Neighbors uneasy at the thought of a residential drug treatment program operating near their homes spent the past week swapping information before gathering en masse to share concerns at Tuesday’s City Council meeting.
A house in the 900 block of Green Lane is being leased by Ridgeview Ranch, the state-licensed, for-profit treatment center that helps men and women struggling with alcoholism and drug addiction. According to Chief Operating Officer Larry Thornton, it has been used as a residential treatment facility for clergy who are dealing only with substance abuse.
A published burglary report last week alerted those living nearby that the home was to be used as a substance abuse treatment center. Nothing appeared to have been taken in the break-in, but neighbors were taken aback by the house’s planned usage, the details of which they knew little.
“We are very upset and extremely worried that the drug house will attract criminals, drug dealers and unsavory characters to our quaint, family-oriented neighborhood,” Dan Khatchaturian said Monday, when he and a few fellow residents gathered to discuss the situation.
The home, they had just learned, is being leased by Ridgeview Ranch. Thornton said Ridgeview Ranch began leasing the six-bedroom, seven-bathroom house in November 2015.
Apparently unnoticed by neighbors, Thornton said eight individuals have stayed at the home for periods ranging from two weeks to 30 days since the lease began. The house currently is vacant, he confirmed, adding that he or an operations manager stops by regularly to check on it.
“I understand what the concerns would be,” Thornton said. “I worked with group homes in the past, I know what that looks like when you bring kids who are wards of the court into very nice neighborhoods, people are afraid of troubled kids breaking into homes. But I want you to let neighbors know there’s nothing to worry about.”
Thornton said clients are driven to and from the house, are not permitted to have visitors and are discouraged from leaving the premises while they’re being treated. A staff member is on-site whenever there are individuals receiving treatment, he said.
“We’re trying to save people’s lives who want their lives saved,” Thornton said. “We’re not trying to disrupt people in the neighborhood.”
Connie Becker said she would appreciate it if Ridgeview Ranch would reach out to those living nearby to communicate as much: “Be a better neighbor,” she said.
Knowing only that the house was licensed as a residential alcohol or drug abuse recovery treatment facility, residents filled City Council Chambers on Tuesday, fretting over potentially diminished safety, neighborhood cohesion and property values. They also worried that LCF might find itself hosting many more such centers, such as the clusters that have sprung up in Malibu and Costa Mesa, which recently had 47 and 102 licensed centers respectively, according to an investigation by the Orange County Register.
In response, Robert Stanley, director of community development, said the Ridgeview Ranch center is the only LCF address listed in the state’s database of licensed facilities, but neighbors suggested they’ve heard of other such facilities existing in the city.
City leaders and state Sen. Anthony Portantino explained there is little local jurisdiction over such licensed facilities.
As long as the number of people being treated at one time is six or fewer, they must be treated as a single-family home. So unless a nuisance requires a response or construction plans invite regulation, LCF has no recourse, Stanley said.
“These types of facilities can be very problematic and there’s a lot of effort on the city level to try to address these,” Mayor Michael Davitt said. “Unfortunately, the way the state law and the federal law is, we have basically no jurisdiction about this.”
“This is a tough nut to crack,” said Portatino, who lives in LCF. “The idea to place people in homes to get care, that’s a laudable goal, but there should be land-use controls. I can’t tell you that something magical is going to get through the [state legislative] system, because it’s a difficult system to navigate, but I’ll tell you I’ll work … to come up with some tools.”
About 30 of neighbors visited the home’s owners — who live in a different house nearby in LCF — after Tuesday’s meeting to express frustration about their lessee. Khatchaturian joined them, and he said afterward he would like to see a copy of the lease before determining how he feels about Thornton’s assurances.
Really, he said, he prefers there not be a treatment facility in the neighborhood of which he’s so proud.