SOUTH GATE — With the threat of City Council action hanging over them, motel owners are meeting with city administrators to discuss ways to combat prostitution.
The first meeting was held last week, prompted by City Administrator Bruce Spragg's proposal to study the feasibility of requiring all existing motels and hotels to obtain a conditional use permit. Such a permit, which could be revoked to close any motel where repeated prostitution takes place, is already required for all new motels and for existing motels that change ownership.
The proposal was in response to a 2 1/2-month "sting" operation by the Police Department that culminated in December with the arrest of managers or clerks in 12 of the city's 32 motels, all on the charge of keeping a disorderly house for the purpose of prostitution.
City Council discussion of the proposal is scheduled for Monday's meeting, but Spragg said he will ask that it be postponed to Feb. 23, allowing time for another meeting with motel owners. His staff will make its recommendation to the council at that time.
Spragg said he is meeting with motel owners because he wants feedback about their methods of dealing with prostitution. One suggestion was a monthly meeting among motel representatives and police in which motel owners would identify for police suspected prostitutes who are using the motels. This kind of communication between owners and police is done in other cities that have faced the same kind of problem, Spragg said.
Rooms Rented at Discount
Spragg said, however, that the suggestion does not really address the problem police uncovered in the sting operation, in which some motel owners were allegedly dealing with prostitutes, to the point of offering discounts on room rates.
"Our basic goal is to clean up the city," he said. "The motel owners want to be cooperative. They hate the bad press."
Nearly all the motels in the city were represented at the first meeting, Spragg said, including those where the December arrests took place.
Besides allegations of prostitution, there are other problems created by the city's aging motels that are of concern to the council and which a conditional use permit would address.
Twenty-two of the city's motels are more than 40 years old, and many are on streets no longer used by long-distance and overnight travelers. Because these motels find it difficult to attract tourist traffic, some rent rooms to permanent tenants as "substandard apartments," Spragg said.
The conditional use permit, as suggested in Spragg's report to the council, would prohibit using motel rooms for long-term residents, prohibit the rental of any unit more than twice in a 24-hour period and permit the city to revoke the permit of any motel where more than 20 provable instances of prostitution occur during any 12-month period.