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'Bates Motel' Could Lose Permit

March 09, 2002|JENNIFER SINCO KELLEHER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Its real name is the Sunset Pacific Motel, but many Silver Lake residents know it as the Bates Motel.

One reason is that the motel is at Bates Avenue and Sunset Boulevard. The other reason is that neighbors say the place is creepy, even if not in exactly the same way as the motel in the Alfred Hitchcock thriller "Psycho."

Around Sunset Pacific, the stench of urine is everywhere. Drug dealing is rampant, police say, prostitutes are easy to find and gunshots are common.

Los Angeles police describe the three-story, 37-room building at 4301 Sunset Blvd. as one of the city's most dangerous properties.

To make matters worse, a nursery school faces the building on Bates Avenue, and there is a middle school about a block away on Fountain Avenue.

Neighborhood residents have been trying to get city officials to shut down the place for about 20 years. Next week, the City Council is scheduled to consider whether to revoke the owner's operating license.

"There's a point where you stop calling the police," said Carlos Lopez, who has lived in a house directly behind the motel since 1987. "I'm very afraid."

Lopez was among several residents who said they often find hypodermic needles and condoms discarded in the area.

But the motel's owner, Edward Eng, denies that anything improper happens there. He contends that the Los Angeles Police Department pays homeless people to linger around to make him look bad.

"I'm telling you this is a frame-up," said Eng, who lives in Los Feliz. "The people standing in the stairwell, they're not selling drugs, they're just standing there."

Nevertheless, Eng, who is a lawyer and an accountant, faces legal pressure to clean up the building even as the city takes steps to shut it down.

After inspections by the city attorney's slum housing task force, Eng was charged in December 2000 with more than two dozen housing code violations at the motel.

In June, he pleaded no contest to 10 of those charges, including having unsanitary bathrooms, failing to maintain toilets, plumbing and electrical services, and not having smoke detectors. Eng was placed on probation and ordered to bring the property into compliance with city and county building codes.

At that time, a Superior Court judge gave Eng until Oct. 18 to make the repairs. He did not meet the deadline, which resulted in his probation being revoked and his being ordered to appear in court Feb. 13.

The repairs still had not been made by then, which resulted in Judge Laurie Zelon chastising Eng.

"I really don't think you had any intention to finish the work," Zelon told him.

She then gave him an additional week to show proof that he had taken steps to get the repairs done. On Feb. 20, Eng told the judge that he had hired a contractor.

Zelon gave him until March 28 to fix the property and warned that if anything was left undone, he could face 300 days in jail. She went ahead and fined him $8,100.

Meanwhile, in December, the city zoning administrator's office decided to recommend that the Department of Building and Safety revoke the motel's operating license.

Eng appealed that decision to the City Council's Planning and Land Use Management Committee, which denied his appeal earlier this week. Now the matter is scheduled to go before the full council Wednesday.

Councilman Eric Garcetti, whose district includes the motel, said the process has been frustrating. He wants the motel closed down. "This is one of the most troublesome properties in the city," he said.

Many who live and work in the neighborhood feel the same way.

Ruth Shavit, nursery school director at Silver Lake-Los Feliz Jewish Community Center across from the motel, said staff members, parents and children are constantly on the lookout for dangerous situations.

"We have to walk a very tight rope for our own security," she said.

Mary Rodriguez, whose daughter attends nearby Thomas Starr King Middle School, said the motel's presence discourages parents from sending their children there.

"It's just a matter of time before something bad is going to happen to one of the students because of the criminal elements always surrounding that place," she said.

School officials advise students to walk on the opposite side of the street from the motel.

For Rebecca Acuna, who moved to the area in the 1960s, the conditions are disappointing. She remembers when the motel was well-maintained and even had a pool, which has since been cemented over.

Families from out of state stayed there, she said. When nearby residents had no room in their homes for guests, they would direct them to the motel.

"You could walk by there and nobody bothered you," Acuna said.

LAPD Officer Al Polehonki said that image is difficult to imagine now.

"The place looks bad, it's dirty, the rooms are filthy--you're not going to get a lot of tourists going there," he said. "I think that if the owner and his family had to live next to that motel, a lot of changes would be made."

Eng, who said he has owned the motel since the mid-1960s and previously enjoyed a busy flow of vacationing tourists, said he is ready to get rid of the property. It is in escrow, with buyers Balubhai and Sardaben Patel willing to pay $1.5 million for it.

Mike Patel, a spokesman for the potential buyers, said they are frustrated that Eng has done little to improve the property.

If they purchase the building, he said, they plan to shut it down for 60 days and convert it into a national motel franchise.

"It's a monumental challenge for us," Patel said. "Nobody wants that motel there."

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