Group Home Law May Be Headed for Fall Council Vote

After a summer of discontent for neighborhood activists, the city is putting the final touches on a proposed ordinance regulating sober living and other group homes.

Despite concerns by neighborhood activists that L.A.’s attempt to regulate nuisance group homes has stalled, city officials said this week the proposed ordinance is nearly ready for a council vote.

The city attorney’s office has finished drafting the ordinance and it could return to the City Council in a month after city departments sign off on it, city planner Tom Rothmann said. The revised measure addresses many of the concerns raised by opponents in June when the , he said.

The ordinance has been more than three years in the making, prompted in large part by complaints from neighborhoods throughout Los Angeles of problem group homes, many of them sober living homes. Such homes are not regulated by the state but are protected to some extent by state and federal housing anti-discrimination laws, making it difficult and time-consuming for the city to shut them down.

Some of these homes are sober living houses in name only. They have a dozen or more tenants and are the bane of neighborhoods and police. One key measure proposed by city staff was to designate homes where tenants are on individual leases as boardinghouses, which aren’t allowed in single-family neighborhoods.

Thirty-three Neighborhood Councils, including Chatsworth's, had voted to support the measure and were buoyed by the City Council’s vote in early June. But the measure also had a legion of detractors, including residents and operators of sober living homes and nonprofit groups who feared the measure’s provisions would drastically reduce housing options for seniors, veterans and the disabled. As the months went by, neighborhoods activists began to worry the city had abandoned the effort.

“This is very frustrating because an entire summer has gone by and still no ordinance,” said one activist, who asked not to be identified.  “Other cities have ordinances in place and it is now four years that the city of L.A. has been working on this one.”

Councilman Mitch Englander, who represents the Chatsworth area, said he understands the neighborhoods’ frustrations, but the city is making progress. “It’s not just sitting on somebody’s desk. It’s very complicated,” he said.

Englander had been the chief of staff to Councilman Grieg Smith, who first proposed the ordinance, and was Smith’s point man on the effort. When Smith retired earlier this year, Englander was elected to Smith’s council seat. He continues to push for the ordinance.

“I’m just as anxious as everyone else,” he said. “I’ve been working on it for a long time.”

Englander said it’s the “extreme” complexity of the ordinance that has slowed its progress. Other cities have faced lawsuits over their attempts to regulate group homes. And some city officials are concerned the ordinance could jeopardize federal housing funds the city receives. Englander said he believes all those issues have been resolved.

“I would really like to see this through to fruition, but I also want to make sure there aren’t any holes in it, that it’s bulletproof,” he said. “It’s been incredibly complicated with so many stakeholders, so much effect on so many communities.”

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