Jul 30, 2014
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Sober Living Ordinance Gets Planning Commission Approval

An ordinance that met resistance at the Venice Neighborhood Council last month gets an OK from the city's Planning Commission. It goes to City Council's planning and land use management committee.

Sober Living Ordinance Gets Planning Commission Approval

An ordinance that would change regulations to sober living homes in single-family neighborhoods was approved 4-1 by the Los Angeles Planning Commission on Thursday afternoon after drawing dozens of comments from the public.

The lopsided vote was enough to move the ordinance to the City Council's planning and land use management committee. However, because it did not capture five commission votes, it will require a two-thirds favorable vote if and when it comes before the full City Council.

In January, the Venice Neighborhood Council declined to sign on to a letter of support from the Westside Regional Alliance of Councils (WRAC) on the issue, after the . The letter encouraged City Council to approve the ordinance. It also called for prohibiting sober living facilities within 1,000 feet of sensitive uses, including parks and houses of worship.

The ordinance that passed the Planning Commission appears to be more limited.

The proposed ordinance to sober living facilities would redefine "boarding house," as well as prohibit sober living facilities in residential neighborhoods. Currently, these group homes receive  permits by the state. The city has no regulations in place for facillities with six or fewer persons.

Staff members of the Planning Commission said the proposed ordinance had been carefully drafted to withstand court challenges. One strategy was to regulate the use of the property but not those who use it. The city does not have the authority to discriminate among users but it has legal authority to determine how property may be used, the staff said.

As a result, it can make rules regarding all boardinghouses, but it cannot approve group homes for those with physical disabilities while denying other homes for recovering addicts.

Assistant City Attorney Asha Greenberg said the ordinance "does not present any enforcement issues for us."

Jerry Lubin, former Los Angeles mental health commissioner, told the planning commission it was "premature" to adopt the ordinance because of recent changes being made by other regulatory agencies. He warned that the new rules may discriminate against those who suffer from mental illness.

Others warned that the new city rules may have unintended consequences.

Representatives of various neighborhood groups, on the other hand, endorsed the ordinance as something long overdue.  "We support the basic principles," said Rebecca Lobl, president of the L.A. Coalition to Preserve Neighborhood Standards, a group of 23 neighborhood councils. "We are confident that sober-living units are not being singled out."

Even some operators of group homes spoke in favor of the changes. "Our network of homes are going to be able to comply with the new revised ordinance," said David Sheridan, a member of the board of the Santa Monica-based Sober Living Network. However, he raised some concerns that others may find loopholes in the new guidelines.

Consideration of the proposed ordinance, which has been revised several times over the last couple of years, drew so many defenders and opponents that each was asked to keep to one minute during Wednesday's public comment period.

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