Costa Mesa to consider revising or scrapping motel ordinance that limits long-term stays

An ordinance limiting long-term stays in Costa Mesa motels could be revised — or wind up on the chopping block — after City Council members unanimously directed the Planning Commission to take another look at the matter.

Councilman John Stephens said Tuesday’s vote wasn’t meant to be an indictment of the ordinance. It just makes sense to examine how, or whether, it should be changed or repealed, he said.

“This is not to say that anything that was done in 2014 was inappropriate,” he said. “It’s just to take another look at it based on changed circumstances, and that’s it.”

The ordinance limits motels’ ability to house tenants for more than 30 consecutive days, or for 30 days in a 60-day period.

It also requires motels looking to house longer-term tenants to apply for special permits and meet other requirements, including having at least 75 rooms — with those being at least 375 square feet — and amenities such as onsite laundry facilities and in-room kitchens.

The ordinance was part of the council majority’s efforts at the time to address what it saw as problematic properties that contributed to blight and crime.

A few factors merit reconsidering the matter, according to Stephens.

For instance, the Costa Mesa Motor Inn — a Harbor Boulevard motel that Stephens said accounted for “over half of the long-term occupancy units” in the city — closed late last year.

Additionally, local homelessness has increased in recent years, he said.

The ordinance also is the subject of a lawsuit alleging that it violates state and federal housing and disability laws.

Stephens — who has been working with the city attorney’s office and Councilman Jim Righeimer regarding the litigation — said he has no preconceived notions about changes that could be made to the ordinance.

However, he said he’d much rather that any revisions be made locally than in a courtroom.

“I want these decisions to be made by our community,” he said. “I trust our Planning Commission, I certainly trust this council. I trust our staff and I trust our community to come and weigh in on these issues. I don’t just simply want to deliver these issues to a judge … who doesn’t live in Costa Mesa and doesn’t care about these issues quite as much as we do.”

Kathy Esfahani of the Costa Mesa Affordable Housing Coalition said she hopes the city will rescind the ordinance.

She suggested the council form a working group of city officials, staff, affordable housing advocates, motel owners and residents to examine “how motels can be part of the solution for Costa Mesa’s affordable-housing crisis.”

Motels, Esfahani said, are “last-resort” options open to those who might not be able to afford or secure other housing.

“Don’t get me wrong, we need new affordable housing to be built … but in the interim … we need to use all the resources we have to provide housing for our community.”

Linda Tang, project manager with the Kennedy Commission — an Irvine-based affordable-housing advocacy group — echoed the call for the ordinance’s repeal.

“Making changes to the ordinance isn’t enough if it still discourages motel operators from renting to long-term occupants or increases the costs such that it is no longer affordable,” Tang said.

Orange County’s competitive market can make it particularly hard to find housing, she said.

“When you have bad credit or an eviction on your record, the chance of being selected to rent an apartment is very, very low,” she told the council Tuesday.

Early last year, the Kennedy Commission filed its own lawsuit against the city challenging a proposal to redevelop the Motor Inn property with 224 high-end apartments.

In May, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Mary Strobel reversed the city’s approval of the project, ruling it didn’t comply with state law regarding development of affordable housing.

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