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Rehab centers irk homeowners

Clustering of substance abuse facilities in residential areas has neighbors crying foul.

October 01, 2006|Dinah Eng | Special to The Times

When residents of Monte Nido heard that the founder of a well-known substance abuse treatment center had bought a house in their neighborhood, they became concerned that he might be planning to run such a residential facility in their midst.

Homeowners held meetings, sent a letter to the buyer begging him not to put a facility there and angrily lambasted the real estate agents involved in the transaction.

"The concern is that having such a facility here would affect the traffic and evacuation routes during wildfires," said Joan Slimocosky, president of the Monte Nido Valley Community Assn., who added that the group took no official action. "We advertise ourselves as a dark-skies community. There are no sidewalks, no street lights. It's equestrian, and very rural."

The house sits on the only artery into the Camp Crater area of Monte Nido in Calabasas, and no one has moved in since its sale in June. The buyer did not respond to requests for an interview, and it is still unclear how the house will be used.

The isolated nature of communities such as this has become a drawing card for many small, exclusive residential rehabilitation facilities, which advertise quiet surroundings for recovery to their well-heeled clients. But homeowners in those quiet surroundings have become increasingly angry at what they see as commercial ventures taking advantage of fair housing laws and purchasing several properties in a neighborhood to run small facilities with shared services to cut down on overhead costs.

Two recent state Assembly measures that would have allowed local governments to request denial of state licenses to rehab facilities based on over-concentration in an area and would have amended the definition of such facilities to bring more of them under regulation, failed to make it out of the Appropriations Committee.

"The proposals were defeated because right now, these places are not monitored, and the state said it would cost too much money to do so," said Malibu Mayor Ken Kearsley, who supported the proposed bills.

"I'm not against treatment centers, and we don't have any problem with the people being treated. It's the overburdening of a neighborhood with everything that comes with these facilities."

Traffic and parking are major problems, he said, as one treatment center may add up to 30 cars a day to narrow streets not designed to accommodate the parking for staff, delivery services and visitors. Noise complaints and fears of overloading septic systems are also concerns.

"There are three in my neighborhood," said Kearsley, who lives in Sycamore Park. "These places charge $30,000 a person per month, and upward, for treatment and tend to congregate in neighborhoods because they can then share cooks, massage therapists, maintenance people and the like. We want to restrict it to one treatment facility for each neighborhood."

No limits on numbers

Kearsley said the facilities pay property taxes, of which Malibu gets a portion, but the amounts do not cover the services provided by the city.

"If they were taxed as a commercial operation, we'd get a bed tax of 10%, like a hotel pays, but we get nothing for the city services we have to provide," he said.

Malibu, he noted, has a population of 13,000, with small pockets of neighborhoods that may have as few as 10 to 20 houses. The majority of the residential treatment facilities, he said, are concentrated in Big Rock, Sycamore Park and Trancas Canyon.

In Trancas Highlands, the mayor said that there are 28 private homes and that seven of them house rehab facilities.

"The state law prohibits over-concentration of community-care facilities, but this does not apply to drug and alcohol treatment facilities," said Alan Bell, an associate planner in the Los Angeles Department of City Planning.

"The rationale is to prevent communities from banning these types of facilities because it's thought that community-based care is a needed treatment option."

If a property becomes a nuisance -- generating calls by neighbors to police for noise complaints or the suspicion of illegal activities occurring on the premises -- there are "zoning controls that can be enforced," Bell said. "But we focus on nuisance abatement, and not the individuals living in a home."

Neighbors, however, say noise and the potential for criminal activity are not the only nuisance factors that concern them.

"There have been several occasions where a truck servicing one of those places broke down, and people waited for several hours at a time to get home because there's only one street going into the neighborhood," said Trancas Highlands resident Scott Tallal, a market researcher. "There are four to five adjacent homes near us with professional staffs ... so it really destroys the residential character of the neighborhood."

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