Group Home Moratorium

Project No.: ZC11-001

In early 2011, the San Rafael City Council adopted a temporary moratorium on unlicensed, large group homes (group homes with seven or more residents). This moratorium was adopted in response to community concerns regarding the establishment of several “sober living residences” (sober living environments – SLE) in single-family dwellings, which City staff determined were un-regulated and unpermitted by the City’s municipal code. The purpose of the temporary moratorium is to provide the City Attorney and Community Development Department staff adequate time to analyze and research the laws pertaining to group homes and to formulate recommendations.

On July 27, 2011, the City held a community meeting to present the initial research to interested parties.

In December 2011, this temporary moratorium was extended for one year (due to expire on December 31, 2012). Following an initial research of laws pertaining to group homes, in July 2011, the City Attorney and Community Development Department staff hosted a community meeting to present findings of this research. At that community meeting, City staff reported that the City Attorney would continue research and develop recommendations that could include proposed amendments to the City municipal code. It was agreed that when recommendations were ultimately formulated, a draft of proposed language would be circulated for comments, and a second community meeting would be held to present the recommendations.

On July 25, 2012, City staff conducted a second community meeting to present the additional research and present a draft ordinance to interested parties.

On November 13, 2012, the Planning Commission conducted a public hearing to consider three options for potential regulations to group homes.

Current Status

The Moratorium on unlicensed group homes has expired (as of December 11, 2012) and cannot be extended.

The Planning Commission reviewed options on potential regulations to Group Homes at their meeting on 11/13/12. Their review did not result in a consensus or recommendation to the City Council. The Commission was split on whether to adopt new regulations or not. The links to the staff report and video from the meeting proceedings can be found below in the key documents section.

Since the Planning Commission meeting in November, the City has become aware of additional information which has led the City to conclude that it would be inadvisable to adopt any ordinance regulating group homes at this time. While the City was researching options to regulate group homes over the past few years, there has been a significant legal case under review by the justice system and the City has been actively monitoring that case.  A trial court had previously found in favor of the City of Newport Beach and its ability to establish regulations on group homes. Thus, based on this, the City of San Rafael modeled the options for regulating group home around the Newport Beach Ordinance.  The U.S. Department of Justice submitted a brief to the appeals court supporting the appeal against the City of Newport Beach and also filed a new lawsuit just days before the November Planning Commission meeting, which challenges a group homes ordinance enacted by the City of San Jacinto.  On September 20, 2013, the Federal Court of Appeals issued an opinion reversing the decision of the trial court in the Newport Beach case, and that case will now return to the trial court for a jury to decide plaintiffs’ claims that the City of Newport Beach illegally discriminated against them in adopting the ordinance.  See key documents section below for a copy of 9th Circuit decision. 

This evidence of the U.S. Department of Justice’s close scrutiny of ordinances regulating group homes, along with the lack of consensus by the Planning Commission, has persuaded the City to defer further consideration of new regulations pending clarification of the legal issues raised in the pending cases.

Therefore, the City will take no further action on potential regulations for unlicensed group homes at this time and will continue to monitor the case law developments.

Since the moratorium expired in December 2012 and no new regulations are in effect, the question remains as to the appropriate treatment of unlicensed group home uses under the City’s current Zoning Ordinance. Although at the commencement of the moratorium in March of 2011, the City determined that unlicensed group homes constituted a new type of use that was not recognized by the City’s current Zoning Ordinance and was therefore not allowed anywhere in the City, this determination has been revised as a result of the extensive research undertaken by the City.  City staff now believes that the unlicensed group home use can properly be included within existing zoning definitions of a “household,” “residential care facility,” or “boarding house,” depending upon the manner in which the home is operated.

Therefore, unless and until new zoning ordinance provisions are enacted specifically regulating unlicensed group homes, any new or existing unlicensed group homes will be classified under these existing zoning ordinance definitions.  Therefore, if a group home is found to meet the definition of “household”, it would be allowed in any single family residential zoning district.

Other unlicensed group homes, which due to their manner of operations do not fit within the definition of “household”, would be considered either a “boarding house” or “residential care facility” use, and would be allowed only in certain areas and/or may require a Use Permit, as specified by the Zoning Ordinance. These relevant definitions can be found in Chapter 3 of the City’s Zoning Ordinance.

Key Documents

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