Protests against Malibu rehabs escalate

Passages, which operates out of a $6 million, 14,000 square foot house on Meadows Court, opened in Malibu in July, 2001. Owners of the facility recently donated money to the city in an effort to show it is a good neighbor. Cortney Litwin / TMT

Local facilities say they are good neighbors.

By Ryan O’Quinn/Special to The Malibu Times

Malibu’s scenic beauty is one of the number one reasons that people flock to the coastal community. The city’s proximity to a major metropolitan area and the business of Hollywood, all the while remaining relatively secluded, is also among the enticing reasons to live here.

For the very same reasons that many make their home and work in Malibu, there is a growing business of drug and alcohol rehabilitation and treatment facilities popping up around the city, and some citizens are upset with the prospect of even more.

According to the city’s Permit Services Division, there has been an influx of treatment centers in the last three years. In 2000, there were four treatment facilities in the city. That number has grown to 13 licensed centers. In addition to those licensed and located within city limits, there are other facilities that fall under the jurisdiction of Los Angeles County and others that are deemed sober-living facilities. One recent letter to the editor estimated the current total number to be 42 treatment centers.

City Councilmember Andy Stern said that an adhoc committee has been formed to take a closer look at the facilities and determine how they may impact the city.

“The problem is that federal and state law allows them and there is nothing we can do,” Stern said. “We’re looking into it to see what we can do and we are going to do everything we can do to limit their proliferation in Malibu.”

Stern alleged one of the problems with the number of facilities and the number of staff members and tenants is that septic systems are being overburdened.

“It’s a huge problem,” Stern said. “Septic tanks are designed to have a certain number of people in a house and these places are going 24/7. The law prevents us from treating these places any differently than we do a single-family dwelling.”

Stern also pointed out that in some neighborhoods, the neighbors adjacent to the rehabilitation centers decide to sell their homes and the homes are then bought by the centers resulting in multiple treatment facilities existing in one neighborhood.

The treatment centers, however, say the facilities are a plus to the area.

“I love that people care about their community,” said Jina Hannon, assistant to Pax Prentiss, one of the founders of Passages, a three-acre facility overlooking the Pacific Ocean. “This isn’t a juvenile delinquent center or a jail. It’s a place for people to go and get healthy. Do we want drug addicts, sex offenders and alcoholics in our community that are disruptive? No. We want people to get healthy.”

Hannon said that, in most instances, the rehab facilities make good neighbors. She noted that last week Passages donated $7,000 to the city and earmarked the funds for local law and firefighting enforcement, as well as for youth sports and the library. She added the facility has an upcoming project planned in cooperation with Heal the Bay.

“What more beautiful place on earth would people want to be in a positive atmosphere to get healthy?” Hannon said. “It’s a positive, professional environment.”

Malibu homeowner Kathryn Wrye is against having the facilities in Malibu’s neighborhoods.

“We’re not saying we’re against facilities,” Wrye said. “Just not in our neighborhoods. Malibu is filled with these hilltop places where there is nobody and no common street. The reason maybe why there haven’t been so many complaints is because people in [other parts of] Los Angeles County aren’t aware of it, but here they’re everywhere. They are not good neighbors.”

Wyre said that part of the problem is that the number of staff members’ vehicles and delivery trucks that come to the treatment centers are dangerous to the neighborhood children and are a nuisance to local residents.

“They are ruining the neighborhoods,” Wrye said. “They cease to become places where children are having a normal life. They have all these catering trucks and laundry trucks coming up and down the street. Finally they had to get an ordinance to load and unload their stuff on PCH because it was so dangerous.”

Facility representatives say that many local centers attract the top health professionals in the field of addiction treatment and that local dissenters, if they were in the same situation as families of patients in treatment, would also want the best services available for their loved ones.

“I know it’s still very much a stigma to talk about alcohol and drug abuse,” said Nhien Barros, marketing director and vice president of Renaissance, a 5.3-acre, high-end treatment estate. “We welcome any questions and feel we don’t have anything to hide. We are trying to offer healing.”

The physical grounds for some local facilities are extraordinary. One facility listing its address in the Malibu Hills offers a 20,000 square foot white and gold mansion with a lap pool, infinity pool, Jacuzzi, tennis courts, three steam rooms, three spas, two saunas, seven imported marble fireplaces and an additional beach house on the ocean.

“I believe people look at the ocean as a place of great wonder,” Barros said. “I think being here by the ocean is conducive to healing. When people go on vacation they tend to go to the water. It’s a place where they can let their guard down and be at ease.”

City Councilmember Ken Kearsley made a trip to Sacramento last spring to meet with state officials on the increase in the number of centers in the city. Kearsley said in many areas of jurisdiction, state and federal authorities regulate facilities, so the city’s hands are tied.

“We have no say-so on zoning,” Kearsley said. “We have some say-so on health, but other than that we have no police power over them.

“They overburden us and we become a medical neighborhood,” Kearsley said. “They try to be good neighbors, but if you have six [patients] in there and all the attendants plus cooks, massage therapists and psychologists and three shifts … what house has 27 people working?”

Kearsley said that 70 percent of all streets in Malibu are private and are substandard for the volume of traffic that is necessary to maintain the treatment centers. He said that a good neighbor would likely be a single family that totaled six to 10 car trips daily, but multiple facilities in one neighborhood makes for bad neighbors.

Kearsley noted in one area near Trancas Canyon there are a total of 21 houses with seven as treatment facilities. The area is zoned as rural-residential. He said the total number of licensed and unlicensed facilities in the city gives Malibu the highest per capita density of treatment centers in the world.

“We’re not against drug rehab,” Kearsley said. “We are against the daisy chain. One per neighborhood is being a responsible neighbor.”

Dates were not solidified as of press time; however, within the coming weeks the newly formed committee and the city council are planning an open forum-type meeting to discuss the situation.