The city was dealt a devastating blow last week in the fight to regulate rehab clinics, as state officials determined no legal wrongdoing by Passages Malibu rehab clinic.
Now, City Attorney Christi Hogin believes Malibu’s residential neighborhoods could be in danger of becoming inundated with hospital-like alcohol and drug rehabilitation centers.
A recent California Department of Health Care Services (DHCS) report approved the current licensing and operations of Passages, an eight-unit rehab facility that, according to the City of Malibu, operates as one unit.
“If we don’t hold the line, then every one of these neighborhoods is vulnerable in Malibu. So it’s a high priority,” Hogin said in an interview with The Malibu Times.
The conflict between Passages and the City of Malibu has been ongoing since 2006, with the city most recently issuing a violation to the facility in February of 2014. Malibu officials and residents feel the facility is operating outside of the law and disrupting the calm of Sycamore Canyon.
Last February, when the violation was issued, there was widespread optimism that a new policy by the DHCS could finally be the breakthrough needed for the city to shut down operations at the rehab.
“We will license all buildings as a single facility to discourage facilities from obtaining numerous six-bed licenses at one address,” the DHCS said in a March 2014 statement. “Although this was allowed in the past, we’re changing the license to a single license when the provider renews every two years.”
City officials do not believe they have upheld this promise.
“The findings from the state are not consistent with the information that we have,” said Malibu Mayor John Sibert in a statement released by the city. “We are at a loss to explain why the state regulators are turning a blind eye to this abuse of the state law.”
“These facilities have eight licenses on five properties and are clearly operating as an integrated campus-style facility. The state should not be granting licenses to these large-scale facilities in residential neighborhoods,” Sibert continued.
According to reports provided by the DHCS, in September 2014, four state staffers (Chief Marlies Perez, Supervisor Nicolé Nicholson, Supervisor Steve Leighton and Complaint Analyst Joshua Standing Horse) made an unannounced visit to the facility to investigate complaints lodged by the city, but did not find any violations.
The complaint stated that multiple properties at 6380 Meadows Ct. (nicknamed Passages Vista House and Passages Vista House-Guest House) were operating with only one license, but according to a report prepared by the DHCS, this is not true.
“The result of the investigation does not substantiate the allegation that the Program is providing licensable services at Passages Vista House-Guest House,” reads the report, because according to Passages staff, the guest house is currently leased out to a separate medical office.
The report states that DHCS staffers were not offered a tour of the guest house.
Hogin said that despite how it appears on paper, it is clear to the eye that these facilities are not operating within the law.
“We’re looking at the property and saying, ‘Wait a minute, look what they’ve done here, this neighborhood is housing essentially a hospital,’” Hogin said of the facility, which spans five adjacent residential addresses.
“The thing that we find so frustrating with that is, anyone who goes to Passages can see that these operate as a single facility,” Hogin said.
What comes next for the city is not clear, because the ordinance is a state measure and the city does not have jurisdiction.
“The way that the state law is set up, it’s the state’s responsibility to properly administer the licensing,” Hogin said, “so we’re just taking a hard look to see whether or not the Department of Health Care Services has done their job properly.”
Hogin did not speculate on what future steps the city may take should they find cause to argue with the DHCS’s job in looking into the facility.
Chris Prentiss and Pax Prentiss, the father and son team that runs Passages, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.