Problem motels could be charged for excessive police calls


Costa Mesa city officials are considering charging problem motels per police call if they require an excessive amount of attention from law enforcement.

The City Council will discuss that possibility at its Tuesday night meeting and could direct staff to begin drafting an ordinance that would charge hundreds of dollars for each police call if a motel surpasses a certain allotment.

Motels known for extended stay occupants and a high number of police calls have been a target of increased scrutiny from the city.


Specialized code enforcement officers have been sweeping through them to perform comprehensive inspections that include as many fines and fix-it tickets as possible.

If Costa Mesa’s council decides to move forward with this new ordinance, those motels will also be charged for emergency services if there are chronic problems.

A staff report suggested calculating an acceptable call threshold for each motel based on its number of rooms.

That limit could be determined by dividing the number of a given motel’s rooms by half and allowing that many penalty-free calls each month for “nuisance activity,” such as loud parties, over-occupancy, illegal drugs, prostitution or other serious crimes.

“This approach contemplates the possibility that a motel will in some instances have guests or visitors who, despite the motel’s best efforts, may engage in criminal behavior,” the staff report stated.

After that threshold is breached, staff suggested charging $295 per call, a number calculated based on the Police Department’s budget and the number of annual calls police receive.

“Motel owners whose properties are experiencing higher than normal incidents of criminal activity are encouraged to hire private security to better monitor their specific issues,” according to the report.

Based on numbers from past years, the motels Costa Mesa is targeting might be able to stay below a monthly 0.5 police calls per room threshold.

According to a Daily Pilot investigation, the New Harbor Inn on Harbor Boulevard averages the most calls per room in the city, but in 2012, the 32-room location averaged 15.75 calls per month, according to number provided to the planning commission.

On average, that would slip just under the monthly threshold, but the planning commission’s numbers did not include a monthly breakdown, which would reveal if the calls were spread out evenly or if the New Harbor Inn would have surpassed its limit during some months.

The Costa Mesa Fire Department also responded to the New Harbor Inn 25 times in 2012.


Hookah lounges

Council members will also consider two options to restrict hookah parlors in Costa Mesa.

The council could take up an ordinance that would add a definition for hookah parlors in the zoning code and ban them across all zones in the city, although existing locations would be allowed to remain.

Council members could also approve a 45-day moratorium on new hookah bars suggested by the Planning Commission.

During that time, officials would consider how to treat the smoking establishments, which are a relatively new land-use in Costa Mesa, according to a staff report.

The three hookah parlors operating in Costa Mesa have attracted police calls and continually violated city codes since they opened, according to a staff report.


Home definition

In another zoning issue, the City Council will consider a recommendation from the Planning Commission to revamp a legal definition that could help prevent rehabilitation homes from hosting more tenants than allowed.

After a court ruling that the city’s previous definition of a “single housekeeping unit” was “legally indefensible,” the section was rewritten.

It now refers to a space occupied by individuals that shares some form of responsibility, control and expenses for the home instead of referring to them as “the functional equivalent of a traditional family.”

The aim of the code is to limit the number of tenants in rehabilitation homes in residential zones in the city.