City officials are drafting a new ordinance in hopes to solve safety, zoning and parking issues regarding sober living environments in San Rafael.
The ordinance will establish new regulations for parking, safety standards and acquiring permits for large group homes. The first draft was presented at a public meeting on Wednesday and the final draft will be presented to the Planning Commission some time in September or October this year.
on group homes last year so city staff could state and federal laws regarding their regulation after
“As this unraveled, there was no real place in our ordinance for this kind of land use,” Planning Manager Paul Jensen said at the meeting.
Under San Rafael’s current municipal code, the city can only impose zoning requirements for licensed homes of seven or more people.
The new ordinance will require one parking space per five clients in a home plus one additional space for a house staff member, according to Deputy City Attorney Lisa Goldfien. Under this regulation, a house with nine clients and one employee living there will be required to have four off-street parking spaces, she said.
During the new permitting process for a large group home, the operators would be required to establish house rules and submit to a fire and building code inspection to ensure that the living area is suitable and safe for its clients.
If a proposed or existing group home fails to meet these requirements, they will be encouraged to modify their business plans, Goldfien said.
Most of these regulations will be enforced through complaints. Since the moratorium was put place, the city has received no complaints from neighbors about the homes, according to Goldfien.
Although the these regulations will apply to new licensed homes, the city is not able to regulate group homes of six people or less or unlicensed facilities.
Leo van Warmerdam, manager of for-profit business Bay Area Sober Living, worried neighbors last year when . These facilities, meant to provide a safe and sober living environment for recovering alcoholics and drug addicts, do not offer therapy or treatment to their clients. Because of this, sober living homes do not have to be licensed by the state as a treatment facility would.
City staff found 11 sober living homes in San Rafael, but there could be more since they are difficult to locate due to privacy concerns and the lack of licensing, according to Jensen. Most of these homes are evenly distributed from Terra Linda to south San Rafael, he said.
The United States Housing and Urban Development Department requires cities to provide housing for disabled individuals, known as “reasonable accommodation,” and recovering alcoholics and drug addicts fall in this category. The city could face lawsuit if they denied “reasonable accommodation” to a sober living home during the permitting process, City Attorney Rob Epstein said.
“This is a need, in other cities as it is in San Rafael, that we need to accommodate,” he said. “The law is not only encouraging that we do that, but it’s requiring that we do that.”
Gerstle Park resident Andrea Eneidi lives next door to the facility, which she said houses six to eight men at one time. When discussing the ordinance with city staff at Wednesday’s meeting, she mentioned how the new ordinance can't enforce these rules to existing facilities.
“[This ordinance] protects the city but doesn’t do anything for us,” she said.