Malibu’s Rehab Issue Gaining Steam

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Clients pay anywhere from $30,000 to $60,000 for treatment at rehab centers like Passages, above.

Buoyed by a blitz of national media attention, Malibu city officials traveled to Sacramento last week to once again push for state legislation regulating the spread of high-priced drug and alcohol rehabilitation centers in Malibu neighborhoods. 

Malibu City Councilmember Lou La Monte, fresh off an appearance on “Entertainment Tonight” discussing the issue, said a meeting last Friday on rehab facilities drew representatives from 16 cities across the state, as well as staffers from the offices of State Senator Fran Pavley and Assemblymember Richard Bloom. “All these cities came together because we have the same kind of issues,” La Monte said. 

Recent articles or videos on the subject have appeared in the New York Times, ABC News, the British newspaper The Daily Mail and the Daily Fix

Issues cited by La Monte and others include the practice of “clustering,” in which rehab centers purchase multiple homes close to one another in a residential neighborhood. “Pretty soon you don’t have a neighborhood any more, you have a hospital zone, and that hospital zone overwhelms the infrastructure of a residential neighborhood,” La Monte said. 

The city also argues that many rehab centers tack on fake addresses to guesthouses and pool houses in order to obtain state licensing for extra facilities. The practice violates local zoning laws, according to the city, which is asking the state to step in on enforcement. 

Friday’s meeting was the second made by Malibu city officials to Sacramento in the past month. La Monte said the office of California Secretary of Health and Human Services, Diana Dooley, is investigating allegedly fraudulent addresses listed by rehab and sober living facilities in Malibu that city officials provided during their first trip in August. 

The attendees at the meeting on Friday agreed to form a working group to discuss statewide legislation to address their common problems with rehab centers, La Monte said. The group is in its infancy, but “it seems very promising,” he said. 

Federal court rules against rehab center law 

On the same day city officials were meeting to discuss legislation on the issue, a court decision came down ruling against a city with a similar problem. 

The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday found that a 2008 Newport Beach zoning ordinance that restricted the number of group homes in the city illegally discriminated against the disabled. The rehab centers can now sue Newport Beach over lost revenue. 

La Monte said the city was aware of the ruling and was proceeding accordingly. “I think we have to find a different way to approach this [from Newport Beach],” he said. “Newport Beach definitely had issues and went ahead and did that ordinance.” 

Rather than passing a local ordinance, he suggested a larger measure was needed. “What I think we have to work on is legislation at the state level,” he said. “I think we have a pretty good chance of getting that done, and I think one of the things that is going to help make that happen is we’re reaching out to so many other cities that have this issue.”