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

Though there are six licensed facilities, residents live in numerous "satellite" facilities located nearby. These smaller residences house fewer than six occupants, which means they don't require licensing; Orozco, Hamlin and others claim the people residing in these smaller houses often wind up hanging out at the bigger recovery facilities. Add in these smaller facilities, they say, and there are more than 40 recovery facilities of some kind in an area that simply can't handle the volume.

"Something has to be done," says Hamlin, noting the constant stream of orange peels, cigarettes and pizza crusts that get thrown out of the windows and lie all over the street. "Narconon says they are a family." If they are a family, she says, they need to act like one. "They need to be considerate to their neighbors. Because of the high turnover, there are always new people, and socialization is the last thing to be taught."

Narconon's Gerry Marshall is a former student and graduate of the program. He says his house has always been a good neighbor. To prove that, Narconon recently voluntarily ceased their lease on the back house to decrease the neighborhood population. He is aware that people who use drugs aren't perfect people and that many of them smoke, but he notes that cigarettes are "better than crack pipes."

Beach areas such as Newport Beachand Malibu have long been popular with private recovery facilities. They offer physical beauty, activities and the spiritual tether that is the ocean. The saying goes that when clients are paying $20,000 for a 90-day stay, "the beach sells better than Riverside." Marshall is quick to point out that many of their clients come from Newport Beach itself. In fact, this summer, during City Council meetings, recovery-house proponents asked city officials to relax restrictions on houses to allow more centers to open up for more clients—noting that Newport Beach ranks third highest in the state for DUI arrests.

"I had an awesome family. My father was a doctor. I had a sports car. I went to graduate school. I'm also a heroin addict from a drug program in Newport Beach," said Ericka Falk at a City Council meeting. "I think we need more facilities for the area."

The complaints from the neighbors are no surprise to Marshall. He says he's tried to accommodate them: restricting smokers to a single balcony and repairing an industrial-strength dryer that neighbors complained made too much noise. Blue House's Newman says that when neighbors complained about noise, he immediately resolved the situation by turning off the music at 9 p.m. instead of 10. When an apartment complex located next to the Blue House was sold, Newman says he talked with the new owner about their concerns and pointed out that his clients are better behaved than weekly renters.

"We've corrected everything, then they come up with more things," says Marshall, who notes that neither the 18th Street house nor the back unit has ever been in violation of the law. "The house has had two surprise state inspections and passed all the items, including occupancy, and is within the state limit for the number of beds in the facility."

Many in the recovery houses believe the surprise inspections were the work of their neighbors. They've complained about being videotaped, specifically by Orozco, who has been tenacious about in keeping the issue alive through e-mails and phone calls to City Hall, as well as encouraging her neighbors to do likewise.

Orozco admits she videotaped the houses—at a recent planning-commission meeting, she distributed her videotapes from a large white satchel—but says she isn't invading anyone's privacy, just documenting the heavy foot and vehicle traffic, along with the aforementioned noisy dryer.

The recovery facilities didn't see it that way, which is why Orozco says she was threatened with a lawsuit if she didn't stop.

Many of the neighbors say they are the ones being spied on. They believe recovery residents case their homes and wait for opportunities to steal.

"They watch us," said one resident who didn't want her name used. She grows conspiratorial when I ask what she means. "That's how they knew the elderly lady down the street was on a walk. They broke into her house and threw her safe out the second-floor window."

Since a recent rash of robberies along the 12th Street area near the Blue House, a drug-and-alcohol-recovery center for men, a neighbor says the casual, trusting, life-at-the-beach vibe is gone. "We no longer leave our front doors unlocked, even just to go on the beach or run an errand. Bikes, anything left outside: everything is stolen."

Newman, um, doesn't agree.

"What neighbors say are blatant lies," he said. "Our clients have no reason to steal. We provide them with bikes, wet suits and computers, and we take their IDs when they arrive here."

Newport Police Sergeant Steve Shulman says there were eight service calls directly for the Blue House location and 43 at Narconon's 1810 W. Oceanfront home in 2003.

"The calls could have been from neighbors or from the house," he says. "But to have more than a few calls at an address per year, there is usually an ongoing type of problem, such as noise, traffic or a problem with a person."

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