Several addiction treatment facilities have popped up in the rural residential area of Elfin Forest near Escondido, sparking concerns among the community.
State and county regulations allow small addiction treatment facilities with six patients or less to operate as businesses within neighborhoods zoned for “residential only.”
In the small, rural community of Elfin Forest, two facilities have recently opened their doors, and a third is in the process of getting a state license, a director told NBC 7.
JP Theberge has lived for many years in Elfin Forest with his wife, three kids, three dogs and their menagerie of goats, sheep, alpacas, chickens, turkeys, peacocks and a horse.
“It’s quiet. It’s safe. Kids roam free on the trails and they have a lot of freedom,” said Theberge. “The kids have responsibilities too. It’s a great place to live.”
Theberge serves as the vice-chair of the town council, representing residents of unincorporated Elfin Forest and Harmony Grove.
“My residents have been reaching out to us and to the county staff and the state Department of Health and Human Services because there are an excess of facilities here for such a small area that we’re in,” he said.
Therberge said his family and their neighbors are worried about their rural lifestyle changing. Since Ocean Ranch Recovery and Shoreline addiction treatment facility opened their doors within a few blocks of each other, he's noticed a few alarming issues.
Neighbors said mail has been stolen, horse tranquilizers and syringes were taken. In another instance, some young girls walking along a trail encountered a man who appeared to be high on drugs. Neighbors later found a drug pipe in the location.
In another instance, a homeowner working on getting a license to operate a rehab was cited for leaving illegal rat poison out.
Neighbors told NBC 7 they’ve reported all the incidents to the San Diego County Sheriff’s department but said they have no evidence the uptick in alleged crime or nuisance in the small rural community is related to the new facilities.
Shelley Fontaine lives with Ocean Ranch Recovery on one side of her property and a new facility Saddleback, that's currently trying to open its doors on the other side of her vineyard.
“We have 21 kids just on our street. We have a home school. We have an equestrian center, which has children coming daily,” Fontaine said. “And here we’re going to put a drug and rehab facility next to this school with young children.”
One of the owners of all three facilities said the reason the company chose Elfin Forest to open rehabs is because of the large property sizes. Each property is usually 2 to 3 acres, he said.
Ben Beauchaine said it is his hope that space can create a buffer between the facility’s clients and the community.
Beauchaine told NBC 7 he is hoping the facilities, which support six patients or less, will have less of an impact on the community in the rural area than in a more dense and suburban neighborhood.