Motel operators discuss concerns

Costa Mesa motel operators aired a litany of concerns Friday afternoon over a proposed ordinance that would charge them for police calls past a certain threshhold.

Councilwomen Wendy Leece and Sandy Genis hosted the meeting with city staff in the city's Emergency Operations Center, near City Hall. Mayor Jim Righeimer and Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger held a similar meeting with many of the same motel managers and owners on Dec. 18.

The rule, known as the Excessive Use of Resources Ordinance, is set to go before the City Council on Tuesday night.

It is the most recent in a series of moves by the city to try to clean up so-called problem motels, which city leaders have said draw undesirable clientele and take up expensive police time.

City officials have said motel owners and operators are responsible for ensuring that their businesses are well-maintained and up to code.

But motel operators said Tuesday that the proposed ordinance, which aims to recover costs from motels generating more police calls than an average of .04 times per room per year, goes too far.

Its provisions, they said, are too narrowly tailored to motels and its implementation would make staff think twice about calling for authorities.

That, in turn, could have the opposite of the proposed rule's intended effect: to make the city a safe destination for families, one manager said.

"If most motels started not calling police and the rumor started going around, they're all going to come here," said Panduka Yahampath, manager of the Ana Mesa Inn, referring to undesirable guests.

Nick Price, director of operations for the Avenue of the Arts Wyndham — a hotel that would probably not be affected by the ordinance — said it's unreasonable to expect hotel staff members to turn away a guest who might cause problems.

"We're a four-Diamond hotel," he said. "We still have issues."

Lily Chen, an attorney representing the owners of the New Harbor Inn and the Regency Inn, asked for time to allow the affected motel operators to propose a specific strategy for improving their properties — an approach that garnered support from those present at the meeting.

Still, Leece said, it would be up to the group to convince her council colleagues that delaying a vote on the ordinance was warranted.

"The ball is in your court for Tuesday night," she said.

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