Protesters voice concerns over plans to replace Costa Mesa’s Motor Inn with luxury apartments


Tony Price has lived at the Costa Mesa Motor Inn for nearly 20 years. He says he’s seen “the good and the bad” of what’s occurred there.

On Thursday afternoon, just outside the shade of the Harbor Boulevard motel’s porte cochère, Price oversaw what was likely a first in the property’s history — a full-scale protest, about 100 people strong.

“It’s a good thing,” he said of the event. “Let the people know.”

The protest served as a public outreach — or outrage, depending on one’s perspective — to a pending proposal by the motel’s owner, Miracle Mile Properties, to demolish the 236-room motel at 2277 Harbor Blvd. next year and turn it into 224 apartments, whose starting rental prices are likely going to be far too high for the motel’s 50 estimated long-term tenants.

The City Council is scheduled to vote on the matter Nov. 3.

The protest, organized by the Costa Mesa Affordable Housing Coalition, was partially in reaction to Miracle Mile’s plans not to set aside any of the units for the low and very low income.

Participants chanted and waved at the passing rush-hour traffic. They held signs saying “Motel Refugee,” “I am not a pimp or prostitute,” “I’m no vagrant” and “City Council should care about our CM poor.”

Some tapped on tambourines. Children played on the grass in front of the motel. Others brought their dogs.

From across the street at the Harbor Center, Costa Mesa police kept tabs on the scene.

Costa Mesa Affordable Housing Coalition member and protest organizer Kathy Esfahani was pleased at the turnout.

“I think it’s really exciting,” she said. “There’s a lot of support. People understand this is an issue.”

Esfahani noted how of the thousands of new housing units being proposed and built in Costa Mesa, none of them have been slated for the poor. Rather, she contended, it’s been a series of too many favors given to developers.

Esfahani and others are hoping to see Miracle Mile’s new project include affordable units. As of now, it is not. Miracle Mile has said it plans to have units for the “moderate” income, or about $80,000 a year.

Councilwoman Sandy Genis stopped by the protest, her two dogs in tow. She said she came to see if a rumored counter-protest was going to occur. It didn’t.

Of those who did come, “it definitely shows that people are concerned about this issue,” Genis said.

Newport Beach resident Thomas Peterson, an assistant social-work professor at USC, brought several of his students to the protest.

“We’re here to support affordable housing for everybody,” he said.

One of Peterson’s graduate students, Corina Perez, added that the situation for those at the Motor Inn is deceptively complicated. The families there — City Hall estimates that about 50 long-term tenants live at the motel — will be forced to relocate.

Such change brings considerable personal turmoil, Perez said.

“There’s so much more to it than what’s presented on the exterior,” she said.

Todd Coleman has lived in the Motor Inn with his wife for the last three years. Coleman, a journeyman carpenter, said he felt the core issue was a lack of adequate rent control measures and how California’s minimum wage doesn’t cover basic expenses “with rents being what they are.”

Lee Doering saw the protest from his Motor Inn room. The 66-year-old former Coast Guardsman has lived there with his wife, Margaret, 55, for about a year and in Costa Mesa for 30 years.

From his vantage point, he said he doesn’t see some of the alleged issues at Motor Inn and its environs, like the criminal activity or unsavory characters.

“It’s a very clean, nice place,” Doering said. “The problems are down to zero.”

He added that he and his wife, however, are on the hunt for another place.

Miracle Mile has told city officials it will give as much as $5,500 worth of relocation assistance to the displaced residents and families following the Motor Inn’s closure, tentatively scheduled for Aug. 1.

“That will not get them housing in Costa Mesa,” Esfahani said. She called the deal “a ticket out of town.”

Price was worried how far the money would take him.

“How long is that gonna last?” he said.