San Jose Seeks Greater Local Control over Sober Living Homes

To address concerns about addiction treatment homes changing the character of residential neighborhoods, San Jose plans to join a host of California cities in lobbying for greater local control over where to allow the facilities.

The proposal will come up for discussion at the League of California Cities annual conference in San Jose next month, where member cities will vote on which policies to endorse in the coming year. San Jose’s City Council will vote on whether to support the measure when it meets Tuesday.

If the resolution passes, the league of cities would call on Gov. Jerry Brown and state legislators to address the over-concentration of alcohol and drug abuse recovery homes.

Malibu, home to one of the highest concentrations of recovery homes in the nation, originally asked the league to prioritize the issue. Clusters of sober living facilities take away from a neighborhood’s residential qualities by creating an institutional setting, according to leaders of the so-called “Rehab Riveira,” detox destination of the stars.

San Jose has just about the same number of sober living facilities but a much lower density. Business directories list more than 30 addiction treatment homes in San Jose, which has a population of more than a million. Malibu, home to only 12,000 people, claims just about a few-dozen.

According to the league’s resolution, state law supersedes local zoning rules for licensed drug and alcohol treatment centers. Cities have to treat them as single-family homes. But with more residents than the average home, these facilities generate more traffic and bustle, with shuttle vans, visiting hours, deliveries and other events.

City officials want to balance the interest of people who want to preserve the residential quality of their neighborhoods with the rights of patients to integrate into the community.

Already, most state-licensed facilities need a 300-foot buffer from each other. But facility owners often rent properties next-door or across the street under the same license, which creates an institutional setting. Many of these organizations pay homeowners above market rate. That 300-foot buffer doesn’t apply to privately run sober living homes, however.

Local governments have debated how to regulate group homes since their inception nearly four decades ago.

In 1977, a California law called the Lanterman Developmental Disabilities Act established the right of people with disabilities to live in the “least restrictive environment.” That meant placing people—not just addicts, but also those with any other disability—in residential neighborhoods instead of institutions.

When residential care facilities began to open up in neighborhoods, they triggered backlash from residents worried about overcrowding and crime.

Cities and counties responded with land-use regulations to control where to place these facilities. But federal fair housing laws and state regulations limit how much local governments can restrict their placement.

In 2002, the California Research Bureau noted in a report the many challenges of integrating residential care facilities into neighborhoods. Two years prior, Prop. 36, the Substance Abuse and Crime Prevention Act of 2000, diverted thousands of nonviolent drug offenders into the community and residential treatment facilities. The resulting influx of group homes raised concerns among city leaders about how to regulate the burgeoning industry.

“[T]here are no easy resolutions to the complicated ongoing issues around siting residential care facilities in the community,” according to the study ordered by then-Sen. Charles Poochigian. “Some goals conflict, like local control and federal/state protections. In addition, some ‘quality’ issues are hard to legislate. …Resolutions that address and balance the needs of neighbors, the needs of residents needing services and the needs of local government are difficult to identify and achieve.”

In 2008, a federal judge dismissed with prejudice a $250 million lawsuit brought by a citizens’ group against a major sober living provider. The lawsuit filed by residents of Newport Beach claimed that too many sober living facilities caused second-hand smoke, noise and traffic. But a judge ruled that the claim had no merit.

More from the San Jose City Council agenda for September 29, 2015:

  • Interviews are underway to fill a seat on the city’s Planning Commission.
  • The city plans to raise its parkland fees for new residential developments anywhere from 3 to 17.6 percent. Last year, San Jose collected more than $20.3 million in park fees from 64 residential projects, up from $8.8 million the year before and a record high of $23.5 million in 2012-13.

WHAT: City Council meets
WHEN: 1:30pm Tuesday
WHERE: City Hall, 200 E. Santa Clara St., San Jose
INFO: City Clerk, 408.535.1260

Jennifer Wadsworth is the former news editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Follow her on Twitter at @jennwadsworth.


  1. It’s a tricky situation – it’s true these houses are retrofitted to hold up to 13 people in a three or four bedroom home, and that causes parking and (sometimes) theft or drug dealing/abuse within the home. I wouldn’t want one in my neighborhood. On the other hand, these homes have as much of a right to hold people as the next overstuffed house. The difference is some of these homes are in nice neighborhoods.

  2. “City officials want to balance the interest [singular] of people who want to preserve the residential quality of their neighborhoods with the rights [plural] of patients [so, career drunks and junkies are now patients?] to integrate into the community.” Oh, so law abiding citizens have a mere interest in their security and that of their children and preserving the value of their homes, but drunks and druggies have rights that trump that interest? Where is that so-called right found? It’s a privilege at most. When balancing rights vs. privileges, why should the drunks’ and junkies’ privileges be superior to the rights of law abiding folks? What would be the reaction of the judges who granted these so-called rights if a concentration of drunks and junkies were deposited in their neighborhoods? Believe me, those ivory tower liberal judges would be the first to cry foul, and very loudly to be sure.

  3. These Rehab houses are nothing more than commerical enterprises that serve to reduce property values under the guise of healing drunks and drug addicts. In my neighborhood, they have expanded operations to another house and are charging $5,000 a month for each “client.”

    The State of California dumps the problem on residential neighborhoods. I’ve got a better idea. Relocate these profiteers upon human misery and the miscreants they allege to serve to California’s deep deserts. California deserts are very “unrestrictive.”

    These people chose to drink to excess and or to consume illegal drugs to excess. There must be personal accountability for their actions. Begone to the deserts so I say.

    There is nothing like the the dry desert air to dry these losers out. California’s deserts-Far out in the desert, past the Marine Corps base at Twenty-Nine Palms, would be a good place to be shed of this human blight and their pernicious, predatory, parasitic handlers.

    Better yet, turn these drug and alcohol ridden addicts over to the Marines for some old fashion, tried and true, motivational training excercises. If they live through it-Welcome back to civilized society. If they don’t-It is better that they decrease the surplus addict population.

    David S. Wall

  4. The human being is the only species that coddles its culls. If I had known I could just drink my way into a government funded house in Willow Glen I would have worked less and drank more.

    Is there some law or rule somewhere that I am missing that requires the “morally handicapped” be housed in areas where the median price of a home is $750,000-$1,000,000? Is living in an apartment instead of a house or a condo in a “blue collar” neighborhood too beneath these people? Why stop there? Let’s give them Dom Perignon champagne instead of Thunderbird wine to help their self-esteem or pharmaceutically pure Demerol instead of heroin to give them hope. I’m just waiting for the day when the “rehabs” start complaining about how the decent taxpayers living next door to them are ruining the neighborhood.

  5. In the last 20 years I’ve had 2 of these places with in a block of my house, loud party’s broken windows, trash in the yard, I suppose this is what affordable housing looks like in suburban America today.
    So what do I think, the city’s regulating trash housing is going to improve something your neighbor hood.


  6. I’ve got news to add. Some of the “residents” are convicted violent felons as well. I live right next door to a so-called SLE, safe living environment. One man had just been released after spending 18 years in prison for a gang related murder. He lived next door for six months while he was on probation and trying to get an apartment. Nice huh?

    • There are way too many unregulated halfway houses on the Northside of City Hall. Police tell us that when they respond to a call, no one is on premises who is in charge. Occupants hang out in the neighborhood and drink and do drugs anyway. The homes are falling apart. So, what is the common good?

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