'Problem motels' less of a problem

A task force focusing on quality-of-life issues in Costa Mesa says the city has made progress in curbing the number of times police are called to so-called problem motels.

In a report released this week, Costa Mesa's Neighborhood Improvement Task Force said police were called to 12 motels that cater to poorer tenants 8.3% fewer times in 2013 than in 2012.

That amounts to 163 fewer calls at the properties that the city has criticized for eating up more than their fair share of police resources.

The 1,792 calls to police at the motels last year are still more than the 1,677 in 2011, which at the time amounted to 2% of all calls made to Costa Mesa police. In 2012, that total number of police calls spiked to 1,955.

In recent years, members of the City Council considered 12 motels burdens on taxpayers and nuisances to neighbors.

They formed the task force of city and county employees last year to brainstorm and implement solutions for the problem motels and other neighborhood issues like homelessness and blighted properties.

In a year-end recap, this week's report described the city's tactics to handle the dozen motels.

Each of the 12 properties clustered around Newport and Harbor boulevards received an annual inspection, with code enforcement officers combing over about 20% of the total rooms.

Three of the motels received enhanced inspections. In those cases, enforcers inspect every room being used.

The latest enhanced inspection, in December, netted 32 building code violations at the 48-room Harbor Bay motel on Harbor Boulevard.

City Council members are also awaiting the second reading of an ordinance that would charge the motels for excess calls to police based on a per-room formula.

Asst. City CEO Rick Francis, the city's ranking member on the task force, said awareness of that ordinance combined with the inspections pushed motels owners to make improvements and evict problem tenants.

"I think what happens is a lot of the operators had just kind of grown content and complacent," he said. "When you shine light on something like that it gets their attention."

The report also recapped the task force's work with the homeless population in Costa Mesa.

Throughout 2012, the city found permanent housing for 15 homeless residents and temporary housing for seven others. It also connected 16 local homeless people with substance-abuse programs.

Building new housing for displaced and homeless residents will be a key issue for the task force going forward, according to Francis.

"Unless we have a housing solution, we're just moving the pieces around," he said.

During the year, there was also a slow decline in the number of times police were called to Lions Park, a common gathering place for the homeless in the city.

In the first three quarters of 2012, police ratcheted up the number of patrols at the park, peaking in the third quarter at 568 visits.

During those three months, the number of times police were called to the park dropped to less than 50 compared with 70 in the first quarter.

In the last three months of 2012, police eased back on patrols at the park, but the number of calls from the area still declined, to 45.

"The thing with Lion's Park is that's an area where you always have to stay on top of that place," Francis said.

For the report, city officials asked workers at the Donald Dungan Library, next to Lion's Park, if they noticed a change.

"The library's staff noted that there were fewer homeless individuals staying in the park during the day, drinking alcohol in the park and lounging on the Historical Society's lawn," the report states. "The Donald Dungan Library staff reported its satisfaction with the work that the police and park rangers have done in the Lion's Park vicinity."

The full report is available on the city of Costa Mesa's website.

Copyright © 2019, Daily Pilot
EDITION: California | U.S. & World