Sandpiper Motel, Costa Mesa

The Sandpiper Motel next to Newport Boulevard and the 55 Freeway in Costa Mesa. (Don Leach, Daily Pilot / May 7, 2013)

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Lin, owner of the Sandpiper for the past decade, also owns the motel next door, the Travelodge, which doesn't experience the level of problems or code violations that the Sandpiper does.

Lin lives in Costa Mesa's Eastside and has been in the United States for 33 years. He just recently registered to vote.

In his native Taiwan, Lin said, you couldn't trust the government. At first, he thought that wouldn't be the case in America. His views have changed.

"I fear this government," he said, "more than my customers."


'Public nuisance'

On Tuesday, the following evening, Leece and the other council members heard testimony and debate on the Sandpiper's ability to house long-term tenants who, according to Lin, account for about half the motel's profits. Councilman Gary Monahan recused himself to avoid a conflict of interest. His bar and restaurant are located near the hotel in question.

The roughly three-hour hearing, which began late Tuesday and went clear into Wednesday morning, didn't favor Lin.

The council split 2 to 2, on two votes. Leece and Councilwoman Sandy Genis voted to overturn the Planning Commission's decision from last month, when the panel unanimously agreed that the 44-room Newport Boulevard motel was "operating as a public nuisance" and would need to undergo some changes.

Mayor Jim Righeimer and Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger dissented on that motion and then created another to uphold the commission's decision. Leece and Genis dissented during that vote.

According to City Atty. Tom Duarte, the council's split votes upheld the commission's decision. In addition to the nuisance designation, it changed the Sandpiper's operating permit to allow up to 25% of its rooms, or 11, to be used for long-term tenants. The property had been allowed to set aside 19 rooms, or 40%, for that purpose.

The city defines long-term as 28 consecutive days or 28 days within a 60-day period.

Lin sees the change as a major financial blow to his business model.

Evidence presented during the council's hearing echoed much of what was said at the Planning Commission meeting weeks before. Based on a series of city code enforcement inspections in 2013, the Sandpiper was alleged to have many signs of improper maintenance or public health hazards.

Lin's attorney, Allan Calomino, told the council that the city's actions are putting the Sandpiper "on the track to go out of business." He also questioned the validity of the hearing, saying the attack on the motel's ability to house long-term tenants does not directly relate to the violations found at the property, most of which were promptly fixed.

Costa Mesa should not be targeting Lin "when he has demonstrated good faith and fixed the things that were wrong," Calomino said.

Genis also questioned the hearing's purpose, especially considering how much time and effort went into it.

"In the real world, what difference is this gonna make?" she asked, to which city staff replied that the actions are also about getting the Sandpiper property in compliance.

Genis added that, unlike other motels, the Sandpiper is not "a bastion of crime."

"In fact, compared to other motels, it's pretty good," she said.