Costa Mesa hotels will have to pay a fine if they attract an "excessive" amount of police attention under a new law aimed at properties run by what one City Council member referred to as "slumlords."
Under the ordinance approved Tuesday, motels and hotels could incur fines of hundreds of dollars if they generate above an average 0.4 calls per room per month for recurring "nuisance activities." Those activities were defined as including persistent noise, gang-related crime, illegal use of a firearm, disturbing the peace, illegal use or sale of fireworks, drug possession or sale, underage drinking and loud parties. Violent felonies are also covered.
Reporting domestic violence and summoning fire or ambulance services, however, are not considered nuisance activities under the ordinance, the Daily Pilot reported.
"This whole ordinance is based upon the fact that if you operate like a majority of the hotels and you manage your issues, you don't have problems," Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger said, adding that some motel owners, whom he called "slumlords," expect the Police Department to play the role of an on-site security staff.
Righeimer acknowledged that Costa Mesa motels act as homes to people who have nowhere else to go, but that living conditions in some are deplorable and shouldn't be tolerated.
"We are compassionate people … but this is not a way to run a business," he said. "This is not a way to run a city. This is not a way to run these properties."
Critics of the law, including two City Council members and several local innkeepers, say it will inhibit people from calling the police for fear of a fine, which in turn would endanger guests.
"I think we're opening a Pandora's box to encourage crime," Councilwoman Wendy Leece said.
Councilwoman Sandy Genis also questioned the logic of singling out motels for their use of police services when apartments, bars and shopping areas might be equally troublesome.
"I've yet to see the data that tells me they are the problem business," she said.
Representatives from the American Civil Liberties Union, the Public Law Center, Taiwan Hotel & Motel Assn. of Southern California and at least three motel properties — the Costa Mesa Motor Inn, New Harbor Inn and Sandpiper Motel — also spoke against the ordinance.
According to police data, the New Harbor Inn's 32 rooms generated 261 calls for service in 2012. The Costa Mesa Motor Inn generated 568 calls for service in 2012 — the most of any motel or hotel property in the city. The Sandpiper Motel, 1967 Newport Blvd., had 142 in 2011, the latest data available. It has 44 rooms.
"Are we supposed to search guests? Know all gang signs? Get urine samples?" said Hector Almaraz, manager of the Costa Mesa Motor Inn.
Affordable-housing advocates also urged the council not to pass the law, contending it would hurt the poor who rely on motels for shelter.
Lili Graham of the Santa Ana-based Public Law Center said the ordinance would deter crime reporting and thus give motel owners police-like authority to handle problems.
"That's giving a lot of power to landlords, who are business people, not police officers," she said.
Zint writes for Times Community News.