After a barrage of complaints from Buena Park residents, the city council decided to limit sober living homes and other transitional homes in the city.
These residences are referred to as “group homes” — any house with six or more unrelated people with disabilities or people recovering from an alcohol or drug addiction.
Such facilities typically serve as a form of transitional housing in single or multi-family neighborhoods for these people with unique needs.
The Buena Park City Council voted 4-0 at its May 9 meeting to impose stricter regulations on group homes.
This proposal came after resident complaints of construction during early-morning and late-evening hours, secondhand smoke, noise, loitering, trash, traffic and other aspects of the homes that residents say are not compatible with single-family neighborhoods.
Councilmember Susan Sonne first brought the item forward at the council’s March 14 meeting after discussing the issue with residents from Blue Bell Drive — a street that includes a group home with over a dozen residents.
“I actually went out and met with a large group of the neighbors in that area and heard their concerns and heard about someone finding someone in their front yard who had a needle in their arm taking drugs and people who have been accosted getting out of their cars going into their homes,” Sonne said at the council’s March 14 meeting.
“I’ve heard some of the comments from residents inside that there are 13 or more residents inside with one working bathroom, very close quarters. I have concerns both for the safety and fear of the homes around this residence – as well as the quality of life and protection of the resident inside this facility.”
At that March meeting, city officials said there have been 20 calls to the police department for the Blue Bell address since November 2022, with most of the calls including fire or paramedic response.
Moving forward, group home building managers would be required to apply for a permit to operate.
Current sober living homes and homes for disabled people have six months to apply for a permit and one year to comply with other regulations.
The permitting process would require the building manager’s contact information and identification so the city can have direct access to the building’s operator if future issues arise.
Cardinale said that staff has had a hard time contacting the manager of the home on Blue Bell Drive, so this change would make it easier to hash out any issues with the facilities in the future.
The owners would also need to provide a list of house rules and regulations to the city, written intake procedures and any relapse policies.
The building manager would also need to confirm all other residents living in the home are disabled, which includes recovering addicts. The permit process would also come with a fee that has not been set yet.
There would also need to be a house manager present in the home at all times.
“This ordinance I believe is necessary,” Councilmember Connor Traut said at the council’s May 9 meeting. “It protects the disabled residents who reside in these group homes, and it also protects the surrounding community by making sure we have the proper and necessary oversight.”
Transitional housing and sober living homes are protected by federal and state laws, and cities have a narrow ability to impose restrictions or regulations on these residences.
These regulated homes would not include state-licensed drug rehab facilities, which already require a different type of operating permit.
Joe Hammer is a Buena Park resident who lives near the group home that was discussed during the meeting. He wrote a letter to the council that said this change will help the ongoing problem in his neighborhood.
“I want to thank the city for adding [this chapter] to the current ordinance which myself and my neighbors are in favor of,” Hammer wrote in an email to the council. “I do believe this will hold the owner and operator and house manager of this home accountable and limit the amount of people in recovery living next door to my home.”
The new regulations would not limit how many people can reside inside a group home, although Sonne said she is still concerned about the number of people living inside these buildings because it could create a fire hazard.
“The people that live in these neighborhoods deserve to have a peaceful life without fear and everyone acting as good neighbors,” Sonne said at the May 9 meeting.
Angelina Hicks is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact her at email@example.com or on Twitter @angelinahicks13.
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