Costa Mesa to appeal ruling against Motor Inn plan as owner begins eviction process for remaining residents
The Costa Mesa City Council will appeal a preliminary injunction against a proposal to redevelop the Costa Mesa Motor Inn into luxury apartments — a project that has been the subject of criticism and a target of legal challenges from affordable-housing advocates.
Meanwhile, Motor Inn owner Miracle Mile Properties has begun the process of evicting people who still live in the mostly vacant motel at 2277 Harbor Blvd.
The City Council voted 3-2 during a closed session Tuesday to direct city staff to appeal the preliminary injunction issued against the project in June by Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Robert O’Brien. Council members Katrina Foley and Sandy Genis dissented in the vote.
The city’s case will be heard at the state 4th District Court of Appeal in Riverside, city spokesman Tony Dodero said Thursday.
“We look forward to this being resolved soon,” Dodero said. A hearing date has not been determined, he added.
The judge’s order effectively prevents Miracle Mile from moving ahead with plans to replace the 236-room Motor Inn with 224 high-end apartments.
The courts have held, though, that Miracle Mile can continue efforts to relocate or vacate tenants ahead of demolishing the structure.
Thirteen of the motel’s rooms were still occupied as of Thursday, according to Ellia Thompson, a lawyer who represents Miracle Mile.
By the end of next week, eviction proceedings will have been initiated against virtually all remaining tenants, Thompson said.
In June and July, Miracle Mile served Motor Inn occupants with 60-day notices to vacate.
“My client has tried to do everything they can to be as thoughtful and considerate and kind to these long-term occupants as possible,” Thompson said Thursday.
Shortly after that, the Kennedy Commission, an affordable-housing advocacy group based in Irvine, and some Motor Inn residents challenged the project in court, alleging the city had approved it without providing a relocation plan or appropriate assistance for low-income motel residents who would be displaced.
O’Brien has indicated that the plaintiffs are unlikely to prevail on some of the issues raised in their lawsuit — including an assertion that the plan violates state law because the city granted a density incentive for the project without requiring low-income units.
However, he ordered his preliminary injunction to remain in place until Costa Mesa “adopts and implements a valid replacement housing and relocation assistance program.”
O’Brien’s ruling cited state law, including Title 25 of the California Code of Regulations, part of which states, “A public entity shall not participate in or undertake a project that will displace individuals from their homes unless comparable replacement dwellings will be available within a reasonable period of time prior to displacement.”
According to Julian Burns, an attorney for the Kennedy Commission, “For years in California, those whose displacement is instigated by local government have been entitled to relocation assistance.”
The Motor Inn project falls into that category, Burns said, because “Costa Mesa solicited Miracle Mile’s proposal, shepherded it through the approval process and ultimately approved it.”
Miracle Mile previously agreed to provide relocation assistance to long-term motel residents. Those still living in the motel have been offered packages ranging from $6,000 to $8,000 but have turned them down, Thompson said.
“We’ve been told by several of the occupants that they think they deserve more and until they get more they won’t leave, no matter what,” she said.
Relocation money is no longer being offered to those who remain.
During interviews at the motel last month, some remaining residents told the Daily Pilot that the money wouldn’t do them any good in the long run, saying that given their bad credit histories, they can’t get a proper apartment. Motels are the only place they can go, they said.
The Kennedy Commission is in contact with most of the remaining residents and is providing some legal support during the eviction process, according to Cesar Covarrubias, the organization’s executive director.
Covarrubias said he’s aware of Costa Mesa’s decision to appeal the injunction.
“When they made the decision [to approve the project], the decision should have also been to examine all the issues, including relocation benefits,” he said. “We don’t think they’re following the law; we think they’re circumventing it.”
Relocation benefits, he said, need to account for residents’ circumstances on a case-by-case basis.
“I’m not saying the situation or the conditions of living in a motel are optimal,” Covarrubias said. “But in many cases it was the only choice they had — the only choice they could afford.”
Some former residents, though, have put the relocation money they received toward renting an apartment or even buying a condominium, Thompson said.
Miracle Mile, she said, is still paying for utilities, maintenance, security and other services at the motel, even though it’s about 95% empty.
“Certainly we would like to stop the financial harm that continues to plague my client, but at the same time, we’re just trying to do this in the best way possible,” she said.
Thompson added that there’s no definitive timeline as to when the eviction process will be complete or when demolition of the motel might start.
At this point, she said, Miracle Mile wants to “close the motel, stop the bleeding of finances and then figure out what will be next.”