Los Angeles City Councilman Howard Finn on Wednesday proposed that the city use its zoning powers to combat prostitution in such problem areas as Sepulveda and Ventura boulevards in the San Fernando Valley.
Finn introduced legislation to regulate motels that rent rooms for less than 24 hours. Such motels have become havens for prostitutes because of their low rates for hourly use of rooms, according to police.
Now, any hotel or motel can open in most commercial areas with nothing more than the usual health and safety approvals.
Finn's proposal, if approved by the City Council, would prohibit new hotels and motels that rent rooms for less than 24 hours from locating in those areas that have a mixture of commercially zoned property and residential neighborhoods. They would be permitted in other commercial zones, but, under the proposal, would be required to obtain approval of a city hearing officer in a public meeting at which community opposition could be expressed.
Hotels and motels offering rooms for 24 hours or more would not be affected by the proposal. Existing hotels and motels renting rooms for less than than 24 hours would not be affected, either, but Finn said he will submit another plan to give those existing businesses 6 to 12 months to comply with the law if it is approved. In that case, owners of hotels and motels offering rates for less than a day would have to appear before a city hearing officer or shut down.
Finn said that hotels and motels offering hourly rates are "purposely attracting individuals attempting to engage in the illegal act of promiscuous sex for financial compensation.
"While the moral issues surrounding prostitution have been debated through the ages, there is strong evidence that indicates this activity creates a public nuisance impacting nearby land uses due to increased noise, traffic, loitering and especially criminal activity," Finn said.
Support of Bernson
Finn acknowledged that motels could still rent rooms to prostitutes for 24 hours. But Councilman Hal Bernson, who supports Finn's proposal, said, "It's a deterrent. It's not a cure-all."
Councilman Ernani Bernardi, whose district includes Sepulveda Boulevard, said,
"If someone can find a solution to stop it, I'm very interested." Bernardi, however, said he could not comment on Finn's proposal without studying it further.
Claudia McGee Henry, an assistant city attorney, said there is precedent for the city to use its zoning powers to restrict certain types of businesses. She cited the council's recent passage of a law requiring those seeking to open a liquor store to obtain the approval of a city hearing officer.
The council in 1982 also approved a law to prohibit new adult businesses within 500 feet of homes. A proposal is pending before the council to give existing businesses two years to conform to the 500-foot buffer.
Finn said that, although prostitution has not become a problem in his northeast Valley district, he decided to do something about it because he chairs the council's Planning and Environment Committee, which is responsible for zoning problems.
The proposal was routinely referred by the council to Finn's committee.