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VAN NUYS : Disabled to Work at Reopened Motel

An abandoned Van Nuys motel where police say prostitutes once plied their trade will be reopened to provide a different type of service: training people with disabilities for jobs.

For years, neighbors complained that the 46-unit Chateau Motel on Sepulveda Boulevard was a magnet for prostitutes and drug dealers, prompting city zoning officials in March to threaten to close the inn if it was not cleaned up.

Closed in April by its owners, the motel is getting a second life, thanks to Dennis Catron.

“We plan to open up as a family motel,” said Catron, board president of Asian Pacific Community Services, a nonprofit group based in Westminster. “We want to use it as a training center to get people with disabilities into the motel business.”

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About a dozen trainees will serve as maids, desk clerks and maintenance workers at the inn, in the 6700 block of Sepulveda Boulevard. Counselors who provide the free training will also work at the motel.

But the idea of reopening the motel, for whatever purpose, drew some concerns from neighbors.

“Doing something for the handicapped and getting them back to work sounds like a nice thing to do,” said Jeff Ross, owner of Jeff’s Lock and Key, across the street from the motel. “But time will tell. History shows that we have had problems with that motel.”

In March, the motel was one of five on Sepulveda Boulevard that was branded a magnet for petty crime by the city, prompting officials to set more than two dozen operating conditions against the owners, identified by city records as Jin Chan Yang and Guey Dan Hwu.

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Although the other four motels appealed the decision, the Chateau owners did not. The motel has been closed since April, when a chain-link fence was erected and the windows were boarded up.

Catron said his agency, which acquired the lease on the motel after the bank foreclosed on the owners, will follow the conditions set forth by the city, including hiring a security guard, adding security cameras and improving lighting. The agency will also meet with neighbors to ensure their satisfaction with the site.

The city must also approve any blueprint changes for the motel before it can reopen, Catron said. The facility will also include office space for the agency, whose Van Nuys branch was condemned after the Northridge earthquake.

It will take at least two months and $50,000 to rehabilitate the property, Catron said. The costs include replacing stolen televisions and air conditioners, converting a fire-damaged room into a storage shed, and clearing the weed-choked entrance.

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“It’s been an eyesore to the neighborhood,” Catron said. At the same time, he said he hopes the new motel opens the community’s eyes to the abilities of the disabled. “People with disabilities have a lot to offer.”

Although this is the agency’s first attempt to manage a motel, Catron said it has operated retail and other businesses to train and place more than 3,000 people with disabilities in jobs since 1982.


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