Planning Commission explores problem motels

The Costa Mesa Planning Commission on Monday heard about upcoming plans to tackle problematic motels in the city.

The five commissioners also asked questions of city staff and requested further information as the problems often associated with the motels — prostitution, drug dealing, hoarding, disproportionate police and fire department attention and other nuisances — come under city officials' scrutiny in the coming months.

They requested more information about each property's on-site policies and procedures, particularly housekeeping standards. The commissioners also asked about the research done by the city's motel task force, the number of children living in motels and any violations committed by the Illumination Foundation, an Irvine nonprofit.

The foundation works with the homeless, identifying needs and providing help. It uses the Costa Mesa Motor Inn, 2277 Harbor Blvd., for homeless recovery housing.

Chairman Jim Fitzpatrick and Commissioner Colin McCarthy expressed frustration that motel problems haven't been adequately addressed by now.

Fitzpatrick cited the 1996 Newport Boulevard Specific Plan, which notes motel problems along that street. Those issues still beleaguer Newport Boulevard and Harbor Boulevard, he said.

"I'm really excited that we're rolling up our sleeves and we are talking about a persistent issue that has plagued our community for decades," he said.

Fitzpatrick mentioned the Oct. 1 inspection of the Alibaba Motel, 2250 Newport Blvd. Officials alleged 54 building code violations at the 42-room property. Collectively, they amounted to more than $3,000 in fines.

"Half of those rooms did not have operating smoke detectors," Fitzpatrick said. "It's like, 'Are you kidding me?'"

More action on the issue is set for next month.

On Nov. 12, the commission is scheduled to examine the operating permits of two properties: the Costa Mesa Motor Inn and the Sandpiper Motel, 1967 Newport Blvd.

The 236-room Motor Inn was recently fined more than $40,000, about $23,000 of which was later voided after certain problems were fixed. An inspection in August alleged 490 violations there, including unkempt conditions and hoarding.

Both properties were singled out by a critical Mayor Jim Righeimer during the Sept. 17 council meeting.

In the future, the city may also consider lessening the permitted number of long-term motel guests. Costa Mesa defines long-term as more than 28 consecutive days or 28 days in a 60-day period.

Eastside resident Richard Russell was complimentary of the commission's efforts.

"I think it's good that you are taking action on this issue," he said, "not just talking about it."

The commissioners were also dismissive of previous allegations that, in an effort to remove the problem motels, they and others were "selling out" to Newport Beach developers.

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