BELL — A string of motels and hotels along Florence Avenue that cater to long-term residents has become the focus of this city's concern with crime and drug trafficking.
This week the City Council will consider toughening its hotel and motel regulations as a way of dealing with the businesses' drain on law enforcement, as well as addressing broader issues raised by long-term residency.
Among the larger concerns raised by city staff members who have proposed ordinance amendments are: the loss of revenue from the hotel and motel bed tax--which cannot be collected from long-term tenants; the de facto conversion to residential uses in a commercial zone, and the rates charged to low-income residents who receive few of the benefits of apartment living.
The City Council will hold a public hearing on the proposals--which the Planning Commission rejected last month, saying the toughened guidelines would hurt the motels and hotels--at 7:30 p.m. Monday.
The key change proposed by the city staff is to place a 30-day limit on stays at the city's 18 motels and hotels. Also, the city will give owners of existing motels and hotels six months to choose whether they want to operate as an inn--or as an apartment complex.
The proposal has been criticized by motel and hotel owners who say that any attempt to limit long-term occupancy will ruin their businesses. They say they need long-term tenants to survive and contend that they provide affordable housing that is otherwise unavailable.
Renters Caught in Middle
Caught in the middle are renters, almost all of modest means. For the most part, they say they live in the motels--sometimes for months or years at a time--because they cannot afford the hefty outlay for first and last months' rent and a security deposit that are required to rent an apartment.
The city faced these issues in 1984 when it tightened regulations on new motels and hotels in the city, but problems persisted at the existing businesses.
The 1984 ordinance prohibits kitchen facilities, bans hourly rentals and requires daily maid service for new hotels and motels. Only one motel has been built since then, but because it was approved before the ordinance took effect, it was grandfathered in.
Under the proposal, laundry and kitchen facilities, and permitting guests to stay for more than 30 days, would be banned at all existing and new inns. They would be required to provide maid service, and there would be restrictions on multiple rentals in one day.
Apartments must comply with building and zoning codes that include parking, landscaping and recreation facilities requirements.
The proposals are detailed in a recent study of the city's inns, which have 534 units. The report updates an October, 1984, report that found crime and other problems attributed to the businesses. Most of the hotels and motels are along Atlantic, Florence and Gage avenues.
David Meyer, director of community development, said the study looked primarily at three issues: police activity, revenue loss and land use.
A report listing police calls from Jan. 1 to July 20, 1986, found that narcotics sales, disturbances, assaults, prostitution and burglary have been identified as common problems at several establishments, primarily those along Florence Avenue.
Highest Number of Complaints
Bel-Air Motel, for example, had by far the highest number of complaints, with 169 calls for narcotics sales, child abuse, burglary and domestic violence. Other inns had fewer complaints, ranging from zero to 68.
Though the report does not attribute such illegal activity solely to long-term residency, it labeled it a contributing factor. Meyer said lack of proper management plays a key role.
The loss of bed-tax revenue is directly tied to long-term occupancy because tenants cease paying it after 30 days of residency, Meyer said. Based on a 75% occupancy rate, the loss of the 8% bed tax cost the city $175,000 last year.
Rates vary, but a random sampling of the inns by The Times found that units rent for $75 to $217 a week. Meyer said a one-bedroom apartment in Bell generally rents for about $450 to $500 a month.
Although the crime and loss of revenue drew the city's attention to motels and hotels, the city became concerned about the land-use issue because it found that the motels and hotels are being used as apartments.
Lack of Amenities
"Motels are supposed to be a business enterprise, not an apartment building," Meyer said. He said different regulations apply to apartment buildings because they must provide certain amenities. Motel and hotel owners, when they rent to long-term tenants, bypass these requirements.
The city also wants to clean up its commercial zone, which permits lodging businesses.
"What we find happening is we have apartments built in our commercial areas," Meyer said. "Most of those motels have been turned into apartment buildings contrary to the intent of the zone.
"All we're saying is, if you have a motel, operate it as a motel. If you have apartments, operate them as apartments," Meyer said.
Harmful Consequences Feared
The plan has come under fire from motel and hotel owners who say senior citizens and people on welfare will be displaced as a result of the ordinance. They say the 30-day limit would do substantial harm to their businesses.
"It would reduce my salary in half. Where are we going to survive? This is our bread and butter," said Vinod Desai, owner of the 25-year-old Bell Manor Motel on Florence Avenue.
"I don't think it's justified to make these changes and amendments at this time," said Desai, who added that the entire industry is being blamed for a few motels that have a crime problem.