A Google Maps screen grab of the Luxury Inn in Long Beach which was identified as one of the six biggest nuisance motels according to the city’s innovation team. 

A current pilot program that monitors problem motels in the city could be expanded after the Long Beach City Council voted to explore whether a citywide version of the nuisance abatement program should be adopted with an ordinance that could potentially suppress their drain on public safety resources.

The item was brought to the council by Vice Mayor Rex Richardson who represents the city’s northernmost district, and according to statistics compiled by the city’s innovation team the district that houses two of the six worst motels in the city when it comes to calls for service and crimes.

Tracy Colunga, director of the city’s innovation team, presented findings that included an analysis of calls for service to city motels over the period spanning from January 2014 to May 2017. Six motels were identified as the worst in the city having racked up over 3,000 calls for service in that time span with nearly 800 crimes being logged.

The team identified the Stallion Inn, Searle Motel, Colonial Inn, Travelodge on Atlantic Avenue and the Greenleaf Hotel as nuisance properties. The last location identified in Colunga’s report, the Luxury Inn, was the scene of a murder last April.

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“Aside from the loss of life, this incident required over 80 police personnel to respond to this crime,” Richardson said. “Eighty police personnel were taken off the streets to address one motel for eight hours. Could you imagine what those police officers could have been doing if they weren’t addressing this one motel?”

Richardson hopes that an ordinance could help crack down on not only the violent crime and drug use that can be prevalent at such nuisance locations, but also on human trafficking and related activities. A future ordinance could speed up administrative penalties against the property owners, an effort similar to a previous nuisance abatement ordinance sought by the council that targeted liquor stores.

Ideas that could be incorporated to the ordinance is a mandate that guests register a license plate and driver’s license when they check in and potentially have motel owners pay for surveillance cameras that are being installed on nuisance corridors, one currently being financed with tax payer dollars.

Residents lined up to back the vice mayor’s proposal sharing stories of kids having to walk past pimps on their way to school every morning, and more recently, those same pimps threatening those who gathered in support of Richardson’s proposal.

Claudia Quesada, who said she’s lived in the district for nearly 30 years, called on the city to find a way to replace the motels with something more in line with what the neighborhoods need.

“What we want is to change the policy, change the use of it. What we need are coffee shops, restaurants, banks,” Quesada said. “That is reflective of the neighborhoods that are immediately surrounding that strip. The Coolidge neighborhood and the Longwood neighborhood are not reflected by what is on this street.”

A part of the proposal could do that, as it seeks to implement an amortization program where affected areas in the city could either be rezoned to disallow the use of the land for motels, or through an amortization program that could allow for incentives to be offered to the property owners that could see motels transformed into permanent housing projects.

“I’m not talking about going after every motel, but if there are two or three of these right next to each other,” Richardson said. “Right now there are five on Long Beach Boulevard, it’s not a tourist destination, there’s no reason for that. What can we do to address the over concentration, and address the issue long term and permanently?”

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Representatives from a local motel association were also on hand to ask the city to delay the expansion of the pilot program and any possible crafting of an ordinance. City staff acknowledged that stakeholders like the motel owners who will now be subject to the pilot program, will have a seat at the table to try and reach a solution.

Yogi Patel, who said he’s owned the Colonial Inn for 37 years, claimed that his motel was not an issue, pointing to motels located in North Long Beach as the main offenders and proposing that the Long Beach Police Department carry out sting operations similar to the ones he saw carried out when he first moved to the city.

The Colonial, located at 802 Pacific Coast Highway, was selected as one of the six worst motels due to its 569 calls for service and 130 crimes logged over the innovation team’s data analysis period. Patel said the motel had an obligation to serve people of all backgrounds and urged the city to allow his motel to have a seat at the table.

“I don’t know if you want to stop renting rooms to people who don’t have a place to go,” Patel said. “Do you want them to live in huts, camped out on Pacific Coast Highway like we have in downtown Long Beach on the riverbed? As far as these calls are concerned, we have private security so I don’t know where all these calls come from.”

Residents say they have fought for years for changes to be made in neighborhoods that have been negatively affected by these problem motels. When the vote passed applause from the audience seemed to signal some relief that the city will begin to further crack down on illegal activities at motels.

“What this proposal really means, and what Vice Mayor Richardson and the other council members are proposing here is that there is a vacuum and that vacuum is being filled with pimps and traffickers,” said Patrick Erlandson, head of the Men Standing Against Trafficking group in Long Beach. “There are empty beds and those beds are being filled by somebody’s daughter, by somebody who has been victimized, by somebody that is being exploited for some slave master to make their money. What this proposal does is take that vacuum and takes the people who love their community and it stuffs that vacuum and closes it.”

Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post. Reach him at [email protected] or @JasonRuiz_LB on Twitter.