By Andrea Swayne
Capistrano Beach residents attended Tuesday’s City Council meeting en masse to express their frustration with what they call a proliferation of sober living homes in their neighborhood.
Approximately 40 members of the community sat in the audience while seven of their neighbors spoke in reference to the growing concentration of substance abuse recovery homes in Capo Beach and the associated problems—cigarette smoke, litter, profanity, burglary, violence and loss of property value, among other concerns.
Resident Patricia Okeefe said that based on national statistics, a community the size of Capo Beach should have three homes. “We have 20,” she said.
Resident Bryan Noakes asked for greater oversight as he has knowledge of homes exceeding the six-person maximum and noted the number of such facilities is nine times that of San Clemente and 10 times more than Newport Beach.
Greg Miller Jones detailed incidents in the last three months near his Capo Beach home related to recovery homes: A death by overdose, two recovery home residents tried to enter his house at 3:30 p.m. on a Tuesday while he was at work and his wife and kids were home—the suspects were arrested in his driveway—and two weeks prior, he and a neighbor gave chase to another attempted burglary suspect. That incident resulted in more than three hours of police helicopters circling and about 20 patrol cars, he said.
“We don’t live in South Central Los Angeles and I’m not picking on economically deprived areas of LA County for any reason, but it’s unacceptable and something needs to be done,” Miller Jones said. “I honestly think if something isn’t done to take control of this issue, there will be vigilante activism by people in the community that will have repercussions here that nobody wants.”
Because the item was not on the agenda, the council was not able to make any decisions on the matter but City Manager Doug Chotkevys asked attendees to meet with the assistant city manager in the hall and provide their contact information. Chotkevys said the city would begin immediate work to meet with residents and organize a neighborhood watch program in the area.
Patrick Munoz, the city attorney, assured attendees the city is keeping a close watch on Newport Beach’s efforts to regulate these facilities in their city by creating an ordinance which if passed will become a model for Dana Point and other cities. Munoz also reminded residents that although the operation of recovery homes are currently protected under state and federal law, other violations of the law should be reported to Dana Point police along with any specific knowledge of homes housing more than six people.
The Newport ordinance has regulations built in that would remedy many of the concerns raised by residents, he said. These items include language that says a group of homes owned by the same operator and in close proximity don’t get the benefit of being treated like an individual home, instead it will be viewed as a business operation with multiple campuses. It also includes regulations that would outlaw homes from operating in single family residential areas under some circumstances.
“In the meantime, it doesn’t mean we are completely powerless,” Munoz said. “The fact that we cannot regulate them for their group home operation is different than meaning we are powerless to enforce other laws against them if they are violating laws. So let us know.”
He went on to tell residents if they are being subjected to nuisance conditions created by a group home affecting their property value, they have the right to sue the owner of that property.
“Through a coordinated approach—not to address the fact that people are living in group homes, which is something that we need to be very careful about—but to address the secondary effects, the illegal other things that are going on, we may be able to at least put a dent in some of the most egregious things that are occurring,” Munoz said. “And as the city manager suggested, perhaps through a coordinated effort, starting as early as tonight, we can start down that path.”