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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After hearing city code enforcement say that the Sandpiper is in a fairly typical condition compared to other Costa Mesa motels, she questioned if the Planning Commission's decision could be read to conclude that all the city's motels are operating as "public nuisances."

Righeimer and Mensinger said it was wrong for the Sandpiper to be used for long-term tenants at all. It's a motel, not an apartment, they contended, and it was never designed for such a purpose. Furthermore, the councilmen said, the city shouldn't have to force Lin to complete standard maintenance at his property, like fixing broken bulbs, door knobs and window screens.

Righeimer accused Lin of "taking advantage" of the poor who rely on his motel.

It shouldn't be OK to have people paying $1,500 to $1,600 to live in 300 square feet of space — smaller than a studio apartment, Righeimer argued.

Mensinger noted that Lin's own Travelodge property next door should be an example of how to effectively run the Sandpiper.

As she did during her Sandpiper tour Monday, Leece likened the focus on the motel to the expansion of governmental control over private business.

"The arm of government is reaching in, and it's overreaching," she said.

Righeimer countered that health and safety inspections are "exactly" what the government should be doing, and it has effectively done so in the Sandpiper's case.

"This person is in the lodging business," he said. "And he acts like he's not in the lodging business and doesn't understand the lodging business."

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'Trying to push him out'

In a follow-up interview Friday, Calomino said the Sandpiper's legal defense is not necessarily over.

He disagreed with Duarte's legal opinion that the split votes from the council's de novo hearing actually uphold the Planning Commission's decision.

The true legal reading of the votes, Calomino contended, is "no action."

Furthermore, if Costa Mesa enforces Duarte's assertion and the commission's decision, Calomino said, the Sandpiper will take its case to court.

"If the city wants to enforce it, we will file and rule to get a writ of mandate on the legal position," he said.

Lin's challenge to the city isn't all about the money, Calomino said, because the Sandpiper isn't as profitable as Righeimer asserts. It's not a "multimillion-dollar" business, Calomino said.

The attorney added that it's actually in Lin's best interest to sell the motel, which could be worth $4 million to $6 million because of the value of the land.

Rather, Lin is "very loyal to the people he's dealing with," Calomino said. "Lin is a compassionate person ... he's extremely offended about the developments and the fact that someone's trying to push him out."