Commentary: Policy on motels could lead to lawsuits

The article in Thursday’s Daily Pilot gives a fairly comprehensive report on the City Council’s action regarding charging motels for excessive calls from the Costa Mesa Police Department [“Motels to pay for excess police calls”].

However, there are two issues that weren’t mentioned: a real risk of costly lawsuits and the negative impact the ordinance will have on affordable housing for low-income people and families.

Many speakers, including Councilwoman Sandra Genis, pointed out the discriminatory aspects of the ordinance — singling out one area of business (motels/hotels) as the target for these fines.

The statistics of police calls listed in the staff report show many other areas of equal, or even greater number of calls, such as bars, parks, apartments, South Coast Plaza.

Why single out motels? Surely lawsuits will follow and add to the city’s already-high legal fees.

For years motels have served as housing of last resort for many homeless families. The council majority spoke with great passion and sympathy for these families, stating that living in motels should not even be the last resort — it should not happen at all — and insinuated if they had their way it would not happen.

I’d like to ask the council majority where would you have these families live? If you made it so difficult for motels that allow longterm stays to operate, or to encourage them to screen applicants by requiring payment through credit cards only, this supply of affordable housing, as undesirable as it is, would certainly diminish.

The mayor pointed out how expensive it is to live in a motel and that studio apartments would cost less. What he doesn’t mention is that apartments charge security deposits and/or first- and last-months’ rent to move in, and often run a credit check as well to see if the applicant has ever been evicted.

Families who have reached the depth of homelessness rarely can make the up-front payments or pass the credit or reliable tenant checks. They often are stuck in motels for months, even years. I agree that no child should have to live in a dangerous or unhealthy environment, but I question the sincerity of the council majority’s compassion if it can come up with no better solution than this ordinance.

Where is the passion to build more affordable housing, to pass an inclusionary zoning ordinance, to develop a land bank, to buck NIMBYism, etc.?

JEAN FORBATH is a member of the Costa Mesa Housing Coalition and a former executive director of Share Our Selves.