This could be a pivotal case that will allow for municipalities to regulate the size and scope of “sober living homes”. Neither side (up until possibly now) has been willing to compromise. This case certainly will be appealed to a Federal appeals court & possibly beyond!
Costa Mesa can continue to enforce its regulations for sober living homes after a decision found they are legal and don’t discriminate against people in recovery. The city was sued in 2014 by Yellowstone Women’s First Step House and the Sober Living Network, a group that represents 11 operators of facilities for people recovering from alcohol and drug abuse, over rules that govern where and how the homes can operate.
Recovering addicts are protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the U.S. Supreme Court has held that cities can’t use zoning to exclude or discriminate against disabled groups. The plaintiffs suing Costa Mesa argued that city police, code enforcement and other officials had targeted their facilities for harassment to drive them from residential neighborhoods, and that the city’s rules placed unfair restrictions on sober living homes.
A federal jury decided in Costa Mesa’s favor, which means “This ordinance is absolutely fine,” said Jennifer Keller, an attorney who represented the city. “The city can go ahead & enforce this or a similar ordinance,” she said. “The jurors did not buy that this was a violation of anybody’s civil rights, & that it was a violation of fair housing or it was discriminatory in any way.” Officials for Sober Living Network couldn’t be reached for comment.
Attorney Isaac Zfaty, who represented Yellowstone, said he’s disappointed but not surprised by the ruling and plans to appeal it. “Costa Mesa didn’t show evidence connecting sober living homes to increased crime or other social ills that the city said necessitated its rules”, Zfaty said, and the rules were specifically directed at people in recovery. “Our view, this is a civil rights fight like any other,” he said. Obviously we will continue to seek justice for our clients.”
The rules challenged by the lawsuit included a 650-foot buffer between sober living homes, a special permit requirement and background checks for house managers at sober homes. The city has fielded numerous complaints from city residents, that some sober homes created noise,trash & sent secondhand smoke into the neighborhood.
Because of the ruling, Yellowstone will have to reduce its occupancy from 15 people to six people, Keller said. Officials in other OC cities struggling to regulate drug and alcohol recovery homes may eye the Costa Mesa decision with interest. Among them is Dana Point Councilwoman Debra Lewis, who said her city have shied away from passing regulations for fear the city would be sued. “I’ve always thought Costa Mesa’s ordinance strikes that right balance” between protecting people who live in recovery homes and others in the neighborhood. Lewis said
Costa Mesa Mayor Katrina Foley said the verdict is a victory for the city after it stood up to legal threats from the sober living industry. The case cost the city about $2 million.
Federal Jury Sides with City in “Sober Living” Case (OC Register -By Alicia Robinson)