Los Angeles Times November 3, 2003
Rehab Facility Draws Gripes
Neighbors of a Newport Beach drug treatment center complain of noise and traffic and say it's overcrowded, which operators deny.
Stanley Allison, Times Staff Writer
Neighbors of an oceanfront drug treatment center in Newport Beach are complaining to City Hall that facility operators are violating the occupancy limit in one house while expanding by renting another home nearby.
Some residents near the three-story home operated on the Balboa Peninsula by Narconon, a private network of more than 100 drug rehabilitation and prevention centers around the world, complain about noise, clouds of cigarette smoke drifting into their homes and traffic in the narrow alley that separates them from their neighbors.
But what drove them to petition City Hall for relief, they say, was Narconon's recent rental of a smaller home that they said worsened the situation.
City Atty. Robert Burnham said Newport Beach does not regulate drug and alcohol treatment facilities, which are governed by state law. But after neighbors complained at recent council meetings, Burnham instructed city staff to prepare a resolution for council consideration that would require a city permit for facilities that treat seven or more people.
Narconon's second dwelling houses a maximum of five residents and is in compliance with city ordinances, Burnham said. Company officials say the residents of that home are not in rehabilitation.
Narconon executives say they have been good neighbors since moving into the first home in 1995 and are eager to resolve any problems.
"There is nothing that I will not work out with my neighbors," said Larry Trahant, executive director of the program's Southern California division. "There is no one that I will not listen to ... to resolve a legitimate problem."
Neighbor Ted Brandt said the drug treatment facility is "a great community service. Those people have enough trouble without more hassles." He said Narconon clients are often better neighbors than "a lot of people around here who are big partyers."
But Linda Orozco, who lives across the alley behind the main facility, on Ocean Front, said complaints about noise and rude behavior have been ignored.
She and other residents also say that facility is overcrowded and that Narconon has added to their problems by putting more clients in the second home.
Orozco, neighbor Michael Bacus and others contend that the number of clients staying at the main facility exceeds the number allowed by the city.
Burnham said the city allows 27 residents in the house, even though the state allows 32. He said the Fire Department is trying to have the state permit amended to reflect the city's limit of 27.
Neighbors say Narconon's incentive to overcrowd is the $20,000 fee that clients are charged.
Glenn Farnsworth, director of the center, said that even though the state allows treatment of 32 residents, the number recently was reduced to 27 because of the anticipated change in the state permit.
Trahant, however, insisted that the facility is treating 32 clients, as the permit still allows.
"We are following all state laws," he said. "We are in violation of nothing."
He added that the neighbors' complaints stem from the NIMBY syndrome: "not in my back yard."
"Nobody wants this near them," Trahant said.
He said Narconon's reported 75% success rate speaks for itself, but he submitted testimonials from recovering addicts, parents and others who hailed the program.
Narconon was started in 1966 by William Benitez, an Arizona state prison inmate, based on principles he read in a book by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard.
The drug rehabilitation program can last two months or more, Trahant said, and after clients graduate, they can return any time free of charge.