Councilwoman Wendy Leece on Tuesday called for the city attorney's office to draft an ordinance that could provide more regulation of rehabilitation homes in Costa Mesa.

During the City Council meeting, she said Costa Mesa should have laws similar to those in Orange, where the council in 2009 passed a number of rules that sober-living homes must abide by to operate in that city.

Orange's ordinance requires that sober-living homes in single-family neighborhoods have a permit from the city's community development director. The ordinance also stipulates that the rehab homes cannot be less than 300 feet from one another, and that parolees and probationers cannot room together

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"It's time to make a stand," Leece said. "We need to have our own city structure and not assume that the sober-living operators are giving that structure."

For years, residents, particularly in the Eastside, have complained that the homes have hurt their neighborhoods by adding to crime, drug use and nuisances like wafting cigarette smoke.

Leece mentioned a recent neighborhood petition that sought city action against the homes, which house people recovering from drug and alcohol addiction. She said she receives many calls from residents who have concerns.

"The city needs to step up and take responsibility," Leece said.

In May, city officials told the Daily Pilot that Orange's ordinance is on shaky legal ground and would probably be overturned if challenged in court.

Various laws classify recovering addicts as "disabled" and therefore consider them a protected class. Costa Mesa is bound by laws, which stipulate that as long as a group home in a single-family neighborhood has six or fewer tenants, it does not need a special operating permit and must be treated like every other home.

Councilman Gary Monahan said he has been receiving calls about rehabilitation homes for at least 20 years but added the problems are long-standing and difficult to enforce or fix.

"We have code-enforced them to death," Monahan said.

Earlier this year, Mayor Jim Righeimer formed a special group, Preserve Our Neighborhoods Task Force, to address the negative effects of the homes and explore the complex laws surrounding them.

Leece and others have been critical of the seven-member group, upset that it is not covered by the state's open-meeting laws, known as the Brown Act.

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Harbor Soaring Society agreement

The council unanimously approved a five-year agreement with the Harbor Soaring Society to continue operating in Fairview Park, though officials plan to reexamine the agreement in about a year to address ongoing concerns such as noise from the radio-controlled airplanes.

The society, founded in 1964, has a dedicated runway in the 208-acre park's southwest quadrant. It has roughly 100 members.

Until this year, the society had been operating in the city park on year-to-year agreements. The Parks and Recreation Commission in April recommended the five-year agreement.

The city requires that aviators display their annual $25 permits to fly their airplanes in the park, though membership in the society is not required. City officials said 278 permits are active.

The council expressed concerns that some of the airplanes — particularly the gas-powered types — are very noisy. Councilwoman Sandy Genis said that even while at the other end of the park, she has heard the planes and that they sound like "someone's using a chain saw."

Society Vice President Henry Smith said his colleagues try to enforce the rules — including the ban on gas-powered planes — but that all the club can do is encourage rule-breakers to leave.

"If somebody doesn't want to follow the rules, I'm not a police officer," Smith said, adding that park rangers have become more helpful in rooting out violators.

The agreement also requires that modifications to the runway area require city approval.

The society wants to add a shelter for shade, Smith noted, "so us old guys don't get cooked while we're sitting out there in the sun."

Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger said he wants to meet with city CEO Tom Hatch and Parks and Recreation Commission Chairman Byron de Arakal at some point to address the agreement. One of Mensinger's suggestions is that Costa Mesa residents pay less than non-residents.

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Other council actions

As of press time Tuesday evening, the council had not addressed the proposed ordinance that would govern conduct when addressing the council. It had also not yet considered whether a proposed city charter would go on the November ballot, or whether new security measures would be added to city facilities.