Sacramento County to regulate halfway homes

Sacramento County supervisors approved a permitting process for halfway houses but expressed frustration that they could not enact stronger restrictions.

Residents of neighborhoods with sober-living homes in Carmichael and Fair Oaks have complained that the businesses are housing as many as 30 residents and have been inundated with traffic, loitering and other nuisances. Sober-living homes are not licensed by the state because they don’t provide treatment on site.

Supervisors approved a requirement Wednesday that owners of sober-living and other group homes in unincorporated parts of Sacramento County must obtain a $1,000 permit to operate. The permit requirement will give the county greater authority over parking and other operations. In some cases, the county may prevent expansion or opening of the sober-living homes, according to planning staff. The regulation was approved as part of an expansive update of the county’s zoning code.

Other communities have struggled with regulating sober-living homes. An appeals court struck down a Newport Beach ordinance, finding that the city’s restrictions were illegal because recovering addicts and alcoholics have legal protections because they are disabled.

Costa Mesa has approved an ordinance governing how close the homes can be to one another. But because of pending legal challenges against that law and because the city had to go to great lengths to document nuisances from the homes, Sacramento County Counsel John Whisenhunt advised supervisors to take a different approach.

“This is as far as we can go legally and still be on solid ground,” he said.

County officials say they have no idea how many sober-living facilities are in the area because the state does not regulate them. A handful are voluntarily registered with a trade organization.

In writing and in remarks to supervisors, residents have complained about sober-living houses in Carmichael and Fair Oaks.

Laura Fowler and her husband moved onto Shawnee Avenue in Fair Oaks with the intention of retiring there. “Now I’m scared to be there,” she told supervisors earlier this year. “I’m at a loss as to what to do.”

Fowler and other residents say the sober-living houses have far more residents than in a typical single-family home, resulting in an excess number of cars parking on the street by residents and people visiting them.

They also complain that some of the occupants smoke marijuana and use other drugs. One woman wrote the county to say she has found hypodermic needles on her lawn four times, and she included a picture of one.

Neighbors say the sober-living homes will reduce the value of their properties, in part because they would be legally obligated to disclose them to potential buyers.

Representatives of the sober-living home industry did not speak to supervisors Wednesday. A county staff report says the industry association California Consortium of Addiction Programs and Professions is willing to work with problem homes so they will become less of a nuisance.

A September report from the League of California Cities said successful sober-living homes have worked with neighbors to educate them and address any concerns.