BELL — Instead of slapping new regulations on all hotels and motels, the City Council has agreed to step up enforcement of existing rules at troublesome establishments.
Specifically, police enforcement of narcotics and prostitution laws will be increased, as will enforcement of health, fire and building codes. Council members also discussed forming a committee with motel and hotel operators to work on ways to stem other problems, including possible underpayment of city bed taxes and the use of hotels and motels for long-term housing.
The council shelved a staff proposal that, among other things, would have limited the length of stay at motels and hotels to 30 days. Hotel and motel owners had opposed that proposal.
"We want to work with you. We can back off a little bit and see what we can do working together," said Councilman George G. Mirabal during a public hearing Monday.
Mayor George Cole suggested that the city and motel owners form a committee to discuss the issues more thoroughly and come to a consensus.
As an interim step, council members agreed to increase police activity and seek legal remedies against problem motels and hotels. They said the city will begin proceedings to declare certain hotels and motels public nuisances if problems are not resolved.
During the hearing, merchants along Florence Avenue--where a string of motels and hotels are located close to each other--complained to the council about overt drug dealing and prostitution in the area.
"The time has come to make Bell a safe place," said Julie C. Gonzalez, vice president of Mechanics National Bank.
Gonzalez, who noted that she is not against owners who run clean establishments, said she is tired of calling police about the illegal activity that spills over from motels onto the bank premises. She said bank employees have made a joke out of counting "how many drug deals they see go down, or how many tricks turned" during their 45-minute lunch breaks.
"My customers are afraid to come in and make deposits," Gonzalez said. "I don't feel it's fair for my employees, customers and me to be exposed to such a thing."
Reuben Lopez, owner of Reuben Lopez Realty, said he has seen drug deals take place in open daylight in front of his business. "There's so much activity there it takes a blind person not to see what's going on."
Although the council decided to zero in on problem motels and hotels instead of approving an ordinance that would affect all such establishments, it may still take up zoning and revenue issues at a later date.
"I think it's an ongoing process," said City Administrator Byron Woosley, who noted that the council will want to "kept informed" of how law and code enforcement has helped to curb crime. "They will see if it's working or not. If it's not working, code changes may be in order."
Besides a 30-day limit, the proposal would have banned laundry and kitchen facilities at the city's 18 motels and hotels, required maid service, and restricted rental of a room to twice a day. It would have also given motel and hotel owners six months to choose whether they want to operate either as an inn or an apartment complex. The proposal would have required certain amenities for each of the uses.
Motel and hotel owners have objected to the ordinance changes, saying that they would penalize all owners for the management practices of a few.
'Problems of Management'
"These are problems of management. Two or three motels have a problem. We have nothing to do with it. Don't generalize the problem as a motel problem," said Vinod Desai, owner of Bell Manor Motel.
Motel and hotel owners urged the council to increase police surveillance and attempt to declare certain problem motels and hotels public nuisances.
If an establishment is declared a public nuisance, it could be shut down by a court order. City Atty. Robert Flandrick said a public nuisance is "anything that causes substantial discomfort" to surrounding property owners and residents.
Flandrick said the city can file the civil action after a lengthy administrative process, which includes giving the owner an opportunity to clean up conditions.
One of the inns, the Bel-Air Motel, has already been paid a visit by the fire and health departments and city officials looking for possible code violations. A staff report listed such deficiencies such as broken toilets, cracked and broken shower doors and an unclean swimming pool with inoperative filtration system. A list of violations will be sent to the owner along with a deadline to make necessary repairs.
A report listing police calls from last Jan. 1 to July 20 noted that the Bel-Air had logged far more complaints than other inns. The motel had 169 calls for complaints such as narcotics sales, child abuse, burglary and prostitution. Police calls at other motels and hotels ranged from 0 to 68.
Cole said the city will look into the accounting practices of a few motels and hotels that may be under-reporting income. Motels and hotels are required to pay an 8% bed tax on taxable receipts.
He said he would also like to eventually address the problem of families "living in substandard dwellings."
"We will not allow people to pay $650 to live in a place where the pool is green (with algae)," he said.