City officials tout results of motel crackdown

Costa Mesa officials are crediting recent reforms targeting the city's so-called problem motels for a first-quarter reduction in police calls and nuisance complaints associated with the properties.

Compared to the same period last year, calls to police from the city's hotels and motels have dropped by 124, or 15%, according to a city news release. Nuisance complaints dropped by 129, or 51%, city officials said.

"Costa Mesa residents are safer today because of our proactive, holistic approach to addressing the long-standing problems generated by some motels in our city," city CEO Tom Hatch said.

He added that the city is "pleased with the progress of the motel operators' efforts to police themselves and act as good neighbors. [Our] team will continue to work with them to make local motels even safer."

Costa Mesa police, however, said they cannot definitively connect the reduction in police calls to motels to a reduction in crime there.

"No correlation can yet be drawn from information made available so far," said Lt. Greg Scott, "but we are able to infer from the drop in calls for service that motel property owners are clearly taking greater responsibility for activity occurring on their properties. And for that, police staff are grateful."

The drop in calls follows City Council passage in January of the Excessive Use of Resources Ordinance, which allows for the billing of motels and hotels that attract "excessive" amounts of police attention. The law defines excessive as more than an average of 0.4 calls per room per month.

Under the law, the city is reimbursed for police having to respond to too many "nuisance activities," such as persistent noise, gang-related crime, underage drinking and the commission or attempted commission of a violent felony.

Reporting domestic violence and summoning the Fire Department and ambulance services are not considered nuisance activities under the ordinance.

City officials said they have not begun issuing fines, but if they had, five motels would have been fined a total of $2,880.

At the time of the vote on the ordinance — Councilwomen Sandy Genis and Wendy Leece dissented — representatives from the American Civil Liberties Union, the Public Law Center, Taiwan Hotel & Motel Assn. of Southern California and some motel properties spoke out against it. They expressed concern that the law could create unsafe conditions for guests if innkeepers became reluctant to report crime for fear of being fined.

Proponents argued that the ordinance would help force the owners of problem motels to clean up their act and not use the Police Department as a security staff. They also decried the living conditions at some motels, which, according to city code enforcement inspections, have included vermin infestation, hoarding and broken window screens.

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