City of Malibu Issues Violation Notice to Passages Drug Rehab

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Passages Malibu

In their campaign against the proliferation of high-priced drug and alcohol rehabilitation facilities on the residential streets of Malibu, city officials are heralding a break-through with a change in state policy and more enforcement. 

Kara Seward, district director of California State Senator Fran Pavley’s office, recently e-mailed Malibu City Councilmember Lou La Monte to say that the State Department of Health Care Services (DHCS) has now changed its position on licensing rehab facilities. 

In addition, DHCS submitted a budget request for 21 additional code enforcement officers, which is expected to be approved shortly. 

“This is a big deal,” La Monte said in a telephone interview. “This is a first step in the state enforcing the law…The City of Malibu is finally starting to get some traction at the state level.” 

The DHCS issued a statement that said, “We will license all buildings as a single facility to discourage facilities from obtaining numerous six-bed licenses at one address. Although this was allowed in the past, we’re changing the license to a single license when the provider renews every two years.” 

The change gave city attorneys the green light to send the local Passages rehab a “Final Notice of Violation” letter on February 27 to enforce the Malibu Municipal Code (MMC) and the Malibu Local Coastal Program (LCP), which only allows one single-family residence per lot/parcel and prohibits the use of accessory structures like guest houses as separate residences. 

According to the notice, Passages converted three buildings on the same property into separate addresses and obtained three rehab permits from the state, in violation of Malibu’s MMC and LCP, allowing them to triple their patient capacity from six to 18 at that site. The addresses—6390 Meadows Court, 6428 Meadows Court and 6439 Sycamore Meadows Drive—were all on the same parcel, the notice states. 

“Accessory structures located on the property have each been assigned improper and unapproved single-family residence addresses by Passages Malibu and are being rented and used as patient/resident housing,” states the notice written by Natalie Karpeles, deputy city attorney. “City staff contacted Passages Malibu numerous times regarding this unpermitted use, beginning in 2004.” 

Karpeles wrote that the rehab center had made repeated assurances to address the use, however “no detectable efforts have been made to correct these issues.” 

The city also charges that the one-time accessory structures are now being occupied as primary residences, despite not receiving approval by the LA County Fire Department. The DHCS requires rehab facilities to obtain clearance from local fire authorities. 

“Operating these accessory structures as residences and without a fire clearance is a health and safety hazard constituting a public nuisance,” wrote Karpeles. 

In order to “avoid any further enforcement action,” Passages Malibu was told to stop using accessory structures on the property as housing “no later than March 27, 2014.” 

Passages did not respond to multiple telephone and email requests to comment on this story as of Tuesday when The Malibu Times went to press. 

The state’s change follows multiple trips by city officials to Sacramento to lobby for their case. During an August 15 trip, Mayor Joan House, councilmember Lou La Monte, City Manager Jim Thorsen and city attorney Christi Hogin met with California Health and Human Services Secretary Diana Dooley and urged that they not grant permits that violate local municipal codes. 

Another breakthrough for Malibu on the rehab issue has come from the League of California Cities, which recently “added group homes to the ‘hot issues’ section of their website so you can see it immediately when you go on there,” La Monte said. 

La Monte, who serves on the Housing & Economic Development Policy Planning Committee of the League, said when 45 people from 20 different towns all over California showed up to talk about rehab centers, “I knew it wasn’t just a whiny Malibu problem. We’ll be putting together a working group to get the attention of more legislators.” 

The estimated $100 million drug and alcohol rehabilitation industry operating in the City of Malibu now has 35 state-licensed rehab facilities located in residential areas, not counting the number of sober living facilities, which don’t require licenses. 

To avoid the state’s six-beds-per-residence limit, some rehabs buy as many as eight adjacent homes, also known as “clustering.” The number of rehab facilities allowed in a neighborhood or city is not regulated. 

Traffic, noise and public safety are listed as top concerns by residents due to the presence of as many as 40-70 employees commuting in and out of rehabs, along with commercial deliveries and services in the neighborhoods.