Cities throughout Orange County continue wrestling over how to roll out drug treatment centers as many residents raise community safety concerns when the idea of a rehab is proposed.

It comes as the national opioid crisis worsens, including increasing opioid deaths here in OC, according to the county Health Care Agency. 

The crisis and wariness of rehab clinics also raises the question: Where should rehab centers go? 

Editors’ Note: This dispatch is part of the Voice of OC Collegiate News Service, working with student journalists to cover public policy issues across Orange County. If you would like to submit your own student media project related to Orange County civics or if you have any response to this work, contact Collegiate News Service Editor Vik Jolly at

Tustin is the latest Orange County city to weigh resident concerns against efforts to open a drug treatment center.

In March, Tustin City Council members denied an appeal for a proposed opioid treatment center in town, raising the question of how to fit such a clinic within a community amid a national rise in opioid addictions and fatalities. 

Acadia Healthcare requested a conditional use permit from the city’s Planning Commission, which would have allowed the company to operate an out-patient treatment and counseling center with medication administered on-site. 

The commission denied the permit in early January and the proposed location’s property owner, Atomic Investments, appealed to the City Council, according to a city staff report

The City Council voted 3-0 to deny the appeal in March. Two council members were not present for the discussion or vote, with Councilwoman Rebecca Gomez absent and Mayor Austin Lumbard recusing himself on advice of legal counsel. 

After the March 7 public hearing, Councilman Ryan Gallagher moved a motion to deny the appeal on the grounds of Acadia filing an incomplete application. 

“The staff presentation laid out a number of items, such as incompatibility with adjacent residential and other sensitive uses in the operator’s past performance,” Gallagher stated. “I didn’t hear anything that refuted any of those items from the applicant, nor were they addressed in the materials that were provided.”

Drug Rehab Centers Face Community Concerns as Crisis Worsens

Some Tustin residents brought up concerns about the safety of the center if the clinic was approved, issues that were countered by representatives of Acadia and the property owner. The council members cited different reasons in their denial pertaining to the incompleteness of the permit application.

Opioid addiction has become a prevalent issue in the nation with the numbers increasing each year, according to the California Department of Health. There were over 71,000 opioid-related overdoses in the country in 2021, nearly 7,000 being in California.  

In Orange County, the numbers are also rising dramatically, according to data from the Orange County Health Agency. The rate of opioid-related deaths in the county increased from nearly eight deaths per 100,000 in 2017 to around 23 in 2021.

Tennessee-based Acadia owns over 245 behavioral health care establishments and treats approximately 70,000 patients daily across the country and in Puerto Rico as of June 2022, according to the company’s website. The organization operates a center in Santa Ana, which it was planning to close and replace with the proposed Tustin location a mile away.

Acadia sought out this spot so that its patients could easily relocate to the Tustin clinic, according to representatives at the meeting. The Tustin location is also bigger, they said, which would help them accommodate more patients. Acadia operates 14 centers in California with Santa Ana being the sole Orange County location, the staff report said. 

Addiction treatment centers and sober living homes have frequently been met with opposition from neighbors in other cities in the county and California, as well as other parts of the country, with opponents sometimes citing proximity to homes or a decline in community safety that they contend stem from such facilities. 

Costa Mesa has dealt with years of legal battles with sober-living homes – that offer drug and alcohol addiction treatment services – surrounding regulations enacted by the city. 

The opioid epidemic has posed a dangerous threat to residents and communities. Since 2013, legislators across the country have fought pharmaceutical companies in court to receive billions of dollars in financial compensation for their community’s losses. 

Some cities in Orange County have already taken steps to accept the settlement money, which could be used to fund rehabilitation resources and work toward opioid abatement. Tustin approved participation in the settlements in late 2021

Still, both legal and ethical debates have been stirred up by drug treatment clinics and sober-living homes. 

While people recognize that these facilities offer a way to combat the opioid epidemic, some residents across the country are still hesitant about integrating these centers into their communities. 

Most recently, controversy and protests erupted surrounding an Acadia clinic in Lynnwood, Washington, which opened in late January. The main concerns were in regards to the clinic’s placement, as the Lynnwood clinic is next to a Boys and Girls Club. 

Residents and nearby business owners expressed some similar hesitations at the March Tustin City Council meeting in opposing the proposed recovery center.

Among these concerns were the possibility of increased loitering and violence, as well as the location’s proximity to children and dialysis patients.

Difficulty in Placing the Rehab Centers

Professor Sean R. Hogan from California State University, Fullerton, who specializes in social welfare policy and reform for substance abusers, said drug rehab centers can be safely opened in communities as long as there’s enough support programs and safety protocols.

“There is a big difference between an addict who commits crimes and a criminal who uses drugs,” Hogan said in an interview.

“If you pair [opioid treatment] therapy with supportive programs and services, such as income maintenance, vocational training, and supportive housing benefits, addicts can live healthier and more productive lives,” he stated. 

“The treatment center would need to implement protocols to minimize patients loitering or congregating in communities that are sensitive to such optics,” Hogan continued. “The location of the treatment center would also need to be prudent. Lastly, a campaign to convince community members that having a treatment center is in their best interest could be effective. Healthy people equal healthy communities.” 

The proposed Tustin location is within 1,000 feet of a middle school and a park, as well as residential units, and within 500 feet of restaurants and retail, according to the city staff report. Residents also expressed concerns about the center sharing the building with a dialysis center and being across the street from a senior living home. 

Sharmain Bodimi, a resident and business owner, told the council members that the treatment center would negatively affect city commerce and the dialysis patients on the first floor of the building.

“Definitely the wrong location,” Bodimi contended. “It may be a financial burden, hardship with businesses … I would hate to think that we’re going to lose business from North Tustin.”

“You’ve got truly handicapped, fragile people down on the ground floor,” Bodimi said. “We’re better to stick with the people that we know than bringing in this unknown factor.”

While some residents agreed that drug addiction is a major issue that needs to be dealt with, they disagree with opening the centers near their own homes and businesses. 

“I don’t deny that there is a need and obligation to help those who desire to be treated for their addiction,” resident Tammie Bullard, who operates a small business within 400 yards of the proposed location, said at the meeting. 

“Small businesses haven’t bounced back [from the pandemic] as well as we had expected,” Bullard told the City Council. “Please don’t add to this by allowing the well-documented loitering, increased homelessness, and crime to be another reason for people not wanting to visit our businesses.” 

Philip Teyssier, president of Atomic Investments, is the property owner of the proposed location. He told the council that prejudice from residents and city staff, as well as a lack of responsiveness from the city, were factors in the project not moving forward.

“We have an opportunity to help people; we’re proud of being able to do that,” Teyssier said. 

Teyssier claimed that he and Acadia representatives have requested multiple meetings with city staff, and that they were either ignored or staff refused to meet with them. 

“[It’s] completely reprehensible on any kind of government agency, absolutely ridiculous,” he said. “The city has been prejudiced against this project from the beginning.”

Joy Bautista, office manager at the Acadia facility in Santa Ana, echoed Teyssier’s statements.

“The things that the folks here tonight are saying are riling up the crowd, and it’s working,” Bautista said.

Before voting, Mayor Pro Tem Letitia Clark explained her reasoning for denying Acadia’s appeal. She pointed out that many comments weren’t necessarily pertaining to the process of approving the permit, but were more centered around public opinions on this type of facility in general. 

“Respectfully, I do disagree that the majority of public comments that we heard today have much to do with what we’re considering,” she said. “What I heard, and why I’m going to vote in a certain way, is because I think this is about an incomplete application and staff not getting what they needed in terms of moving forward with this.”

“I want to make it clear that my vote is not for or against this type of facility, but it is more about what was included in the application,” Clark added.


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