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City Staff to Ask for Extension on Moratorium for Sober Living Homes

City staff hope to extend the moratorium on unlicensed large group homes for one year.

After eight months of studying state and federal laws regarding the regulation of unlicensed large group homes, city attorney staff will ask for an extension of a moratorium on such houses at tonight's meeting.

The city attorney's office will suggest to extend the moratorium, approved by the City Council at an April meeting, to Dec. 31, 2012 in order to analyze possible amendments to the San Rafael Municipal Code regarding the group homes. During this time, city staff intends to seek opinions from the public.

"Staff anticipates that public consideration of any new regulations in this area will require many more months," the report said (available on the right).

During that time,

Complaints from Neighbors and Public Safety

In April, council members on all unlicensed group homes after residents in the about possible parking problems and traffic congestion caused by two sober living facilities at 1 Culloden Park Rd. and 201 Marin St. 

Both of these facilities provide no treatment for the recovering alcoholics or addicts who would be living there and could house between seven and 15 people, although it is unclear how many people are currently living in these locations.

At several public meetings, some neighbors worried about the saturation of sober living homes in the area and the possibility of them attracting a transient population to their streets.

Many also were concerned about saftey and health conditions for those living in the homes if they were unregulated.

Licensing of Group Homes

Small and large residential care facilities are not uncommon in San Rafael, but they are licensed by the state and provide nonmedical care and supervision for those living there, according to San Rafael Municipal Code. The new facilities are unlicensed and are not permitted under San Rafael zoning, according to City Attorney Rob Epstein.

Since the Culloden Park and Marin Street properties will not offer medical care or treatment, they are able to operate without state licensing regardless of how many people may live there, Epstein said in April.

Planning Manager Paul Jensen estimates that there are at least 10 sober living homes in San Rafael, but the unlicensed homes are not easy to track down.

Regulation and Safety

Although it is not required, these homes can go through a certification process from an independent agency.

Connie Arcuria certifies sober living homes and posts the standards for such homes on the Arcuria website. Standards include guidelines on dining and kitchen areas, bedrooms and bathrooms as well as management.

At the April 4 City Council meeting, she told the Council she visited both homes and found them in good condition. And the fire marshal did assist in the inspection of both homes, according to Epstein.

'Legal Concerns' with Moratorium

Attorney Matthew Gorman, representing the operators of both sober houses, told the Council in March that a moratorium would be “highly problematic and would expose the city to legal challenges if the city council proceeds.”

On top of being vague and rushed, the moratorium violates privacy laws, equal protection rights, uniform housing code, zoning regulations and the Federal Fair Housing Act, Gorman said.

“Both the Federal Act and the State Act (of the Fair Housing Act) treat persons recovering from drug and alcohol addictions as individuals with a disability,” he said. Discrimination in housing based on this disability is prohibited, according to the Fair Housing Act.

Other Agenda Items

Other agenda items include a public hearing on rezoning the San Rafael Corporate Center at 750 Lindaro to allow for medical and research facilities. And new mayor Gary Phillips and council member Andrew McCullough as well as incumbent Damon Connelly will be sworn into office.

Swearing-in ceremony begins at 6p.m. The Council meeting will begin at 8p.m. at .

San Rafael Patch will be live blogging the meeting tonight.

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