Costa Mesa enacts ordinance to fine motels that regularly call police

Costa Mesa motel owners will be fined $360 if they call for an "excessive" amount of police attention, under an ordinance approved Tuesday by the City Council.

The new law aims to recover costs from motel and hotel operators who, council members have said, essentially use police as on-site security, racking up expensive hours of work to solve problems on their property.

Now, motels and hotels can be fined if they generate an average of more than 0.4 calls per room per month for recurring "nuisance activities," such as persistent noise, illegal use of a firearm, disturbing the peace, possession or sale of illegal drugs, underage drinking and loud parties.

Calls alerting police to domestic violence or summoning fire or ambulance services are excluded, the Daily Pilot reported.

Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger has said certain motels take up an undue amount of police time and refuse to make changes to their operations that would stop them from attracting potentially problematic guests.

But detractors have argued the ordinance will inhibit a motel from calling the police about unruly customers, endangering other motel guests.

Councilwoman Sandy Genis, who has been critical of the ordinance, also said the fine appeared to be a "kind of a seat-of-the-pants number," adding that she was dissatisfied with how city officials came to the figure.

The $360 fine, a city staff report said, was arrived at by dividing the annual Police Department budget — about $40.2 million — by annual calls for service, minus routine patrol checks and 911 calls that were canceled, unfounded or otherwise unnecessary to log.

That yielded an initial estimate of $515 per call, from which city staff subtracted 30% to "counteract charges" for police work unrelated to responding to calls.


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Twitter: @jillcowan

Cowan writes for Times Community News.

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