Fourth story in an occasional series about Costa Mesa's troubled motels.
In its courtyard, the Alibaba Motel has a hanging garden to match its vague theme, which includes a giant, golden-domed facade with turrets and arches.
Costa Mesa police Sgt. Vic Bakkila pointed out the grapes and dragon fruit hanging from peeling wooden slats above tarps, cracking asphalt and overgrown grass.
Bakkila has attended code-enforcement inspections at Costa Mesa motels for about two years.
Tuesday morning, he was at the Alibaba with a few inspectors, a deputy fire chief, a fellow police officer and a social worker as part of a new enforcement strategy.
They were about to visit every one of the 43 rooms in the Newport Boulevard motel overlooking the 55 Freeway.
Bakkila handed over his baton so a code enforcement officer could test a smoke detector hanging from the ceiling of one room.
It's screech signaled that the Alibaba's owners had just avoided a $150 fine.
"There's so many people here," said hotel manager Jason Pung, who was unlocking doors for inspectors. "It's so serious."
Most rooms were unoccupied. At each one, inspectors quickly ran down a checklist, noting holes, discolorations or a lack of proper signage.
The few occupied rooms presented more troubling situations.
Behind the pulled curtains of room 109, almost every surface was covered with discarded food and drink containers or other trash. Clothes bulged from shelves, and an extension cord ran to a hot plate near the middle of the room. Above the sink, old soda cases were flattened and hung on the wall like posters.
"When you see this kind of storage like this, this is a long-term occupancy," said Keith Clarke, a code enforcement director.
He and his employees wore gloves and pointed flashlights through the wet, smoky air as they wrote.
Clarke made sure they noted the cockroaches in a corner near the ceiling.
At the door of his room, Allan McCue said he has lived in various places in Costa Mesa and Santa Ana since moving to the area from Irvine when he was 19.
Now 50, he still returns to his family home daily to take care of his mother.
He said how he ended up living in a motel is a long story, but "Armageddon and the forces of evil leave me no choice."
McCue waved away the idea that the police and inspectors knocking on his door were bothersome.
"It's ridiculous to think we could have a civilized society without them," he said.