The Rich vs. the Addicts

Newports Balboa Peninsula has become the place to go when youve got no place else to go. Longtime residents say theyre fighting for their way of life. Addicts struggling to get clean say theyre fighting for their lives

Photos by James BunoanThe "convicts" and "liars" don'tagree on much, but they seem to agree on this: the tension started early in 2003. That's when Narconon opened a second rehabilitation house for recovering substance abusers behind the oceanfront rehab house it already operated at 18th Street on the Balboa Peninsula.

Narconon—that's Narcotics Anonymous, a 12-step program like AA—had operated the house for several years, and there were at least five other recovery houses in the area, on 10th, 12th, 15th and 45th streets. It was the prospect of one more house that pushed Linda Orozco over the edge.

"That's when we went nuts," said Orozco, a 20-year peninsula resident who lives three doors from the 18th Street recovery house. "There were now as many as 62 people using the 32-bed triplex for meals, laundry and classes."

Orozco contacted Newport Beach Mayor Tom Ridgeway to ask if the city could stop the proliferation of recovery houses and the myriad problems they brought with them: the overcrowding, foul language, pounding basketballs and, yes, tuba music that kept her up at night.

It wasn't long before Orozco, a professor of educational leadership at Cal State Fullerton, was addressing the entire Newport Beach City Council, joined by like-minded residents from 10th, 12th, 15th and 45th streets. They asked the city to more closely regulate the area's recovery facilities, which they say numbers close to 40. The longtime residents wanted to make it clear they had nothing against the people who ran the houses or their clients, they said, just that the people who ran the recovery houses were duplicitous and their clients were "transients" and "convicts" who stole from them.

That's when the people who ran the houses and their clients started showing up at the council meetings. They claimed they were being scapegoated.

"There has been a campaign of discrimination from the neighbors, with tactics and misinformation swaying people," said Gerry Marshall, the president of Narconon in Southern California, referring to not only things said but also things videotaped, specifically by Linda Orozco. "We try to be good, responsible neighbors, but it's the perception of the neighbors. If you don't know somebody, you can make up things and be scared."

Others have pointed out the rehab houses' residents are far more responsible neighbors than the weekly-rental frat boys who show up, kegs in arms.

"Weekly renters don't worry about the neighbors," said Mike Newman, a 40-year Newport resident and partner in Newport Coast Recovery, which opened the Blue House, a facility for men located at 1216 W. Balboa. "We don't bring kegs in and have parties every weekend. We are such good neighbors; we clean in front of the whole block once a week. Our residents have no cars and cannot smoke out front."

They've called their complaining neighbors "uneducated to what we do," their charges "blatant lies."

As you would expect in a community where oceanfront homes fetch $2 million to $3 million, lawyers have been retained and threats made. City officials have become involved . . . kinda. Newport Beach hired attorney Jeff Goldfarb, an expert in helping cities deal with rehab houses, to help assuage the situation. But his efforts led only to more anger and multiple complaints by multiple lawyers.

"This has become increasingly more difficult," Goldfarb said.

Now, as we near the beginning of 2005, nothing has changed, which is to say it's only gotten worse. Each side claims the other has ruined the peace and tranquility of the 2.5-mile stretch of sand. Private residents say they're fighting for their way of life. Rehab residents say they are fighting for their lives.

"Something has to be done," says the neighbor.

"Our battle is spiritual," says the recovery resident.

"People don't realize that life atthe beach is different," says Jane Hamlin, who has lived on the peninsula for more than 20 years. "It's so quiet people can hear the waves, the seagulls. Parents sit out on the patio, sipping coffee before the kids are up. But we also live very close to one another. Renters who are parents and have kids have to tell them to clam up and make them realize they have to be considerate of the neighbors. We all wave or smile good morning to one another. We don't even scrape a chair on the cement."

By contrast, she says, "on the Narconon balcony, two patients will be talking loudly, saying, 'Look at that f-ing seagull! Look at that f-ing wave," she says. "The language is very offensive, especially at the Jacuzzi, where the men discuss what they would like to do to certain females. Even the staff is profane. I hear the staff reading a patient up one side and down the other with graphic language."

For as long as Hamlin can remember, the three-story beige house next to her oceanfront home has served as a rehabilitation facility for people with addictions to food, alcohol, cocaine, heroin and other drugs. But she says the situation got suddenly, significantly worse last year, when Narconon rented a second house across the alley. Though Hamlin's home is just steps from the ocean, she says she doesn't dare open the windows to enjoy the ocean breeze; the last time she did, she says, her house reeked of cigarette smoke for days. She says she has no problem with recovery facilities, just the number of them.

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