Under a proposed ordinance, Costa Mesa motels could pay for causing too much trouble.
The City Council on Tuesday night unanimously approved the first reading of the "excessive use of resources" ordinance. If the council approves it a second time, lodging establishments that generate more police calls than the to-be-defined threshold would be charged for officer time.
The threshold will vary by property, depending on how many rooms each has. The billing methods have not yet been decided.
Assistant City CEO Rick Francis reiterated Tuesday that the ordinance is designed to get lodging owners to be more responsive, preserve city resources and prevent Costa Mesa police from acting as "security guards" for motel issues.
Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger said the ordinance was not about revenue generation, but a solution toward the long-term problem of crime at motel properties, where families often reside amid prostitute and drug problems.
Critics have called the ordinance extraneous red tape that will bring the city to court and potentially deter people from calling for police help when it's needed.
Wilson Wang, president of the Taiwan Hotel & Motel Assn. of Southern California, spoke to the "misconceptions" of the business.
Once visitors check in, their rooms become their private domain, and owners have no control over their guests' actions, Wang explained.
"To qualify them as troubled business or businesses that are not doing legit business is hardly founded," he said. "It's actually unjust."
He cited the benefit of the transient occupancy tax revenue from motels, to which Mayor Jim Righeimer quickly replied: "You can keep your TOT tax and just take care of your own problems. We don't need the TOT tax from places that have two, 300 calls. We just don't."
Rehearing procedure, rehab homes
The council also voted on getting rid of a rehearing procedure and instituting language that may help in court cases against problematic rehabilitation homes.
The vote to take the rehearing out of the municipal code was 3 to 2, with Councilwomen Sandy Genis and Wendy Leece dissenting. Genis unsuccessfully used the procedure a few times this year, including during discussions about a controversial turnaround space in Fairview Park.
The rehearing, which supplemented other city appeal procedures, allowed for council decisions to be reheard if new, relevant information surfaced after the original conclusion was reached.
Righeimer has contended that reexamination should be brought to a higher body, not the original decision-making entity. Leece called the change part of the council majority's effort "to oppose opposition."
"I think we're cutting the people out," she said. "We've eliminated a step that was transparent, that was public, that was fair."
The council's unanimous vote to change zoning code language may help the city in legal cases against noncompliant rehabilitation homes.
It provides a more robust definition of a "single housekeeping unit." Costa Mesa's previous definition was deemed "legally indefensible," according to a judge who heard the city's case involving code enforcement action on a Mesa North home.