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Sober home operator changes course, settles suit against Calif. city

May 12, 2016
by Gary A. Enos, Editor
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A major operator of recovery homes in a California city that has fiercely sought to restrict the location of such residences has agreed to end its legal dispute with the city, and will gradually close all of its home sites there. The new president of Solid Landings Behavioral Health indicates that the decision is more about a shift in his organization's model for establishing program sites than it is about the principles of fair housing law.

Solid Landings already has closed some homes in Costa Mesa and has relocated residents to sites in other communities; it has pledged to be completely out of Costa Mesa within the next three years. The city's ordinance that creates distance and special permit requirements for sober homes has been tied up in separate legal actions filed by Solid Landings and recovery support organization Yellowstone Recovery in 2014. Solid Landings has now agreed to drop its lawsuit, although the suit filed by Yellowstone (a legal action also supported by the Sober Living Network in the state) remains.

Gerik Degner, president of Solid Landings, says the organization's decision stems from a desire to focus more on a centralized model in which larger campus-like sites will be developed to house multiple levels of treatment and, presumably, sober living (which is not treatment) as well.

“We don't want to be real estate operators,” Degner says. “We want to go more to 60-to-200 bed type facilities.”

He adds, “I don't feel our organization has abandoned course. What we've done is try to bring the narrative to the forefront, to discuss this more.

“We understand where the city is coming from,” Degner says. “There are bad actors out there.”

City claiming accomplishment

While Solid Landings believes it will be establishing a service model that will work better for its customers and for communities as well, leaders in Costa Mesa are expressing confidence that the negotiated settlement with Solid Landings could result in other sober home operators leaving the city as well.

Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer has said that Costa Mesa is home to around 200 recovery residences, although others have placed the number much lower. (As is the case in many communities across the country, it is difficult to pinpoint the number of sober homes because fair housing law generally blocks regulation of the homes.) Righeimer has been quoted as calling the end of one of the two lawsuits against the city “a landmark, watershed moment.”

Costa Mesa's ordinance, which supporters saw as an attempt to assert some logical control over the proliferation of sober homes in the city, requires a 650-foot buffer between homes in the city's R-1 residential zones.

Dave Sheridan, executive director of the Sober Living Network, says Solid Landings' decision “doesn't affect our lawsuit.” He adds, “As far as we know, dropping their lawsuits against the city was part of other reorganization plans.”

The topic of sober homes is receiving a significant airing at the state level as well, as California legislators are presently considering a bill that would seek to protect consumers by allowing for a certification process for sober homes. The Sober Living Network and the California Consortium of Addiction Programs and Professionals are expected to be involved in the certification process if the legislation is adopted.

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