Costa Mesa Police Sgt. Vic Bakkila chats with World War II veteran David Garland about his living conditions at the Sandpiper Motel in Costa Mesa. Bakkila made an effort to connect Garland with veteran services to improve his living situation. (Don Leach, Daily Pilot / May 7, 2013)

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Hector Almaraz, who has managed the Costa Mesa Motor Inn for about eight years, said it's not his role to pick and choose customers.

"We don't judge anybody," said. "We are a motel. We can't legally run background checks. We can't run credit checks."

Almaraz said that despite the Motor Inn's status, earned or not, as an exemplar of the kind of crime magnet council members hope to clean up, his staff maintains a "great relationship with everybody here in the city."

By comparison, the smaller, 32-room New Harbor Inn averaged 16.4 calls per room from 2009 to 2011, while the 44-room Sandpiper Motel, 1967 Newport Blvd., averaged 8.2 calls per room over the same time period.

The owners of the New Harbor declined to comment.

Officials note that the number of calls for service doesn't necessarily correlate with increased crime. Sometimes increased proactive patrols can boost calls, and not all emergency calls require the same amount of time and resources as others.

Furthermore, officials say, not all of the 12 motels identified as problematic face the same issues.

Officers conducting patrol checks at the Ana Mesa Inn, at Harbor and MacArthur boulevards, along Costa Mesa's border with Santa Ana, often keep an eye out for parole violators or drop in on sex offenders registered as living there.

At the La Quinta Inn on South Coast Drive, crime is more often "vice-related bad stuff," said Assistant City CEO Rick Francis, who heads the task force.

By that, he means the motel sees more prostitution than others and has fewer families living there.

As a result, Costa Mesa Police Department and city officials hesitate to throw out cost-per-call estimates, or to estimate what percentage of the city's law enforcement work involves motels.

They can, however, confirm that policing the motels is a substantial part of their jobs. Just as officers could 20 years ago — when Chen wrote his letter to the city.

—Daily Pilot Staff Writer Bradley Zint also contributed to this report.

Coming Wednesday: Part II will examine what the city of Costa Mesa and various helping agencies are trying to do to help improve the city's 12 problematic motels.