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Motel operators: 'We need to make our living'

Costa Mesa is tackling its problem motels on several fronts and taking a cue from Buena Park's successes.

September 24, 2013|By Jill Cowan and Lauren Williams
  • The Sandpiper Motel sits next to Newport Boulevard and the 55 Freeway in Costa Mesa.
The Sandpiper Motel sits next to Newport Boulevard and… (Don Leach, Daily…)

Second story in an occasional series about Costa Mesa's troubled motels.

On a typical weekend evening at the Costa Mesa Motor Inn, kids scamper through the labyrinthine courtyard as pairs of neighbors lean on walkway railings, smoking and chatting in the fading light.

Potted plants sit on window sills and on air conditioning units mounted on the stucco walls. Colorful, makeshift curtains cover windows.

Inside one of the rooms, the odor from decades of people smoking cigarettes wafts from the carpet with each step and then lingers in the generic floral bedspread. A faucet in another room squeaks. A broken window above the room's flaking shower allows in music from the parking lot outside.

The room is missing its "means of egress" sign — the one that would show a way out of the complex.

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Costa Mesa city and police officials, as well as advocates who help the homeless, are looking for their own egress of sorts — a way out of the motel troubles that have drained city resources for years.

As scrutiny of Costa Mesa's spending has intensified, so has heat directed at the city's 12 so-called problem motels, a term that critics dismiss as insensitive to the struggling people who call them home.

City leaders, who say they want to help the poor who are actually from Costa Mesa, have taken a strong stance against the establishments, which they see as sucking up police and emergency service providers' time.

Council members have said cleaning up the motels is at the top of their to-do list.

"What are cities supposed to provide? They're supposed to provide services," said Steve Mensinger, Costa Mesa's mayor pro tem. "If services are being impaired because of a particular business' use, government has an obligation" to step in.

Still, the question remains: How?

It's one that has bedeviled some of Orange County's biggest cities for decades, as motels that once drew tourists have slowly morphed into overstuffed de facto low-income housing, filling a countywide void.

The answer for Costa Mesa could be a combination of salves — some modeled on strategies taken up by other cities, some a bit more novel.

Ultimately, Mensinger said, Costa Mesa is taking what he called "a more holistic approach as opposed to just code enforcement only."

The conventional process of issuing notice after notice of code violations, giving proprietors a grace period to correct problems before they must pay fines, isn't working, he said.

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