BELL — Gail Garcia, who has been renting a room at the Lucky A Motel for three weeks, considers herself one of the lucky ones.
Garcia, her five children and her husband, Richard, have been trudging in and out of Bell motels for the last six months.
The family began their transient life style after they were evicted from a Cudahy apartment for making too few rent payments, too late. They never intended to end up this way. They came to live in motels because it was their only choice.
But the Garcias received good news last week: a landlord, who is a friend, will allow them to move into an apartment this week by just paying the first month's rent.
"He's letting me slide. A lot of landlords don't do that," said Garcia, a welfare recipient, who is paying $31 a day for the room.
Up-Front Costs High
The Garcias, like many families, have been forced to live in motel rooms because they cannot afford the initial outlay for an apartment or house, usually first and last months' rent and a security deposit.
And they resent having to use most of their income to keep a temporary roof over their heads.
Nevertheless, they say a proposed ordinance to regulate motels and hotels--which would primarily limit a tenant's stay to 30 days or less in the same room--would harm families who are caught up in a situations like theirs.
"If you have nowhere to go, you have to go to a motel," said Gail Garcia. Even though the Garcias will soon trade their one-room quarters for a spacious apartment, they are against the ordinance because "we know how it is to struggle."
The proposal, to be considered by the City Council on Monday, aims to eliminate long-term occupancy in the city's 18 motels and hotels, where tenants pay hefty rents comparable to those charged for more spacious apartments.
Assailed by Businesses
The proposal has been assailed by motel and hotel owners who say their businesses will suffer if they are not allowed to have long-term tenants. They say many of their customers are from out of town and need a place to stay while they look for a job. Others are recently divorced, or have been evicted from their homes, and often do not have enough money to move into an apartment or house.
Frank E. McEwan, who testified before the Planning Commission, said that if the ordinance passes, more than 300 families will be "deprived of their homes."
"Is the City of Bell ready to erect a tent city to house these people?" said McEwan, who owns the Bell Motel on Florence Avenue. "Some of the tenants are senior citizens, sick, out of work, on welfare. Who is going to evict the disabled veteran?"
Steve Patel, on-site manager of the Fountain Motel, said the ordinance would hurt the majority of his motel's tenants, who are on welfare and pay an average of $125 a week.
"The people are basically off the street. They are not highly paid workers," he said.
He admits that the motel has had its share of problems stemming from illegal activity, but adds that he is doing his best to control traffic. There is a security gate at the entrance. After 10 p.m., no visitors are allowed to enter the complex.
"You can't hit a motel because of that problem. There must be some other means of handling that, like stricter controls on managers," he said.
'No Justification' for Rents
But Mayor George Cole said the Garcias' situation illustrates why the city needs to tighten regulations and have motels operate as motels, and apartments operate as apartments. He also dismisses the argument that motel and hotel owners provide low-cost housing for residents.
"There is no justification in the world for charging that kind of rent. These guys are squeezing every little penny they can get out of the place," Cole said.
If the motels are going to be operated as apartments, city officials say, they should provide tenants the benefits, such as more parking and larger living space.
The city has not indicated where hotel and motel residents would go.
The Garcias say they learned to cope with the living in the motel, which included putting up with occasional fights and suspected drug activity outside their door.
For the most part, Gail Garcia said, she and the children stay inside the motel room, which has none of the family's belongings except for a few changes of clothes. She said she prefers to keep the family's things in storage because it makes it easier to move.
Taxing on Children
Moving from motel to motel is especially taxing on the children, she said. For that reason, her two older children stay with a relative so their schooling is not disrupted.
She is looking forward to the day when the family gets their own place again.
"Life is fast here," she said, referring to the street's illicit activities. "I want to have a normal life."
Judy Valadez, a 32-year-old mother of two, has been less fortunate.
She arrived in California more than a year ago from Texas, but soon found herself at the Fountain Motel when she was kicked out by a relative.
"This is the first time I ever lived in a motel," said Valadez, who is on welfare. She and her two daughters, ages 16 and 1, share the unit for which she pays $140 a week. Valadez said she has been trying hard to save enough money for an apartment but is constantly hampered by the high cost--typically $1,200--of moving into one.
The motel is almost run like an apartment complex. No linen or towels are provided. The two-story complex has laundry facilities and a pool. All 55 units have kitchens and a majority of them also have one bedroom.
Valadez has more or less settled into the room she has called home for almost a year. Plants, pictures and decorations dot the small living room.
While she may not like living in a motel, she said, she has to out of necessity. She said she would not know where to go or what to do if she had to leave the complex at the end of 30 days.
"I think that's cold. Why would they try to take the roof off of someone's head?" she said.