MALIBU ‚Äî City officials are gearing up for a major crackdown on drug and alcohol treatment centers in Malibu, many of which they claim operate with little scrutiny from the state and a brazen disregard for local law, all in the name of increasing head counts and maximizing profits.
In a letter recently submitted to the state‚Äôs Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs (ADP), the office of Malibu City Attorney Christi Hogin cites a 2007 complaint by City Hall accusing Passages Malibu, a rehab center which charges customers up to $90,000 per month, of providing false information to the state and sidestepping city regulations to get additional facilities licensed. The letter asks why the complaint was never acted upon.
“No evidence of a final determination by the ADP on this issue can be presently located, despite attempts to contact the ADP,” Hogin‚Äôs office wrote.
The complaint alleged that Passages, which bills itself as the “world‚Äôs most luxurious rehab center”, tacked on addresses to several pool houses and guest houses, in violation of city law, and obtained state licensing to use the structures as five- or six-person rehab dwellings.
“To obtain an address designation, a formal procedure must be completed, which is generally initiated by a request from the property owner. Passages never requested the address designations from the city, as required,” the City Attorney‚Äôs Office wrote to the ADP. “Further, guesthouses and pool houses are ineligible for address designations because these structures may not be used as a dwelling [under Malibu Municipal Code].”
The problem was first brought to the ADP‚Äôs attention in October 2007 when city officials demanded any licensed pool house and guesthouse dwellings have their licenses revoked. But the ADP failed to make a “final determination” on the case, according to documents obtained from Hogin‚Äôs office, with the last correspondence taking place in June 2008. The June 2008 letter came from Hogin‚Äôs office and was never answered by the ADP.
Located on Meadows Court in central Malibu, Passages runs eight state-licensed five- or six-bed facilities in the Sycamore neighborhood, according to a list last updated May 15 by the ADP.
Some of those licenses were “obtained through misrepresentation,” according to City Hall, with Passages designating pool houses and guesthouses with addresses such as “6390 B” and “6428 B.”
“The state has an obligation to license within the parameters of the law, and the law does not allow service providers to create these addresses,” Hogin said in an interview with The Malibu Times.
With Passages setting up facilities in unlawful places like guest houses, Hogin maintains the rehab center has come to define the Sycamore neighborhood. The end result is a contradiction to what the centers are intended to be, Hogin said.
“A group home is supposed to nestle into the residential community,” Hogin said. “When these homes becomes such big businesses, they‚Äôre defining the character of the neighborhood. It‚Äôs like setting up a hospital in the middle of a neighborhood.”
Officials from the ADP did not respond to multiple requests from The Malibu Times for comment to speak specifically on the Passages case.
In a brief statement, ADP spokeswoman Carol Sloane said it is not part of the state‚Äôs job to enforce municipal law.
“There currently is no statute authorizing ADP to revoke a facility‚Äôs license based on noncompliance with local zoning laws. ADP has authority to enforce violations of state licensing laws and regulations,” Sloane wrote in an e-mail. “Before licenses are approved and issued, ADP staff conduct on-site inspections of each facility.”
Passages Malibu declined multiple requests for comment.
“If you have to publish a story with Passages‚Äô comment, then it is what it is,” said a Passages representative who declined to be named.
The licensing issue is not unique to Passages, according to city officials, but may also be rampant in the dozens of other rehab facilities in Malibu.
“We‚Äôre looking at them all,” City Attorney Christi Hogin said. “It‚Äôs not a Passages problem, per se. I think it‚Äôs a state licensing issue. But we need to have our code enforcement collect better evidence.”
The complaint against Passages is just the tipping point in a much larger battle fronted by City Councilman Lou La Monte and Mayor Joan House, who believe action needs to be taken by state lawmakers, not just the ADP.
“New legislation needs to be looked at because when you abuse the law, that‚Äôs when you get into trouble,” La Monte said. “The concept of the residential rehab is not a bad concept ‚Äî if you follow the law.”
La Monte said he and House plan on meeting with elected state representatives sometime in July, including State Sen. Fran Pavley and Assemblyman Richard Bloom, who represent Malibu.
“This is a $100-million industry operating in the city of Malibu,” La Monte said.
“When rehab facilities that are supposed to be in a residential area don‚Äôt obey the law, they have the ability to overwhelm the infrastructure and ultimately they start these clusterings and pretty soon they destroy neighborhoods,” La Monte said “I think it‚Äôs gotten to that point on Meadows Court.”
This story first appeared in The Malibu Times.