Sober Living Home Approach
JAMEY FEDERICO, 3rd District Dana Point City Councilmember

During the 2018 campaign, many residents expressed frustration to me about sober living homes.  The Affordable Care Act dramatically expanded the number of applicants who qualify for insurance coverage for addiction treatment. Coupled with the national opioid crisis, sober living homes popped up in many neighborhoods in Southern California. State and federal law regulate and protect sober living homes.  Patients are constitutionally protected against discrimination, and the State of California controls the licensing process.

When run correctly, advocates would say that sober living homes are an important part of recovery for people with addiction. When run poorly, they create dangerous conditions for the residents and neighbors.

Over the last few years, some nearby cities ran into legal troubles because they enacted far-reaching regulations. The City of Newport Beach paid almost $10 million to settle with the group-home operators that sued them when the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals found that Newport Beach’s ordinance was discriminatory. More recently, the City of Costa Mesa’s ordinance was upheld by the trial court, but not before Costa Mesa spent over $4 million in legal fees to defend it. Costa Mesa is not done spending yet, because the operators asked for a new trial and still have a right to appeal.

Dana Point’s approach is to force unlicensed operators to obtain state licenses when required. In the process, 17 sober living homes closed in Dana Point rather than comply with State licensing requirements. Last week, the California Court of Appeals found our approach to be lawful.

Nonetheless, there are groups in town who criticize the City for not doing enough, using Costa Mesa’s presumed legal victory as justification that we should have an ordinance. The reality is that Dana Point cannot afford a $4 million gamble. Costa Mesa’s annual budget is more than four times the size of ours.  $4 million represents 10 % of our annual budget. I believe it would be irresponsible for our City to make policy decisions that could put our financial stability at risk, especially considering the view expressed by the 9th Circuit in Newport Beach’s case.

The City of Dana Point will continue to monitor Costa Mesa’s case closely, and I will be the first one to advocate for a regulatory ordinance if and when the Court indicates it to be legal.  In the meantime, with this and other complex matters, we must continue to take the responsible approach.

The above opinions are mine and may not reflect official City policy positions. Please let me know your thoughts at jfederico@danapoint.org.

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