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Daily Pilot

Commentary: Motels should clean up their acts or leave town

By Lee Ramos

10:54 AM PDT, July 15, 2014

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Costa Mesa is paying the price of poorly run businesses that have become crime centers.

The so-called problem motels hurt their neighbors, both business and residential, and are costly to all of the city's residents. They decrease property values, raise prices and use city resources for excessive safety-service calls.

Each lodging establishment in Costa Mesa has a monthly threshold for "nuisance activity calls," or NAC, to the police. When their calls reach the threshold, the establishment is fined $360 for each additional nuisance call.

Thresholds are based on the number of rooms: More rooms generate a higher NAC threshold. The Westin South Coast Plaza, for example, has a monthly threshold of 13 because of its size, while the much smaller New Harbor Inn has a threshold of two a month.

From July 2012 to June 2013, 18 lodging establishments in Costa Mesa were fined about $110,000 for excessive nuisance calls. It may seem, at first glance, that collecting the fines is a cause for celebration — additional revenue, after all — but this is not the case. The fines should cause dismay.

There are three main reasons why.

First, the revenue collected from the fines does not come close to covering the cost of law enforcement responding to the calls and managing the process. The fines are not a revenue stream.

Second, these calls often involve weapons, drugs and alcohol or gang activity. The excessive NAC put our dedicated police officers unnecessarily in harm's way — repeatedly.

Third, the lodgings that consistently generate nuisance calls over their threshold are not representative of Costa Mesa. Instead, these few lodgings attract criminal elements.

This is not the environment we want to provide for Costa Mesa families and visitors.

Some have said they see the motels as a last resort for people who would otherwise be living on the streets. There are alternatives for the law-abiding families that live in these places, including similarly priced motels throughout the county. However, there are also better choices for low-income families than tiny rooms near rampant drug and alcohol abuse, prostitution and other criminal activities.

Costa Mesa has been shouldering an unfair burden from the crime centers long enough. I believe that we should institute changes in both the number and style of the city's motels. Those establishments that over-consume city resources should be required to pay for what they use or become productive businesses in Costa Mesa. They aren't good neighbors and they shouldn't operate here unless they become assets to the city.

Costa Mesa resident LEE RAMOS, who serves on the city's Charter and Fairview Park committees, is running for City Council.