Legislative Action to Regain Local Control over Sober Living Facilities

The 27June 2017 City Council meeting has a consent item concerning Laguna Beach’s signing-on as a member of  the Western States Sober Living Homes Reform Coalition (WSSLHR) spearheaded by the Association of California Cities – Orange County (ACC-OC).  The Coalition supports federal and state legislation that seek to close loopholes in the FHA and ADA that have prevented localities from enforcing zoning and business-oversight laws in the case of Sober Living Facilities.  LagunaBeachCHAT supports the City joining the Coalition.  We have reproduced the majority of the invitation letter sent by the ACC-OC to the City Council, laying out their membership invitation and legislative ideas.

ACC-OC & Efforts

The ACC-OC is a non-profit organization that represents the interests of the 34 Orange County cities and the County of Orange. ACC-OC serves as a resource for elected officials and municipalities, focusing on three key initiatives: education that empowers, policy that is collaborative, and advocacy that is service-oriented. We bring together our city members, the business community, non-profits, special districts, and higher education to find fair solutions to challenges that affect our cities, like those related to sober living homes.

ACC-OC has been at the forefront of sober living home reform, working with local leaders, and state and federal legislators to sponsor bills, support reform measures, facilitate educational meetings and host televised town halls. We have a three-pronged approach to working with our communities on sober living home reform:

  • We support federal action: H.R. 472 sponsored by Rep. Darrell Issa is a critical bill that would close loopholes that protect bad-acting sober living homes. If passed, the bill would amend the federal Fair Housing Act, empower cities to enforce current zoning laws, and limit the distance of facilities in their communities. The ACC-OC strongly supports this legislation and is working to build support across the state and beyond. ..
  • We are leading state action: ACC-OC has sponsored past statewide legislation and is currently working on Assembly Bill 572. There are just 16 state employees that enforce sober living facility registration for the entire state of California. All of whom are located in one region of the state. AB 572 would allow cities to fund an enforcement employee, locally, in partnership with the state and the County of Orange, to more quickly address noncompliant sober living facility complaints and misconduct…
  • We are informing the public: ACC-OC has hosted public town halls, media efforts and other public education initiatives that are important to ensuring that the public is aware of their rights, how to effect change and who to call with concerns. Communicating what cities can and cannot do regarding the actions taken against sober living residences is imperative for city residents to understand.

There is no denying the necessity of providing treatment options for those in our community struggling with drug and alcohol abuse. In 2016, fatal drug overdoses hit a 10-year high in Orange County, and the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has called the national spike in drug abuse and overdose deaths a national epidemic. The issue of sober living home reform lies instead with those seizing on the lack of oversight to open sub-standard facilities, and the inability of cities to ensure that the facilities within their jurisdictions are functioning properly. SLHs have not only negatively affected cities and the composition of neighborhoods, but has also diminished the quality of living for those patients seeking treatment in residential settings.


In California, there are two types of sober living residences, licensed facilities and unlicensed homes. Sober living facilities (SLF) must be licensed through California’s Department of Health Care Services (DHCS), when at least one of the following services is provided: detoxification, group sessions, individual sessions, educational sessions, or alcoholism or drug abuse recovery or treatment planning. The more difficult and unregulated residency type is referred to as a sober living home (SLH). SLHs are considered single family homes and are treated as such, as long as they maintain a group living situation of six people or under and do not offer any treatment to patients through any of the listed methodologies. No matter how closely that the SLH in question operates as a business or whether they are suspected to be providing what would be considered licensed treatments, if the SLH is a group of six people or fewer choosing to live among one another in a home, neither the state or a local government have the authority over how that home is regulated or operated (emphasis LBChat). Additionally, the only entity with the ability to enforce any licensing standards and respond to complaints related to licensed facilities lies completely with DHCS.

The laws at the federal level have further propelled the proliferation of SLHs because of the protections that were enacted by the federal Fair Housing Act (FHA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which have been interpreted to extend those protections to SLHs and SLFs. These laws have prohibited the discrimination against those recovering from Alcohol or Other Drug abuse by classifying these individuals as disabled. Fair housing law requires states and cities to make reasonable accommodations for the disabled by not limiting their ability to reside in a home or enact laws that would treat those recovering from substance abuse any differently than another residence based on the residents who live within a single home. These federal laws have unintentionally left cities and states with little to no recourse to address the bad actors in the industry.

City Challenges

In California there are nearly 2000 licensed facilities and countless unlicensed homes – an alarming 15% of which are located in the County of Orange. As an example, there were 83 licensed drug and alcohol treatment facilities and 95 unlicensed sober living homes within the city of Costa Mesa alone. The City contains a population of over 112,000 people, which is less then 3.5% of the total countywide population; this has led to an oversaturation of treatment facilities and homes that exceed a reasonable need for services within a single jurisdiction. The FHA and ADA laws didn’t account for the determination of what would be considered a reasonable number of service providers. This is needed to maintain a healthy balance of treatment accessibility, while still preserving a residential environment.

The challenges presented by oversaturation has also led to the need for distancing requirements. When a neighborhood becomes absorbed with SLHs and SLFs a residential community turns into an institutionalized one – the very atmosphere that a residential recovery option is meant to avoid. Often, SLHs and SLFs operators will open residences directly next door to one another or even take an entire neighborhood block. This allows operators the ability to provide multiple service units, or to create institutionalized sized kitchens or living spaces for those living in the adjacent primary residences. This practice occurs on the same or different parcels of land to maintain the classification of an SLH or to expand SLF services. Cities cannot bar sober living residences to expand in this way because that would be considered discriminatory activity under FHA and ADA protections. The cities that do try to implement citywide ordinances requiring distancing requirements between multiple SLHs or SLFs have all faced time consuming and costly litigation – even in the few instances that the courts have ruled in favor of the city. The cities who have been successful in this remedy still face regulatory uncertainty, and the potential to be taken back to court on a case by case basis.

Due to the composition of SLFs housing six different tenants in what is normally meant for a single-family unit there are many behavioral complaints reported by community residents. These issues include: excessive smoking, an overabundance of trash and litter, loud noise, and a concentration of six or more vehicles for one household – leading to parking congestion. A handful of cities have done their best to regulate SLHs by enforcing local “nuisance” ordinances related to these behaviors, but that does not get to the core of the issue. Nuisance ordinances don’t help in reducing a neighborhood’s sober living residence proliferation, which multiplies these harmful externalities.

SLH Residents

In addition to the fact that many cities are unable to regulate and enforce rules over sober living homes, the residents seeking treatment in SLFs and SLHs have little to no recourse related to the quality of their treatment of living situation. SLFs often have documented and licensed treatment plans that residents agree to participating in before residing in those facilities, but SLHs are not required to provide or offer any type of contract, report outcomes, and are not held to any accountability standards. In both cases, cities cannot field any complaints of misconduct or licensure incompliance because of federal and state laws, even if reported by a client or resident.

The main concern related to the bad actors in the SLH industry is that these homes run primarily for profit due to the lack of oversight. In many scenarios, unlicensed SLHs charge their tenants unregulated rent prices as high as $75,000 a month with the promise of providing a safe and sober living environment for clients to rehabilitate. Many facilities have been able to take advantage of insurance covered treatment costs that have been subsidized by government programs, without any type of eligibility thresholds to receive these dollars. Those recovering from addiction have been compelled to seek treatment in places like California or in western states at higher rates than other parts of the country because of the attractiveness of licing in a welcoming climate, and operators’ promises of ‘resort-style’ recovery. An overwhelmning number of residents who live in western state sober living homes come from across the country, basing their move on operator advertisements and the draw of leaving behind negative influences and lifestyles in preparation for their treatment.

Unfortunately, these seeking treatment are often in desperate need, including families trying to find a safe environment for their young adult or teenage children. In 2011, 20 – year old Brandon Jacques’ family paid a Prescott, Arizona facility $14,500 a month to provide a sober living environment for their son. After he experienced an alcohol related incident in the Prescott home he was urged to move to a more ‘effective’ home in Newport Beach, California, by the owner and operator of these SLHs. When Brandon got to the Newport Beach facility he was moved to yet another home, in exchange for different profits traded between SLH operators. Within two months, Brandon died in the sober living home because he still had access to alcohol and was still practicing abusive behaviors. The only entity in the state of California with the authority to investigate misconduct didn’t intervene or revoke associated licenses connected to the operators and owners until after Brandon’s death.

Sadly, Brandon’s case, is not the only incident of this kind. While those circumstances are egregious, many residents experience other negative fallouts including, continued substance use, poor living conditions, physical abuse, and the most frequent, the potential for homelessness. If a resident is unable to continue paying the high premium of rent, their insurance has run out, or their treatment is deemed to be over; SLH residents end up on the street and have become a part of the growing homeless population. California cities working with homeless individuals have reported that this has been the case. Especially affecting many out of state former SLH residents. These residents had no other place to go, and in many cases, went back to abusing alcohol or other drugs.


The previously described sober living home problems are not unique to Orange County cities or even the state of California, sober living home challenges transcend city, county and state lines. ACC-OC is working vigorously to find commonsense solutions to the currently broken system, but our voices would be much louder if they were heard together. We need our neighboring states and cities to join in our efforts to impact federal law. The sober living home laws passed at the state and local levels cannot truly have an impact until the risk of those laws being challenged or superseded at the national level have been diminished. The reforms introduced by H.R. 472 would be a welcome resource for cities across the country, and especially in our western region. We are inviting you to join the Western States Sober Living Homes Reform Coalition to help advocate for bills like H.R. 472 and other national regulatory and legislative efforts to reform sober living homes.

Please join our coalition by signing on to the attached document. This will allow us to include your city’s affiliation on Coalition approved joint letters, shared advocacy information, and general Coalition promotion and outreach. Should you have any questions about the Western States Sober Living Homes Reform Coalition or about ACC-OC, please contact Diana Coronado, ACC-OC’s Legislative Affairs Director, at (714) 953-1300 or at dcoronado@accoc.org. We hope to be a resouce to you, and we look forward to working with you and your City on this important mission!


Heather Stratman

Chief Executive Officer

Association of California Cities – Orange County

Public Pressure works! – BoS authorizes $5m in new housing for homeless people with serious mental illnesses

Building public pressure does work to influence our elected representatives, as seen in the BoS’ increased attention to issues of homelessness in the County. Most recently, they have voted to spend $5million in new monies targeted at services for mentally ill homeless. Most of the attention is directed at the “riverbed homeless” and those in North Orange County (as we have mentioned before). Its too bad that our City officials don’t seem to engage with the County on this issue, giving Laguna no seat at the table when public monies are directed towards this problem.

Read more at the Voice of OC:

Noting Public Pressure, OC Supervisors Approve Homeless Services and Housing

Update! Guest Article – Pitiful Settlement, By Michele Monda

Update on Airplane Noise Issue – February 2018

City Hall, specifically those who run the city and not City Council, are at it again. They have been deceptive about the wonderful “new” settlement to make it look like they got a win and make it seem like the tens of thousands of dollars that we just spent with our city attorney’s law firm, Rutan and Tucker, were well spent. What’s worse is that City Council did not know anything about the details of the settlement until it was presented to them for their signatures. All this was done behind closed doors. And what a pitiful settlement this is for Laguna residents.
What they got has already been in place since NextGen was implemented in March 2017.  Their “negotiated” flight path change to south of Laguna (or really to over my head IN South Laguna and north of Three Arch Bay) – they’ve been doing that for the past 3 years but it really intensified after March. That’s their NextGen Flight path. The fact that the overflights over much of Laguna have decreased 80 percent in the past year – well YES, because they are all now on the laser beam flight path right over my house as mandated by NextGen. The altitude at crossing land of 10,000 ft – that’s their normal flight trajectory after they hit the last way station in the ocean at 7,000 ft. on the NextGen flight path. They’ve already been doing that. City officials are excited that the FAA has agreed they will not take short cuts over Laguna (well, Laguna north of me in So. Lag). But there are so so many exceptions that the FAA put into the settlement that basically they can still take short cuts whenever they want.
So all that was accomplished with this settlement is that Laguna Beach has formalized and legitimized what the FAA wanted all along and has been doing since March 2017. They didn’t negotiate anything – they gave away any possibility of getting what all of us wanted – to have them fly the planes farther out in the ocean and cross land higher up like they used to before NextGen was developed. They got nothing that wasn’t already being done with NextGen.
So what’s the next step for those of us STILL under the flight path in Laguna? We will be redoubling our efforts legislatively, appealing to Laguna Niguel officials to join in the fight and take the issue directly to the airlines. The City of Laguna Beach is now officially out of their nightmare of having to look like their doing something for their residents. They can point to this worthless settlement and say “See, look what we did for you.”  Bah.
Michèle Monda

Update on Airplane Noise Issue

The regional Town Hall meeting held in Laguna Niguel in May 2017 on airplane noise did in fact create a whole lot of noise. We had OC Supervisors Bartlett and Spitzer attend as well as Congressman Rohrabacher and major representatives from every south county city and Citizens for No Plane Noise.

As a result of that meeting Congressman Rohrabacher wrote a letter to the FAA. He requested that the planes fly higher and fly farther out in the ocean before turning back to cross land. As predicted, the FAA sent him a boiler plate, pabulum, pat on the head letter saying that there is ongoing legal action and they can’t (read won’t) do anything about it. Plus, it’s just so complicated . . .

So after this fell on deaf ears at the FAA, Congressman Rohrabacher followed up with legislative action. He introduced two amendments to HR 2997, the 21st Century Aviation Innovation, Reform and Reauthorization Act. These amendments pertain to coastal overflight procedures and the concomitant inclusion of community concerns to flight path changes. And the best news is that it specifically calls out the California Metroplex and our concerns. The bill is currently in the House Rules Committee – stay tuned for progress.

Laguna Niguel passed a city resolution supporting the limitation of the negative impacts of air flights over Laguna Niguel on August 1, 2017. The mayor of San Juan Capistrano sent a complaint letter to the FAA Administrator in Washington requesting a review of the environmental impact now that NextGen has been implemented.

Currently, Newport Beach, Laguna Beach and the County of Orange are involved in a lawsuit against the FAA and it’s supposed environmental impact report (that was computer generated and not based on reality). They are currently in mediation behind closed doors about which no one seems to be able to get information. The FAA has requested a 45-day extension on the stay for mediation, which is set to expire on November 17, 2017. I sure would love to know what’s going on.

I’ve saved the best news for last. The city of Phoenix, Arizona sued the FAA AND WON!!! It took 2 years for the case to be heard (FAA is all about delay, delay, delay) and Citizens for No Plane Noise is currently digging into the case to see what we can use for our case. There are many similarities and points that we can use in our lawsuit, as their issue is identical to ours minus the ocean!

Yes, this is a slow process. But in the meantime we need residents affected by the noise to write letters and more letters. I personally am woken every morning at 7:02 when the planes start roaring over my once quiet house. In 2012 I NEVER had a plane. Now it’s constant. To learn how to write a complaint letter and to whom to write please go on our website NoPlaneNoise.us and look for the Laguna Beach tab.

Together we can make a lot of noise – we need to help our legislators help us!!

Michèle Monda
Citizens for No Plane Noise
Laguna Beach

* Editor’s Note: LagunaBeachCHAT welcomes guest articles on topics of general interest, from respected sources. If a guest article is accepted as relevant and topical, we commit to making no changes (other than spelling and small technical corrections) and will publish the article in its entirety.

To a packed house of over 500 residents on May 15 in Laguna Niguel Town Hall, Supervisors Bartlett and Spitzer and Congressman Rohrabacher presented the airplane noise situation. Since the FAA implemented the NextGen flight path realignment in April south county homes have been under attack day and night with noise. Elected officials from Laguna Beach, Laguna Niguel, Dana Point, San Juan Capistrano and Mission Viejo attested to the noise increase and the number of residents complaining.

As a result of the noise, a grass roots organization called Citizens for No Plane Noise was formed. They helped organize this meeting to educate the public and let them know how to complain to the FAA to stop the low flying planes.

Supervisor Lisa Bartlett said the solution is easy – fly the planes farther out in the ocean so they gain higher altitude before they turn back over land. 20,000 feet would mean very little noise. Citizens for No Plane Noise has documented planes as low as 8,000 ft. crossing over. The FAA has slowly implemented this change of flight path and lower altitudes since the fall of 2015. When you complain they tell you nothing has changed. BUT IT HAS. Where before planes would fly out to Catalina before turning, they are now turning right after take off from John Wayne and following a very precise flight path thanks to satellite based navigation versus ground based navigation. They are now on a super highway in the sky and if you live under it you are besieged.

Additionally, with the realignment of the airspace, when John Wayne shuts down at 10 pm for their curfew, LAX takes over the airspace. Those are the planes that you now hear at 3 am. They are coming up from South America and Mexico and instead of flying over the ocean as they used to they are now flying over the coastal land area.

Why is this happening??? To save fuel and time in the air. This is the goal of the airlines and since they were instrumental in the design of NextGen these new flight paths serve their interests without taking into account the people under the flight path. Newport Beach, Laguna Beach and the County of Orange have lawsuits against the FAA saying that they did not do a proper environmental assessment of their new flight paths. Imagine the increase in pollutants from the jet fuel – and you are now breathing it.

What can you do about this? Write letters complaining of the noise and pollution!! Go on Citizens for No Plane Noise’ Website and write as many letters as you can to the FAA, city officials, and Congressman. Sample letters and the addresses are available. The more letters they receive, the more they will take notice. The website is www.NoPlaneNoise.us.

If you are bothered by the airplane noise, please write, write, write! Only in numbers will they listen and change their flight path – fly farther out in the ocean and cross land higher up!!!

Michele Monda
South Laguna

* Editor’s Note: LagunaBeachCHAT welcomes guest articles on topics of general interest, from respected sources. If a guest article is accepted as relevant and topical, we commit to making no changes (other than spelling and small technical corrections) and will publish the article in its entirety.