Proposed Motel in Hawaiian Gardens Becomes Hot Issue in April Election


A proposed 57-unit motel--pilloried as a potential drug den and house of prostitution by its opponents--has become the hottest issue in the April 10 City Council election, with the two incumbents taking opposite sides.

Councilwoman Kathleen Navejas is supporting the motel--which would be the first in the city. Mayor Donald Schultze is vowing to stop it. "I don't know how . . . but I'm going to do it. Believe me, I will find a way," he said.

"We just got rid of the adult bookstores," said council candidate Joe Cabrera Zermeno, "so why are we going to have a hot sheet business?"

Cabrera, a public safety commissioner and one of four challengers seeking two seats on the five-member council, said that if the council won't block the proposed motel at Carson Street and Belshire Avenue, he will organize a campaign against a June ballot measure tied to the proposed motel.

The council placed a referendum on the June ballot that asks voters to approve an occupancy tax of up to 10% that, according to motel supporters, could generate $60,000 annually for the city treasury. There would also be property taxes and sales tax revenue from the banquet and meeting hall that is to be built as part of the motel development, they say.

"If that's the only way to circumvent the council's decision," said Cabrera, a free-lance artist, "then I'm opposed to (the tax)."

Mary Macias, one of several condominium owners who live near the proposed motel site, said: "I think it will definitely draw negative activity in this area, like drugs, prostitution, drinking. There are already three bars in the area."

Another motel opponent, condominium owner Jan LaPointe, said: "This town needs something that is going to bring in money and jobs and positive growth and this motel is just not going to do that."

Cabrera and other opponents of the motel said residents were relieved when the city got rid of the adult bookstore, which had been a source of complaints for years. The city bought out the business and put the land into the redevelopment area. The motel, opponents say, threatens to draw a troublesome clientele just as the bookstore did.

Councilwoman Navejas said she would withdraw her support of the project if voters reject the proposed occupancy tax. She and Schultze agree on that issue. "If the motel goes on without the tax," Schultze said, "we would look kind of foolish."

Schultze, however, wants to see the motel parcel combined with others in the area to attract a larger commercial development.

Former Councilman Richard Vineyard, who was defeated for reelection in 1988 and is trying to make a comeback, agrees with Schultze. "We have very little commercial property left. If we keep cutting up little properties . . . we're going to end up with little strip centers and motels," Vineyard said.

Another candidate, Grant E. Winford, said: "I don't think we've been shown that (a motel) is going to make money for the city." There are a handful of other motels within a mile, he said. "They do not draw enough business to keep them full."

The only other candidate supporting the motel is Domenic Ruggeri, a political ally of Navejas. "It would beautify the city," he said. "That's a bad-looking corner."

Navejas argues that the motel would generate jobs and revenue. Suggestions that it would lure drug dealers, transients and prostitution, she says, are unfair and unfounded. Potential guests at the motel, she says, are business people, visitors who have relatives in town, and people with relatives in the nearby Long Beach Naval Hospital.

Rates at the motel are expected to be about $45 a night, slightly higher than other motels in the area, Navejas said. She said the motel would attract a respectable clientele at those rates.

A $3-million construction project, the motel would be built in an area in which the city's redevelopment agency owns several parcels of land. One parcel has already been sold to the Home Club, a regional chain that sells building and home-improvement supplies. The one-acre parcel that the agency would sell to the motel developers is adjacent to the Home Club site.

The motel developer is El Camino Real Development Co., whose principal partners are James V. Wilson of Rolling Hills Realty in Rolling Hills Estates and Malcohn Kao of MK Development in South Pasadena. They have built motels in South Gate and in Maywood, Wilson said.

"This is going to be one of the nicest buildings we have," Wilson said.

He said all motel owners have to deal with the possibility of attracting transients and prostitutes. But the motel will be prepared to stop them, he said. "We run a really tight ship at our motels and inns and . . . the management will keep an eye on this kind of thing. We have a 24-hour video security system," Wilson said, adding that the owners have a vested interest in protecting their investment.

Los Angeles County Sheriff's Lt. Robert Mirabella said motels are not automatically an undesirable business. "There's no particular construction project--hotel, motel, apartment or whatever--that you can make a blanket statement about," said Mirabella, administrative officer at the Lakewood Sheriff's Station. Hawaiian Gardens contracts with the county for police services.

A motel that rents rooms by the hour or advertises X-rated video movies, he said, could become a troublesome business. But not all motels operate that way, he said. "It would be premature to make an assessment that a place was going to cause a problem," Mirabella said.

Two weeks ago, the council voted 3 to 1 to approve a conditional use permit for the motel, which means the land has been approved for motel use with certain conditions. Navejas, Lennie Wagner and Venn Furgeson voted in favor; Schultze voted against. Rosalie Sher, the fifth council member, was absent.

The proposal still must clear two hurdles--an agreement between the city and developers on the price of the land, and council approval of a variance to solve a parking problem. The plans, so far, call for only 58 parking spaces, which city officials say is inadequate. Wilson says he is negotiating with nearby property owners to provide more parking spaces. The parking variance will be discussed at the March 27 council meeting.

The city and the developers still are negotiating on price. "The (development agreement) is not going to be signed until after the June 10 vote because the city needs to get the (occupancy) tax," Navejas said.

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