Ordinance to regulate community care residences postponed until May
By Gary Walker
Proponents of a new ordinance that would prohibit community care facilities in low-density residential neighborhoods were handed a setback Jan. 30 when the Los Angeles City Council voted to postpone taking action on the proposal for three months.
Instead of voting to implement or reject a new set of more stringent rules pertaining to how sober living and group homes are regulated, the council created an ad hoc committee to look at some of the concerns that were raised by supporters and opponents of the emotionally charged proposal.
The decision to put off voting on the proposed ordinance was in part due to the testimony of a former United States housing official who urged the council to reconsider voting on legislation that she thought could be problematic from a civil rights as well as legal standpoint.
At the behest of Councilman Bill Rosendahl, Mercedes Marquez, a former Department of Housing and Urban Development official in the Obama administration, addressed the council to explain what the city’s federal obligations were, as well as potential ramifications if the recommended municipal law was approved in its existing form.
A topic that had rarely been discussed in relation to the proposed ordinance was also raised at the meeting: the potential for the loss of federal funding if the city law were passed.
Last year, The Argonaut reported on those same potential consequences. In July, through a series of interviews with housing authorities and lawyers, anxiety about the city losing HUD funding came to the forefront for the first time.
Attorneys from Munger, Tolles & Olson, a high-profile national law firm representing the Inner City Law Center, recommend that the City Council not approve the ordinance because it would violate federal fair housing statutes that would jeopardize funds that the city receives from HUD.
“In addition to the ordinance’s several legal flaws, the ordinance also conflicts with the city’s obligation as a recipient of federal housing. The Quality Housing and Work Responsibility Act requires the city’s public housing agency to certify in its annual plan that it ‘will affirmatively further fair housing,’” wrote attorneys Stephen Kristovich, Richard Chen and Kenneth Jaimson to City Councilman Ed Reyes.
“The city’s public housing agency has noted that ‘the more limited housing opportunities that would result from this ordinance, and the more disproportionate impact on Section 8 voucher holders with disabilities, would be in violation of HUD’s Affirmatively Fair Housing requirement, which could jeopardize fair housing.’”
An amendment to the original ordinance was proposed at the Jan. 30 meeting, which Rosendahl, who opposes the ordinance in its current form, supported. It removes the definitions “family,” “parolee-probationer home,” “single housekeeping unity” and “boarding or rooming house.”
The amendment, known officially as 31 B, also eliminates the prohibition on the use of a single-family home in a residential zone as a rooming house, as well as the requirement of a conditional use permit for parolee-probationer homes in all zones except where there are heavier restrictions.
Proponents of the recommended new municipal law were heartened when the council’s Public Safety Committee voted unanimously Dec. 10 to recommend approving the ordinance as it is currently written. But how the incendiary topic will be ultimately settled remains unclear following the Jan. 30 vote.
Matt Myerhoff, communications deputy for Councilman Mitchell Englander, the author of the ordinance, said the councilman, who is part of the newly formed committee, was looking forward to examining some of the concerns raised at the council meeting.
“The committee will be trying to integrate points of concerns to create a well-functioning ordinance that will not have unintended consequences on veterans, people with disabilities and other vulnerable populations,” said Myerhoff.
The Del Rey Neighborhood Council, the Neighborhood Council of Westchester-Playa and the Mar Vista Community Council support the ordinance in its current form. The Venice Neighborhood Council voted to oppose it last year.
Mar Vista Community Council Chair Sharon Commins considers the amendment to be a mechanism that would open the flood gates of more overcrowded group homes and sober living facilities in residential areas.
“Mar Vista stakeholders will be surprised to learn that that the Rosendahl-(Councilman Richard) Alarcon amending ordinance would allow anyone to rent to as many persons as the code allows in all low density zones, including parolees and probationers, without a conditional use process without parking requirements, without any concentration limits and near sensitive uses like schools and churches,” Commins asserted.
After the meeting, Rosendahl, who represents the coastal area of District 11, said he thought Marquez’s testimony was crucial in getting the ordinance delayed for three months.
“The fact that she would go public with her views was gutsy and courageous,” said the councilman, who has facilities that house veterans in Del Rey as well as in Mar Vista. “I think it was appropriate of us to delay this until all the necessary parties, including our legal advisers, have a chance to review this again to avoid some of the consequences that Mercedes talked about.”
Sherri Akers, a Mar Vista resident who attended the meeting, praised Rosendahl for taking what she called an honorable position despite pressure to vote for the proposed regulations.
“I admire Bill Rosendahl for taking a stand on values and principles, especially when faced with so many conflicting views from his constituents,” said Akers. “I was so grateful when he introduced Mercedes Marquez to address the council.
“The issue appeared to be mired down in personal opinions on both sides, and she brought it back to the points that mattered: the responsibility we have as a community to show compassion and our obligation under the federal funding we receive.”
Myerhoff said “a loud and organized” opposition was present and likely contributed to the council’s decision to postpone voting on the ordinance. “We don’t control the rest of the council,” he said. “If the others chose to postpone it, that was their decision.
“We were very satisfied with the ordinance as it stood.”
Commins says the new amendment also greatly harms the city’s zoning regulations.
“31 B represents the gutting of the R-1 and other low density zones in Los Angeles,” she said. “The city’s general plan specifically protects the residential character of these zones.
“I believe this amendment requires a general plan amendment plus a full (environmental impact report),”
Commins added. “If we are changing code in order to use single-family homes as mini apartment buildings, let’s bring some balance, perspective, and fairness back to this conversation by doing it openly and transparently.”
Rebecca Lobl, a supporter of Englander’s ordinance and the president of the L.A. Coalition to Preserve Neighborhood Standards, did not attend the council meeting and declined to comment on the decision to postpone voting on the ordinance.
Akers was surprised to learn that many people view new restrictions on sober living facilities and residences where veterans live strictly through the prism of land use and zoning.
“I was astonished to realize that over the many years this has been argued, it was being addressed solely on public safety and land use,” she said. “To not include housing is like sending a patient to the hospital to be seen by the administrators but not a doctor.”
The committee will present its finding to the council in May.
Rosendahl said he understands the concerns of Englander and those who support him. They point to incidents of illegal activity by some sober living and group homes in the San Fernando Valley as evidence that there should be increased scrutiny on these residences.
“I understand their position,” Rosendahl concluded. “But you don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.”