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Media Articles - 2000s

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20 June 2004
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Residents contend drug, alcohol treatment center not a good neighbor

Orange County Register (California)
May 28, 2004

Several homeowners on the Balboa Peninsula are frustrated with the frequent food and package deliveries, extra trash pick-ups, heavy foot traffic, high tenant turnover, and noise at a 27-bed drug and alcohol addiction recovery center in their beachfront neighborhood.

So they are rallying against proposed changes to the city code they believe will result in even more nuisances.

Resident Linda Orozco gave the city a home video she created documenting the Narconon Southern California operation at 1810 West Ocean Front.

"It has completely changed the residential nature and feeling of the neighborhood," she said. The city zoning map allows only single-family homes and duplexes in most of the area, but permits multiple-family complexes on specific block.

The video portrays many of the activities neighbors have complained about, including additional clients being bussed in from a Costa Mesa home, a food delivery truck blocking a narrow street for 40 minutes. Residents are also upset that more clients live across the alley.

"No one deserves to have a business put next door to them without having a public hearing," Orozco said. "We continue to be amazed that our complaints about this facility have been ignored. We're not asking for anything special, we just want to the current ordinances enforced."

Narconon officials said they have responded to all legitimate complaints. A loud commercial dryer was removed, trash pick-up is down to minimum, trucks no longer park in the alley, and program graduates who rent apartments across the alley will cease to do so at the end of this month, Narconon International President Clark Carr said.

Newport Beach Code Enforcement Manager Jim Sinasek said Narconon quickly fixed all or most of the problems, like cigarette butts on the ground, that 12 residents began complaining about in January. The department does not have any requests for enforcement, he said.

The home had 12 calls for service from the Newport Beach Fire Department in 2003. That amount is high for a single family residence, but not for an apartment complex or care facility, said Jennifer Schulz, the department's public information officer.

City Attorney Bob Burnham has been working since February to get the municipality in a position to regulate group homes and protect the residential feel of neighborhoods, while obeying state and federal anti-discrimination laws.

 A sea of legislation and court decisions indicate that abstinent, recovering drug and alcohol addicts are considered "handicapped" and included under fair housing laws. As such, addiction recovery facilities must be treated equally by the city to fraternities, boarding homes, and apartments, according to state law.

"Neighbors don't have a problem with the fact that this is a drug and alcohol recovery facility," said Catherine Wolcott, an attorney representing neighbors Bill and Carol Martin. "Their problem is that the facilities are overused, have too many people, and are located where buildings are six feet from each other."

There are about 19 sober living homes in West Newport with six or fewer residents. The city has little jurisdiction over them because they are licensed by the state. Sober Living by the Sea, a collection of smaller group homes, supports the City Attorney's proposed changes.

Residents said they are more worried about the larger outfits, such as Narconon, and any future ventures that realize the drawing power of a beachfront facility.

The Planning Commission will review the City Attorney's recommendations June 17 and forward the item to the City Council for consideration.

But residents are opposed to the City Attorney's proposals, fearing the recommendations will weaken their protection against group homes by allowing city staff to approve the organizations without review by the Planning Commission. The planning director's decision would have to be appealed by residents to the panel.

Wolcott warned Balboa Peninsula residents to exercise restraint in their public communication because anything they say can be used by Narconon in the future to prove in court that neighbors are prejudiced against recovering addicts. That would hinder any city actions taken against the group, she said.

The neighbors did not have a problem with the Narconon home, which opened eight years ago, until the director heavily increased enrollment about two years ago, Wolcott said.

Narconon officials responded that demand increased dramatically, and they had to put them somewhere. Since that time, the group has opened two new facilities outside of Newport Beach to cope with the influx of clients.