City leaders across California’s major Metro areas often face issues – like police calls for service – from rundown, seedy motels with residents demanding solutions.
This week, Anaheim City Council members decided to crack down on illegal activity at a couple of West Anaheim motels lining Beach Boulevard – a source of constant complaints from residents who live in the area.
The Anaheim Lodge and the Travel Inn are facing at least 20 new requirements from the city, imposed on the backend of what’s known as a Conditional Use Permit, set in motion by the Anaheim Planning Commission earlier this year.
“The criminal activity on Beach Boulevard originates from mismanaged motels … such as drug dealing, illegal gambling halls known as slap houses, and prostitution. These criminal activities lead to assaults, shootings, drug overdoses, deaths, human trafficking and property crimes along the boulevard,” said Planning and Building Director, Ted White, during Tuesday’s city council meeting.
The two motels are now required to beef up security, have 24-hour onsite management and alarm systems.
Click here to see the new requirements.
They’re also required to paint their addresses on the motel rooftops for police helicopters – a regular presence circling areas of West Anaheim.
It’s a markedly different approach to tackling the motel problem compared to the neighboring City of Stanton, where officials there began buying out some Beach Boulevard motels using state grant money to turn them into housing for homeless people.
[Read: OC Cities Increasingly Look to Motels to Help House Homeless People]
Anaheim is looking to turn at least one Harbor Boulevard motel into housing, using the state’s Project Homekey program, according to a January staff report.
And, in 2019, Anaheim partnered with Jamboree Housing to convert an old Econo Lodge on La Palma Avenue into housing for homeless people.
In addition to those efforts, Anaheim City Council members this week reinforced restrictions set by their planning commissioners.
Anaheim city officials cited longstanding resident complaints and rising police calls on the two motels as the chief reason for imposing more stringent restrictions on the property owners, like alarm systems and a full accounting of cars parked in the lots in an effort to curb police calls.
“As a city we are working to rebuild Beach (Boulevard). Sadly the problems of Beach are known to many,” Mayor Harry Sidhu said during Tuesday’s city council meeting.“We are looking to redevelop Beach as a place where people want to live, shop, dine and work.”
But an attorney representing the two motels, Frank Weiser, said the property owners have already rolled out virtually all of the freshly imposed requirements.
He also said the restrictions are just a masked effort to run the motels out of town.
“I don’t doubt that there may be issues that you’ve got with … some of the crime areas in general. But to single out the motels and just impose the conditions arbitrarily is not the way to go,” Weiser said during Tuesday’s public hearing.
“The way to do it is buy out the motels, not impose conditions and then eventually six months later, a year later, revoke [the permits] and put them out of business.”Frank Weiser, attorney for the Anaheim Lodge and Travel Inn motels.
City council members voted 6-0 to uphold the planning commission’s restrictions on the two motels, with Councilman Jose Diaz abstaining from the vote and discussion because he said he lives within 500 feet of the motels.
Many Beach Boulevard motels are infamous for drugs and prostitution – a seedy status stretching back decades.
Police and city officials said they’ve seen police and medical calls skyrocket at the two motels over the past few years.
“There’s been a dramatic increase in arrests and calls for service at the Lodge in recent years. Of the 18 motels on Beach Boulevard, the Anaheim Lodge had the second highest calls for service in 2021,” White said.
He continued, “Arrests at the property jumped 471% between 2020 and 2021 … Police statistics show that between 2017 and 2021, the Anaheim Lodge accounted for 18% of all arrests occurring at Beach Boulevard motels.”
But Weiser, the attorney representing the Anaheim Lodge and the Travel Inn, said city officials are unfairly targeting the two properties.
He argued that the city is violating constitutional rights of the property owners by adding more requirements to their respective conditional use permits.
“Both state and federal laws prescribe that the city council … must comply with the constitutional limits on how you either modify or revoke a conditional use permit,” Weiser told council members during Tuesday’s public hearing.
Anaheim’s planning and building director, said the city’s well within its right to modify the permits.
“The municipal code provides seven findings related to the revocation or modification of the [permits]. If the council finds that one or more of the findings apply, it may revoke or modify the [permits],” White said. “Staff and planning commission believe the motel has been operating in a manner that is detrimental to the public safety.”
City council members were also presented with statistics showing an increase in police calls and numerous pictures of overgrown plants, rundown parking lots, debris scattered throughout the properties and signs of a rat problem.
Weiser argued city officials illegally gathered much of those findings by walking onto the property without a search warrant or consent from the property owner.
“The issue is whether the Fourth Amendment protects the property owner , the motel owner from the government coming on there and taking evidence and then using that evidence in a proceeding like this,” Weiser argued.
He cited a 9th Circuit Court of Appeals case, where judges ruled that while the constitution allows officials to gather evidence in public areas – like the front of the motel or the sidewalk – they can’t go farther into the property to gather evidence without a warrant or consent.
“The private areas of the motel are absolutely subject to Fourth Amendment protection … which requires consent from the property owner or consent from the particular tenant or guest in the property.”
City attorneys earlier this week told Anaheim city council members that they stood behind the city’s legal approach to the motels, saying everything was done legally and the property owners were given a heads up about the new restrictions.
Spencer Custodio is the civic editor. You can reach him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @SpencerCustodio.
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