A group of neighbors is banding together to fight against what they believe will become a sober living facility.
About 90 percent of those living on Pine and Oak avenues east of Interstate 5 have signed a petition urging the City Council to take action regarding sober living facilities.
David Fischbach owns the property at 1284 Pine Ave. and 1274 Pine Ave., just north of Holiday Park. He also owns the four apartment buildings on the 1200 block of Oak Avenue, which has been under fire from residents for years and houses Sober Living Today, LLC.
A letter to Mayor Matt Hall obtained by The Coast News asked to place the facility for discussion on the agenda, for the possible formation of an ad hoc committee, a liaison with the state regarding “reasonable accommodations,” and to delay the building permit for 1284 Pine Ave. as it may have a “special adverse impact” on residents.
“During the more than 5 years that we have been in conversation with you, the City Council, the Planning Commission and city staff regarding our deep concerns for preserving the character and charm of our neighborhood, we have been met with ‘nice words,’ but little constructive action,” the letter reads. “We want, and deserve to be a part of the solution.”
One fear, according to one resident who asked not to be named to avoid unsettling city officials, said the Pine Avenue building has at least seven rooms, possibly nine. The fear for the residents is another sober living facility will open, which residents say is not compatible with the neighborhood.
Another letter to the City Attorney’s office asks the city to create a sober living residence ordinance and avoid violation of the American Disabilities Act and other pertinent laws.
Hall asked the city clerk several weeks ago to add the item to a future agenda, while Councilwoman Cori Schumacher agreed with the motion. Both have spoken with residents about the situation, according to resident Bill Bowden, who added there has been little movement.
Bowden said the issue is the city has little power to stop sober living facilities due to state and federal laws.
A 2016 report from the California State Library and California Research Bureau states 25 bills have been introduced attempting to put some regulations on sober living facilities, but none have been signed into law including three vetoes.
Addicts and alcoholics, as long as they are trying to recover and have not been convicted of any major drug crimes, are a protected class of “disabled persons under state and federal law,” the report states.
The California Research Bureau reported 12,000 beds statewide serve 25,000 to 35,000 people, however, there is a lack of “enumerated homes and the populations they serve.” Most people, the report states, find these homes through the courts or from substance abuse professionals.
Numerous federal and state laws prohibit housing discrimination affecting sober living homes such as the Fair Housing Act, American Disabilities Act, and California laws like the Fair Employment and Housing Act and code 65008, which prohibits discrimination in zoning laws.
The city of Costa Mesa won a lawsuit in 2015 after passing an ordinance amending planning, zoning, and development requiring sober living and other group homes to obtain a special use permit.
Orange County, meanwhile, has been dubbed “Rehab Riviera” for dozens of sober living facilities opening operations in various cities. Residents in Encinitas voiced concerns their city could be next.
Currently, the Carlsbad facility houses about six women in recovery on Oak Avenue. However, the issue is twofold for the neighbors: one, a lack of regulation for sober living facilities; two, the lack of enforcement concerning Fischbach at his Oak Avenue property, where residents have reported illegal units to the city over the years.
However, the city has never cited Fischbach for illegal units. One former tenant, who asked to remain anonymous in fear of retaliation, said his unit had no mailbox, couldn’t get wireless internet service, and was moved out of the unit, which was quickly renovated to hide the unit after the city notified Fischbach of an impending inspection.
“More specifically, the city staff needs to recognize that the owner of said property has continually defied current policies and code enforcement in the creation of illegal units in his property on Oak Ave, and the ease in which he can continue to do so on Pine Ave,” the letter states. “No need to turn wet bars into kitchens, nor to erect walls, but merely to install bunk beds. He is an unscrupulous actor who is quite skillful in having his way. Once and for all, the City needs to protect our quality of life and well-being by closing all the loopholes, and by being proactive in putting a stop to his shenanigans.”