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Newport residents protest Lido rehab home

They claim the city isn't responding to their concerns quickly enough. Some are worried about recovering addicts who might be violent.

October 27, 2010|By Mike Reicher, mike.reicher@latimes.com

Her company operates another rehab facility on Lido, a triplex at the entrance of the island. That facility has been a rehab home for about 10 years, but hasn't generated as much controversy as this one, which is in a single-family home close to neighbors.

City officials explained the laws governing group homes, which allow for residential care facilities in single-family neighborhoods. This style of residential recovery, they said, has strict protections under state and federal law.

City Atty. David Hunt said that Morningside was within its rights under its settlement agreement to open a home there, and that the city had no recourse to shut it down.

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"We've looked very hard," he said, "We unfortunately have very limited legal action."

Lido residents refused to accept this, and said the city needed to do more. They said that Newport was lax in responding to complaints about smoking and other nuisances coming from the homes.

"There is a general disbelief in our enforcement," Councilwoman Nancy Gardner told City Manager Dave Kiff and Hunt, who have been responsible for remedying code violations.

"It is a resource issue," Hunt replied. "I wish we could respond more quickly."

Neighbors' complaints started last week when more than 100 of them attended a community outreach meeting hosted by Morningside.

Originally scheduled at the bayfront home, the meeting was moved to a nearby clubhouse when too many residents showed up. There, Kiff tried to explain the city's position on group homes and how his hands were tied in this case.

The city officials received so many negative comments about that meeting that Kiff apologized Tuesday night for leaving the impression that he had "given up" on helping neighbors maintain their peaceful community. He said he was "clearly a bit jaded" when it came to the controversies surrounding rehab homes.

For the past four years Newport has been battling rehab home operators. Much of that resistance was born of West Newport residents' complaints. The city passed one of the most restrictive municipal ordinances in the state, officials have said, and they have spent nearly $2 million defending it in court.

Their most recent settlement with Morningside limits where its homes can be and how many beds it can operate in Newport. One provision stipulates that homes have to be at least one block from each other, and another says that it can have a maximum of 30 beds in the area around the peninsula, including Lido.

Kiff said that even though the agreement doesn't take effect until December, the new home passed both of those tests and standing restrictions. The other Morningside facility on Lido is about half a mile away, and with six additional beds at 533 Via Lido Sound, it would meet the cap.

Morninside's move, and the neighbors' fury, seemed to have caught city leaders off guard.

"Frankly the timing of it surprised us all," Hunt said.

Councilman Mike Henn said that the city had been working hard to quell the controversies surrounding group homes and that he thought everything was going well with Morningside. Then, the company opened a new facility right after signing the agreement and the city blundered in dealing with neighbors.

"It's very clear to me that there have been a series of judgmental lapses and errors," Henn said.

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