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Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Motel solutions aren't mutually exclusive

A closer look at “bad” motel issues

There are two main problems, each with a different solution set. Neither solution program is “right” by itself.

This Council is the first in at least four regimes to address the issue of the motels being a “public nuisance.” Community charities, churches and the present and previous councils have, and are, addressing the other problem: the wretchedness and discomfort of living in the problem motels.

Lousy way to live 

There is no doubt that it is hard for kids to study in a cramped and dirty home, or that crowding raises social, psychological and sociological stresses. It’s bad, simply bad.
One approach to reducing the feelings of helplessness, discomfort and discouragement is to help families with entertainment, such as cable TV. Other comfort helps include decent clothing, cleaning supplies, and adequate food – all improve comfort for the chronic residents.

Some kids are motivated to study by the need to keep their grades up to play sports. Some mothers will get their family medical care if they find transportation. These needs are being addressed. Adequately? Probably not, a lot more needs to be done.

Bad places, bad neighbors

The “public nuisance” aspect has been “kicked down the road” administration after administration. Motels have a higher rate of return per square foot than many other investments. And once the land and building are paid for the returns on investment (ROI) are lucrative. The price to buy each motel reflects the ROI.

Buying the motels with City money would raise a new issue; what are we going to do with it? A park or soccer field won't justify the investment of massive amounts of City money. But maybe we can persuade some developers to buy and build on the land. It won’t be a park, but it will be an improvement.

Incremental improvements

Perhaps there are other solutions, including “encouraging” the motel owners to maintain clean and safe habitation and driving the criminal element away from the poor family housing with focused enforcement. 

Building or identifying more low-income housing will help but building “slums” like the Fresno’s and New York’s “Projects” won’t help. The current administration is exploring solutions and increasing enforcement.

It is a crime to abuse others

We've read the rationalization recently that “most of the (police) calls are domestic disturbances, anyway, not crime.” Spousal and child abuse is criminal. And, regardless of the room number, on any call to the motels the nearby neighbors are mostly criminals.

Many disturbance calls lead to apprehension of a criminal on a felony warrant, recovery of a stolen bicycle, or an arrest for possession of illegal drugs. Focused enforcement isn't the whole answer, but it helps.

Long term and short term

The residents will be much more comfortable and much less likely to drift into illegal activity when they get decent housing. In the meantime they will be more comfortable in situ with better clothes, better next-door neighbors, and a safer environment.

Both approaches are being used in Costa Mesa – it’s not a question of which is right; they both are right for what they’re trying to do.


  1. Nice piece. I encourage everyone to read the Newport Blvd Specific Plan. It is 2 decades old, but same issues with motels we see today. Tired of "this council this" or "developers that". 2 Decades of the same issues. This city council is dedicated to achieving a desired outcome. Here's the link

    1. I doubt that the faction that is screaming wants to know the facts. Thanks for the link Jim.