Angry homeowners say their neighborhood is being overrun by sober living homes

By Gary Walker

Worried about a perceived overabundance of sober living homes and other residential care facilities in their community, Mar Vista residents are voicing strenuous objection to the construction of a group home for patients of a treatment center for anxiety, depression and other psychological afflictions.

More than 100 people, some sitting on the floor or standing against the walls, packed into a classroom at Wildwood School on Aug. 18 to say in no uncertain terms that the incoming five-bedroom home on the 11900 block of Victoria Avenue (near Inglewood Boulevard) would not receive a warm welcome to the neighborhood.

A contingent of Mar Vista homeowners led by Mar Vista Community Council Land Use and Planning Committee co-chair Steve Wallace has become increasingly vocal about concerns that a proliferation of recovery-oriented living facilities could devalue single-family homes and exacerbate traffic and parking woes.

The majority of speakers at the LUPC-hosted meeting directed ire toward city planning officials and operators of the PCH (Psychological Care & Healing) Treatment Center on Venice Boulevard, about a block away from the Victoria Avenue group home currently under construction.

PCH Treatment Center co-founder Dr. Terry Krekorian spoke at length to repeatedly make clear that the Victoria Avenue residence and an existing backhouse would not function as a sober living home and would not house parolees or patients recovering from drug or alcohol addiction.

An email circulated prior to the meeting had erroneously asserted that PCH would operate a 32-bed addiction rehabilitation facility.

“There have been a lot of misconceptions about the Victoria home. I know that there are a lot of other drug and alcohol centers in the neighborhood, but I want to be clear that we are not that,” Krekorian said.

PCH Treatment Center works with people recovering from psychological or emotional trauma, depression, bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder and severe anxiety. The home under construction on Victoria would house no more than 12 people at any given time, he said.

“All of the treatment is done at the clinic. We’re not doing any treatment in the house, so technically we’re just a community arrangement in a house,” Krekorian said.

The meeting was confrontational from the outset and remained so, however. Things got so heated that LUPC co-chair Mitchell Rishe had to call for order to keep people from shouting Krekorian down.

When Krekorian complained that someone had intentionally flattened the tires of an employee working at a Grand View Boulevard home operated by the treatment center, a woman in the crowd shouted “Then take the hint and go!”

It isn’t clear how many group homes, sober living or otherwise, operate in Mar Vista or how many people are living in them at any given time.

But there are quite a few, and many of them appear focused on substance abuse recovery — including at least two on Victoria Avenue. A four-bedroom sober living house for women opened up a few doors down in July, and a sober living house for men operates about three blocks down.

Four sober living homes share a common courtyard less than a mile to the south, which is also nearby a separate drug treatment center.

At least four more sober living houses — some as small as just six residents, others larger — operate in Mar Vista, as does a therapeutic community for female military veterans dealing with trauma-related issues that sometimes involve substance abuse.

Marilyn Rosen, a social worker and Mar Vista homeowner, said she supports outpatient care in neighborhoods —“It’s important that they be in a residential neighborhood; I applaud that and I think it’s necessary,” she said — but is concerned about the impacts of having so many within such a small footprint.

“What I do have is an objection to the density,” Rosen said. “What’s to stop every house on my street from turning into some kind of care facility? That’s what really bothers me. The whole community can be denuded of families if this continues.”

Mar Vista Billie Norris said her neighborhood is being overwhelmed by community care facilities.

“Obviously it’s a problem, ok? Not just in Mar Vista and Venice. Is the government going to let this keep happening? Are we all going to have neighbors like this for the rest of our lives? We fought hard to grow up and do well in a neighborhood,” she said.

Tom Rothman, a senior city planner, said Los Angeles has no limits on how many people can occupy a single-family home because the city has a very broad definition of what makes a family.

Tricia Keane, L.A. City Councilman Mike Bonin’s land use and planning director, said there are laws regarding living arrangements that are outside the city’s control but influence its zoning and enforcement policies. Cities must take into account federal fair housing laws, the Americans with Disabilities Act and federal court decisions that have struck down local attempts to regulate the number of people living together in a home.

“For any community care facility that is licensed by the state you have a variety of regulations that apply, and in many situations those uses are allowed whether or not the city has regulations that might prohibit them,” Keane said.