An ordinance that would regulate sober-living homes in single-family neighborhoods was approved 4-1 by the Los Angeles Planning Commission on Thursday afternoon after drawing dozens of comments from the public.
The lopsided vote was enough to move the ordinance to the City Council's planning and land use management committee. However, because it did not capture five commission votes, it will require a two-thirds favorable vote if and when it comes before the full City Council.
A spokesman for Councilman Greig Smith, the guiding force behind the ordinance for more than two years, said it was difficult to win five commission votes because two of the nine seats are vacant and two commissioners were absent on Thursday. "It's still moving forward," he said of the proposed ordinance.
The ordinance would define sober-living houses, which many neighborhood associations consider to be nuisances, as boardinghouses. Currently, these group homes, some of which house convicts on probation, are not regulated by the state or the city. When problems arise, such as drunken behavior or littering, it can take months or even years for the city to remedy the situation.
Staff members of the Planning Commission said the proposed ordinance had been carefully drafted to withstand court challenges. One strategy was to regulate the use of the property but not those who use it. The city does not have the authority to discriminate among users but it has legal authority to determine how property may be used, the staff said.
As a result, it can make rules regarding all boardinghouses but it cannot approve group homes for those with physical disabilities while denying other homes for recovering addicts.
Assistant City Attorney Asha Greenberg said the ordinance "does not present any enforcement issues for us."
Jerry Lubin, former Los Angeles mental health commissioner, told the planning commission it was "premature" to adopt the ordinance because of recent changes being made by other regulatory agencies. He warned that the new rules may discriminate against those who suffer from mental illness.
Others warned that the new city rules may have unintended consequences.
Representatives of various neighborhood groups, on the other hand, endorsed the ordinance as something long overdue. "We support the basic principles," said Rebecca Lobl, president of the L.A. Coalition to Preserve Neighborhood Standards, a group of 23 neighborhood councils. "We are confident that sober-living units are not being singled out."
Barbara Kohn of the Pacific Palisades Community Council said her group had sent a letter of support for the ordinance but would like to see changes that require more advance public notice before a sober-living house can open. Currently, no advance notice is required.
Even some operators of group homes spoke in favor of the changes. "Our network of homes are going to be able to comply with the new revised ordinance," said David Sheridan, a member of the board of the Santa Monica-based Sober Living Network. However, he raised some concerns that others may find loopholes in the new guidelines.
Consideration of the proposed ordinance, which has been revised several times over the last couple of years, drew so many defenders and opponents that each was asked to keep comments to one minute.
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