MALIBU, Calif. – There are roughly 37 rehabilitation facilities in Malibu for a population of 13,000, which equates to nearly one for every 350 people. By comparison, Los Angeles has one facility for every 15,000 people.
It is a tough situation for residents who don’t want to be labeled as elitists, but would like to see more regulations on some of these rehab centers in their neighborhood.
Some argue the city shouldn’t be importing addicts. Instead, there should be enough to serve the local community. One neighbor, who asked not to be named because of a pending lawsuit, said if one percent of rehab beds were occupied by locals, he would be surprised.
Currently, the law allows for these facilities to be built in private homes in residential neighborhoods, but they can’t have more than six beds per residence. Some treatment centers have tried to get around this by renting or buying nearby homes and expanding.
There are reports that the centers have overtaken entire neighborhoods, turning them into mini-compounds and posing a safety risk to other residents.
Bob Forrest owns Alo Recovery Centers, which provides treatment throughout L.A. County. He knows there are bad operators out there, but he says he has a good relationship with surrounding neighborhoods.
"I don’t hide behind what’s called the Dole Act or the Disabilities Act which gives you the right to have a treatment center in a residential neighborhood. I like to talk to the neighbors, personally say this is my phone number. If there’s any problems, call me and a lot of treatment providers have done that," Forrest said. "There’s great places and we’ve now gotten tarnished by all these bad actors and fraudsters and b.s. artists, and I try to be outspoken. Listen, there are good people that are trying to help every day."
Forrest could only give Spectrum News 1 a brief tour of the Mar Vista location, but tried to provide a better sense of what they offer. Like many of these rehab centers in Malibu, the Mar Vista location is in the middle of a residential neighborhood.
It has a detox facility on one side of the street and a sober living home on the other. Alo lost some of its transitional housing in the Woolsey Fire last year as well as three in-patient facilities.
Forrest says Malibu truly became an addiction destination in the mid to late 90s when a new generation of younger addicts emerged. Many of them had failed to launch their careers and struggled with drugs and alcohol.
"When the new generation of addicts in the mid to late 90s started interfacing with the professionals who had always been a traditional patient population of rehabs, it was chaotic and the adults said, 'I’m not staying here. I’m not going to be a part of this. I’m not going to be around this,'" Forrest said. "That created what’s called patient driven care, where patients want to go to an elite place in the Malibu hills and get yoga."
Ever since, he says treatment centers have used it as a marketing tool that has attracted celebrities and patients from around the world. He says it is a myth that a person needs to go somewhere to get sober. It could be church, synagogue, or therapy. What works for one person may not work for another.
The City of Malibu declined to comment on the situation. The rehab centers do provide a source of tax money for the city, but in the past council members have been vocal about concerns.
Overall, the focus in Malibu right now seems to be on recovering from last year’s Woolsey fire and so this issue has taken a back seat as homeowners continue rebuild.