Simi Valley Residents Protest Planned Opening of Residential Detox Facility

By Tim Pompey

Last December, when residents in a quiet section of Simi Valley known as the “Texas tracts” learned that a residential drug and alcohol detox facility was moving into their neighborhood, they were concerned and in some cases appalled that a for profit business could simply buy a house in a residential area, get a license from the California Department of Health Care Services (Substance Use Disorder Services), and open their doors as a six-bed detox center.

It turns out that everyone investigating this issue, including the Simi Valley city council, the city manager, and the city attorney, got a startling lesson in drug rehabilitation and state law. As city attorney Lonnie Eldridge put it during the council’s January 25 meeting: “I have to tell the council and the mayor that the health and safety code of California, specifically 11834.23, prohibits the city from regulating those businesses, or those group homes [six-beds or less], and taking any action other than as could be taken for any residential home.”

When asked by Mayor Bob Huber if there was anything the city could do about it, Eldridge answered simply, “My research indicates you have no ability to regulate this issue.”
The law as it’s currently written, known as California State Health and Safety Code Section 11834.20-11834.25, is clear about its purpose and parameters. It reads in part: “Whether or not unrelated persons are living together, an alcoholism or drug abuse recovery or treatment facility that serves six or fewer persons shall be considered a residential use of property.”

While the issue may be new to Simi, it’s an area of concern for other city governments and city residents, and it’s been questioned, confronted, and litigated without any current change to state law.

In a paper presented by Jenkins & Hogin  a law firm in Manhattan Beach, when state senator Tom Harman approached the California State Attorney General in 2007 about this issue, he asked two questions: 1) may a State license be denied to avoid an over concentration of treatment facilities in a particular locality?; and 2) may a city limit the number of treatment facilities within its jurisdiction to prevent an over concentration of such facilities?

To both questions, the Attorney General flatly answered no.

According to Jenkins & Hogin, the Attorney General concluded that the “policy articulated” (as quoted above) “does not afford a basis for denying a license where the applicant meets all basic qualifications for the license because ‘the Legislature has not given the Department any authority to consider the number of treatment facilities in a particular area.’”

Jenkins & Hogin referred to the city of Newport Beach in the case Pacific Shores Properties, LLC v. City of Newport Beach (Pacific Shores), in which the city’s attempts to regulate detox facilities were overruled by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in September 2013.

All this legalese has now come to root in Simi Valley, and as common sentiment indicated during public comments at the January 25 city council meeting, it has raised growing concerns for local residents about having a state licensed detox facility housed at the end of a small cul-de-sac where 33 residents live, including 15 children.
Who is responsible for running this facility?

The Fillmore Gazette  in their business notices for April 16, 2015, listed Set Free Drug & Alcohol Treatment Center as the fictitious business name. Sean L. Miller was named as the business owner. Miller, according to his Facebook page , is a former pastor at a large megachurch headquartered in San Bernardino, similarly titled Set Free Christian Fellowship. He has also served time at Soledad Prison in upstate California. Whether Set Free Christian Fellowship is a partner in Miller’s detox center still remains a question unanswered and attempts to contact Miller and the church were not successful.

When residents in the Texas tracts learned that the detox facility was opening, they requested and were granted a community meeting with Miller in mid-January. It was arranged through Troop Real Estate, who was serving as the property manager. Miller said that Troop was leasing the property and that the house was still owned by a corporation called Centerpoint LLC.
However, according to one resident who lives in the Texas Tract and attended the meeting, Troop has now removed itself from the lease. He now believes that Miller (and possibly some silent partners) are currently buying the house.

If all goes as planned and the state issues the license (which the Citizens Journal confirmed is currently being processed), the property could become a detox facility sometime in March of this year.
According to this same resident, the answers Miller provided to the community during that January meeting were not particularly encouraging. As he explained, “The problem was, a lot of the questions we asked him, he hadn’t thought about, and also it was obvious that it was going to be at his own discretion how he took care of it.”

Furthermore, after investigating detox facility licensing requirements, he noted that when it comes to state licensing, “there’s minimal regulations. Basically it’s fire extinguishers, the rooms have to be a certain size, and they have to do a business plan. And there’s no recourse unless nuisance laws are broken and then the city has to come in and do an injunction and get them taken out.”
For another Texas tract resident, it’s really a question of whether a detox facility fits into a small neighborhood, especially if it’s a money making operation (estimated @ about $10,000 per resident stay). “What we’re opposed to,” she stated, “is him coming into our neighborhood and setting up a big business, and making a lot of money off our backs, and the city’s.”

During the council’s public comments, most residents seemed baffled about how an around the clock drug rehab center could freely move into a family neighborhood. Questions to the council included whether or not it was appropriate to have a for profit drug detox business in the Texas tracts, how the 24/7 facility would be managed and whether or not Miller could efficiently handle both staff and incoming clients without living onsite, and whether such a facility should be located so close to the neighborhood’s children.

In the end however, what seemed most apparent from the comments and the questions was that both residents and city council members were taken aback by Set Free’s location. Since state law requires no public notification, the only way the city council even knew about this particular drug detox facility was through word of mouth from the community.

City manager Levitt stated that, “We found out from the residents themselves or we would have never known that it actually went into the neighborhood, similar to if a single family went in and rented the home.”

Even though Levitt tried to reassure residents that their concerns would be shared with Sacramento, a blunt statement by councilman Glen Becerra seemed to sum up why there was a gap between state law and a city’s power to regulate itself, or even be notified when a drug rehab clinic was being opened.

“The reason that the state took this power away from us,” he asserted, “was so that you don’t know [about drug detox facilities]. If they wanted us to control this issue, they would have left it with us, but they know that you would show up and this council would be responsive to your wishes, and that you wouldn’t vote for these things.”

In the end, the city council had to acknowledge that there was nothing they could do to stop the detox center from opening. After all, the same rules for a single family residence apply to a detox facility six beds and under. According to state law, they are on the same par with each other and only require standard city inspections.

In response to a frustrated resident who questioned whether or not the detox facility would have been approved had it gone in next to a city council residence, Mayor Huber replied, “We haven’t approved anything. This is a state regulation, not ours. We don’t have the ability to approve or disapprove, by state law.”

Texas Tract, Simi Valley

Texas Tract, Simi Valley

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Tim Pompey, a freelance writer who has done lots of local affairs and entertainment/cultural writing, lives in Oxnard. Tim is also a fiction writer (Facebook Page). You can presue is books his page on Amazon.com: amazon.com/author/booksbytimpompey.

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