In 2013, Costa Mesa’s city council majority began a well orchestrated campaign aimed at pushing motel owners to get out of the motel business and sell their properties to developers. The city’s goal has been to transform the motels along Harbor and Newport Boulevards into high end residential apartments. The mayor and his allies have ignored the fact these motels are “last resort” housing for Costa Mesa residents struggling to recover from job loss, divorce, staggering medical bills, or a similar economic crisis. Instead of seeing motel residents as people in need of decent, affordable housing, the Mayor consistently labels them “pimps, prostitutes, and drug addicts.”
The city’s campaign against motels (2013-2015)
The city’s campaign against the motels began with extensive negative publicity aimed at motel residents and motel owners, including name calling from the council dais and in local newspaper commentaries. Then the city staged several high profile “health and safety” motel inspections, with journalists and photographers in tow, resulting in huge, headline-grabbing fines that were ultimately reduced to a fraction of the original amount. Next came the “excessive use of resources” ordinance that fined motels for police and paramedic calls, increasing the motels’ cost of doing business. Finally, the city went after the motels’ business model of welcoming both short- and long-term guests.
For years, the city code had allowed motels to use 25% of their rooms for "extended stays" or long term occupancy (stays longer than 28 days), which gave a measure of stability to the low income families, disabled people, and seniors who could find no alternative affordable housing. In 2014, the city enacted a new ordinance (the “No LTO ordinance”) that effectively banned motels from allowing all such long term occupancy. After passing the No LTO ordinance, the city promptly revoked the conditional use permits (CUPs) of two motels, the Costa Mesa Motor Inn and the Sandpiper, that had allowed 40% of their rooms to be used for long term occupancy. With that, the city abolished long term occupancy at all motels serving as last resort housing for Costa Mesa’s poor. Only a lawsuit filed by the Public Law Center has saved existing long term tenants from eviction, so far.
Dire consequences for the poor
Affordable housing advocates warned the city that enactment of the “No LTO ordinance” would have dire consequences for the poor, and for Costa Mesa itself. Advocates warned the ordinance would be the last straw for motel owners struggling under the city’s campaign of harassment. Without the steady income from long term occupancy rooms, motels would eventually be forced to close. And when the motels close, low income Costa Mesans who rely on the motels for shelter will end up on the streets. That disturbing scenario is now unfolding along Harbor Blvd.
The owner of the Costa Mesa Motor Inn, the city’s largest motel with 236 rooms, has submitted plans to the city, seeking permission to replace the motel with new luxury apartments. When the Motor Inn shuts down, Costa Mesa will lose 236 rooms that had served as last resort housing for the poor. Where will these people go?
Costa Mesa has almost no affordable housing available for low and very low income households. The new luxury apartments will contain zero units affordable to this segment of our community. These Costa Mesa residents, including many families with children, will be forced to live in their car or a park, or leave town. They will become “motel refugees.”
Kathy Esfahani, Costa Mesa resident, Founding board member of the Public Law Center of Orange County
Diane Russell, Board Member of The Kennedy Commission, Costa Mesa resident
Linda Tang, The Kennedy Commission
Ryan Esfahani, The Kennedy Commission
Harold Weitzberg, Costa Mesa resident
Andrea Marr, Costa Mesa resident
Tamar Goldman, Costa Mesa resident
Andrew McNeely, UCI graduate student
Rev. Dr. Sarah Halverson-Cano, Fairview Community Church
Jean Forbath, Founder of Share Our Selves and Orange Coast Interfaith Shelter, Costa Mesa resident
Christine Brooks Nolf, Costa Mesa resident
Dr Nina Reich, Costa Mesa resident