Planners again postpone motel decision

Costa Mesa planners delayed their effort to examine two city motels Monday night, with city officials saying that the matter isn't quite ready for public dissemination.

The Planning Commission's unanimous vote marked the five-member body's third postponement of a decision to investigate the operating permits for the Costa Mesa Motor Inn, 2277 Harbor Blvd., and Sandpiper Motel, 1967 Newport Blvd. — two properties singled out by the mayor last year during a City Council meeting.

During the Sept. 17 session, Mayor Jim Righeimer called for an examination of the number of long-term motel residents, whose living conditions he described as deplorable.

"You go into these motel rooms and it breaks your heart," Righeimer said. "It is wrong to have people living in motels, with pimps and prostitutes and having children nearby."

Planning Commission Chairman Jim Fitzpatrick echoed Righeimer's sentiment Monday that the city's actions are not meant to boot out those living there, because long-term they have nowhere else to go.

"What we need in this is some sort of language that says that won't occur," Fitzpatrick said.

Officials provided no date for the issue to be brought to the commission again, but Fitzpatrick expressed support for sharing the information gathered so far on the two properties, including operational documents, code enforcement history and police actions. He said the work seems to be in the final stages of being completed.

"I believe this is imminent," Fitzpatrick said.

The commission first postponed the matter on Nov. 12 and then again on Dec. 9, both times on the advice of city staff.

The 236-room Motor Inn was cited last year for 490 alleged violations found within 209 rooms, including unkempt conditions and defective smoke alarms. The four-acre property was fined more than $40,000, about $23,000 of which was later voided after the problems were fixed.

That property and the 44-room Sandpiper generate considerable police attention: 568 calls for service in 2012 for the Motor Inn and 142 for the Sandpiper in 2011, the latest information available.

The Sandpiper's owner and the Motor Inn's general manager were among the people who spoke against a recently approved ordinance that calls for fines against motels and hotels whose calls for police service are considered "excessive." According to the Excessive Use of Resources Ordinance, the properties have to exceed a defined threshold that takes into account the number of rooms.

Councilwomen Sandy Genis and Wendy Leece, local innkeepers and some affordable-housing advocates were among those who spoke against the ordinance, contending that it will deter people from calling the police and consequently endanger guests. The Righeimer-led council majority countered that the law was needed to force the properties to clean up their act, recoup some city funds and not have the Police Department act as the motels' on-site security staff.

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