Commentary: Writer fails to address bringing motels up to basic living standards

I was surprised to read Kathy Esfahani's latest defense of Costa Mesa's slumlords "End the assault on low income motel tenants" (May 18).

Esfahani, of the Costa Mesa Affordable Housing Coalition, does an admirable job of tugging at the heartstrings of Newport-Mesa residents by decrying the city's efforts to clean up its long-standing motel problems.

The problems at Costa Mesa's motels are not new. They have been going on for years. Drug dealing, prostitution, loitering and an endless supply of serious code enforcement violations can be found at many of these businesses. Just drive down Harbor Boulevard and you are bound to see police cruisers at several of these locations.

It troubles me that Esfahani and her coalition are so quick to defend the businesses that profit at the expense of the poor. Esfahani references the plight of homeless children in her commentary. I would ask her: Why should children have to endure drug dealing, prostitution and code violations simply because they are poor? Can't we do better? Shouldn't we do better? Why has it taken Costa Mesa so long to realize this problem and begin to address it? Where has the Affordable Housing Coalition been while conditions at these motels have deteriorated?

The Daily Pilot has chronicled the inspections of several of these motel properties. What has been reported is shocking and should raise concerns among rich and poor. These facilities are a haven for criminality and substandard living conditions. This is more than an isolated case of hoarding.

No one should have to live in that environment. If we can agree on that, then why isn't the Costa Mesa Affordable Housing Coalition at the forefront of this battle, demanding that these properties be brought up to basic living standards? It should stop defending those businesses that exploit the poor and perpetuate the myth that being poor is somehow connected to crime. We deserve better.

Costa Mesa's Planning Commission is looking at recommendations to make to the City Council regarding minimum standards for long-term-stay motel rooms. Simple things like providing a functioning telephone, a working smoke detector and a decent-size living space.

At a recent public hearing, the owner of the Sandpiper Motel admitted that the business was not even complying with a city requirement to inspect the motel rooms every 30 days. Why not?

Motels are not apartments. They are not intended to be utilized for prolonged periods of time. If they truly are a last resort for Costa Mesa's poor to keep them off the streets, shouldn't the public demand that minimum standards be put in place to ensure the quality of life for the tenants and surrounding neighbors?

COLIN MCCARTHY is a member of the Costa Mesa Planning Commission and has served on the city's Homeless Task Force.

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