Judge lets challenge to Costa Mesa motel law proceed

A lawsuit claiming that Costa Mesa is discriminating against poor residents by banning most long-term stays in local motels cleared a preliminary hurdle this week.

At a hearing Wednesday, Orange County Superior Court Judge Sheila Fell finalized a tentative decision released earlier, overruling a motion from the city's lawyers and allowing the litigation to proceed intact, according to Mark Erickson, a lawyer for the plaintiffs. The city had argued that the suit had no legal basis and should be thrown out.

Erickson said he and others representing a group of motel residents who brought the suit in November will start gathering evidence for trial.

The lawsuit, filed by the Public Law Center, a pro-bono law firm, alleges that Costa Mesa unfairly targeted low-income residents by taking away a last resort for low-cost housing.

"It's unfortunate that we're in a situation where, really, Costa Mesa is, instead of creating more opportunities for people to have a roof over their head, they're making it more difficult for people to keep a roof over their heads," Erickson said.

An attorney representing Costa Mesa did not return a call seeking comment Wednesday.

At previous hearings, the city's lawyers argued that the plaintiffs haven't shown a single person who has become homeless as a result of the law.

The ordinance in question bars anyone from staying in a motel room for more than 30 days unless the facility meets requirements such as providing an onsite laundry room and including a kitchen in every dwelling.

A motel also must apply for and be granted a permit to allow new long-term stays.

Residents who were in motels before the law took effect in September were allowed to remain.

In February, Fell extended that protection at the request of the Public Law Center. She issued an injunction barring Costa Mesa from kicking out any motel residents who were in place by Feb. 25.

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