The Sun-Sentinel has reported about ongoing monitoring by City of Delray Beach officials and others as to what we have been calling the “Costa Mesa” situation about in California. In short, Costa Mesa passed a law providing a separation distance between recovery residences, which same spatial requirement is not imposed upon homes of minorities or other distinguishable populations.
Back in December 2014, Addiction Professional Magazine Editor Gary Enos reported on how National Affiliation of Recovery Residences (NARR) President David Sheridan’s Sober Living Network is involved in one of two lawsuits filed in 2014 against the city of Costa Mesa shortly after its adoption of an ordinance regulating the bed capacity and location of sober homes in the city. Local recovery community leaders and members of the City Council clearly have diametrically opposite views of the motivation behind the new law and the effects it would have.
Sheridan, a leading board member with the Sober Living Network, says city leaders deliberately flouted fair housing law and chose from the start to take their chances in court, even though recovery residence leaders had briefed city officials back in 2013 on the Fair Housing Act and other applicable protections for sober home operators.
“Most of this is driven by neighborhood animus,” says Sheridan, adding that some residents believe that the neighboring community of Newport Beach’s longstanding legal battle over sober homes has diverted many would-be operators to Costa Mesa instead.
Jim Righeimer, who was Costa Mesa’s mayor when the ordinance was debated and now serves as mayor pro tem, says the city “simply is trying to assert some logical control over an overconcentration of unregulated homes. Some city blocks now have as many as four or five of the homes,” he says, and “many of the residences are significantly overcrowded.” A centerpiece of the law is its creation of a 650-foot buffer between homes in the city’s “R-1” residential zones.
“We just can’t have this concentration,” says Righeimer. “The neighborhoods change dramatically.”
With the most recent article in the Sun-Sentinel about Costa Mesa, I can’t help but have “fun” and, to make a point, have once again changed the context of an article to underscore and emphasize how absolutely absurd the American public has become in their reaction to things having nothing to do with people in recovery themselves but yet would be considered repulsive and objectionable if addressing any other minority group:
Officials from cities across Palm Beach County are looking to the West Coast for one more possible answer in regulating “negro homes.”
Negro homes, also known as black houses, are meant to help people who are black integrate into society by providing them a place to live among peers who also are white.
Regulating the facilities has been a challenge in South Florida and beyond, because of federal laws that protect blacks from discrimination.
But negro-home restrictions enacted by the city of Costa Mesa, Calif., have withstood legal challenges, with court rulings finding the city’s laws instead are not discriminatory to people who are black. The legal battle is ongoing for Costa Mesa, however, because lawsuits against the city are being appealed.
If the Costa Mesa rules are ultimately determined constitutional, it likely will help Delray Beach in creating its own law. It would reflect how the city is protecting those who are black, not targeting them or singling them out.
“I am seeing news articles rippling through the press,” referring to the Costa Mesa ordinances. “Everyone is watching this case. All local governments are carefully watching as are the black community.”
Delray isn’t the only city keeping tabs on how the California federal court rules on the ordinances. Palm Beach County League of Cities Executive Director Richard Radcliffe said the league’s negro home task force is following it as well.
The league represents interests of 38 municipalities in Palm Beach County and he said it has been advocating for negro-home legislation for years.
“We want to see where that goes,” he said of Costa Mesa’s litigation.
Costa Mesa, a primarily suburban city of about 110,000, southeast of Los Angeles, has passed two ordinances aimed at protecting neighborhoods by requiring a certain amount of space between single-family homes and negro homes.
The intent of the rule is to preserve the character of residential neighborhoods by not clustering black homes in an overpopulated area.
Costa Mesa was sued in twice in federal court, alleging the negro law the city passed discriminated against blacks.
The rule, passed in 2014, requires a 650-foot separation between negro homes. A judge sided with the city, but now the ordinance is being challenged in federal appellate court. The court also issued an injunction, which forbids the city from enforcing its law until a final ruling is made.
The city, more recently, passed a second ordinance with the distance requirements in multi-family districts, which hasn’t been challenged.
“We have had success,” said Costa Mesa spokesman Tony Dodero of the negro home ordinances. “We looked at cities that didn’t have success and we saw what the courts were quick to throw out. We want to do what is best for our residents.”
Jeffrey Lynne, an attorney in Delray who has represented negro home operators, said the court will pay attention to the law’s intent and Delray’s history in addressing the topic.
Lynne said Delray has a history of trying to address negro homes and said the courts will look at the city’s previous attempts to regulate them. Most recently, city commissioners denied a zoning request that would allow a black home to operate.
“Unless you can demonstrate your law is intended to benefit the protected class, the court is going to shut you down,” he said.
Florida isn’t waiting until the Costa Mesa lawsuits are settled to take action. The state currently has a bill working its way through the capital.
“In the meantime, we have negro home legislation in Tallahassee right now,” Radcliffe said. “We are working every angle we can.”
That is always a fun exercise!
Now, back to seriousness, and Costa Mesa.
The LA Times is attributing a new, 2-year, 45% increase in homelessness in Costa Mesa, in part, to the recovery community.
It its article “45% rise in Costa Mesa’s homeless population, survey finds” the LA Times cited to city officials, homeless advocates and Vanguard sociology professor Ed
Clarke as giving various reasons and different explanations for the increase.
Rick Francis, an assistant city chief executive, said Costa Mesa City Hall believes that dropouts from sober-living facilities and the effects of Proposition 47, a measure passed by California voters in 2014 to reduce some crimes from felonies to misdemeanors, have contributed to the uptick.
Costa Mesa is a regional hub of the sober-living and rehabilitation industry, home to more than one-fourth of all state-licensed facilities in Orange County and to at least 100 more homes where residents live in drug- and alcohol-free settings.
Francis said city officials have seen operators drop off failing clients in local parks.
“They’re not always going back to wherever they came from,” he said. “We know that’s happening.”
“When we ask people where they’re coming from, they say they were in rehab.”
Officials also are seeing a demographic shift in Costa Mesa’s homeless population: younger people, addicted to drugs and more aggressive, Francis said.
If, perhaps, all of the money spent on litigation (running in the millions of dollars, including what Newport Beach spent) was spent instead on funding an appropriate, impartial, non-partisan, third-party studies to determine whether the concentration of recovery residences is beneficial to people in recovery in their therapeutic outcomes, then we could fairly discuss such regulation. The requirement that a municipality waive their zoning rules to allow unrelated people in recovery to cohabitate only applies when it is therapeutically necessary or financially required in order for such persons to enjoy safe and secure housing outside of the triggers of their addiction disability.
If it can be demonstrated that concentration or saturation of such housing opportunities either does not help or maybe even hinders such recovery, then the cities may start to explore adopting spacing requirements.
In the meantime, there is no dispute that sober home operators, when left to their own devices, have no problem creating de-facto recovery residence “ghettos” which certainly do not meet the scientifically-stated need for such homes to be in safe, middle-class neighborhoods.
The problem is that we can’t even get there to even begin such a discussion, because the NIMBYs (Not In My Back Yard), the CAVEmen (Citizens Against Virtually Everything), and the plain hate mongerers (the TRUMPeteers) find it much easier to discriminate by manipulating local elected officials to use the power of government rather than find solutions.
Much like the “Wall Street” bailout of 2008, NIMBYs enjoy using your tax dollars to hide behind the great curtain at city hall to do their insidious bidding. Though they will defend to the bitter end their First Amendment right to keep cheesy lawn snipe signs which mock recovery residences in their front lawns 24/7.
Notwithstanding, the fact remains that Delray Beach as well as Costa Mesa are combatting what they believe to be a real threat to their respective city’s ability to prevent homelessness caused by people removed from a recovery residence for relapsing. Outside of exceptional efforts such as Jim Hartman’s “Hartman House” and its “Situation Room,” the reality of homelessness and the potential continued victimization of those evicted remains a real concern that all taxpayers should not have to bear the cost of.
Whether “real” or only “perceived,” we are better served as a community and a nation when we engage in diplomatic solutions and educational efforts to eliminate misinformation, speculation, conjecture, fear and stigma. Otherwise, our Constitution demands that we protect the people from any unfair, arbitrary an unfounded heavy handed use of the law.