sober living homes are in operation — she counted four from a Google search that advertise in the city — residents and politicians alike have grown tired of the business operators.
At least one, David Fischbach, who owns the property at 1284 Pine Ave. and 1274 Pine Ave., and also owns the four apartment buildings on the 1200 block of Oak Avenue, has been under fire from residents for years and houses Sober Living Today, LLC.
The residents sent a letter to the City Council last year requesting the matter be placed on a future agenda.
“Never use restrictions, only regulations because of the bad actors,” Martha Law Edwards said. “We have a house that is seven beds, nine baths with only two garages. (Fischbach) is a predator.”