Valley West’s Motel Hell – March 27, 2012
Valley West Correspondent
VALLEY WEST – A foggy afternoon in Arcata. A police car rolls in to the parking lot of the Motel 6 on Valley West Boulevard minutes later another police car comes in as backup. Police presence at the Motel 6 is a common occurrence – last year the police were called to the motel 285 times. Many of those times, two or three patrol cars were dispatched.
The types of calls range from the common unwanted or unregistered guest, drinking and partying, fights, thefts, drugs and the occasional overdose. While most Motel 6 employees refused to comment, one employee was willing to talk but did not want to be named. Despite the heavy police presences (or perhaps because of it) the motel employee does not worry about safety: “I don’t worry about my safety, I feel the Motel 6 is a safe place to stay.” The employee went on to state that they do try to keep troublemakers away and there are policies in place to keep problem guests from returning. Generally, any issue requiring police assistance with a guest is logged in to the computer, and that guest is not welcome back. ID is required for check-in and if the name is flagged the guest is turned away.
The employee observed that most of the problems are not tourists or truck drivers staying a night but local people coming to party in a room. Motel 6 staff acknowledged that the constant police activity does deter a better clientele. Calls to Motel 6 corporate office and corporate security regarding the high amount of police activity were not returned.
In other parts of the nation, cities have passed ordinances in an effort to curb crime at low budget motels. In Wildwood, Georgia, the city council passed an ordinance stating that if motel properties have more than six police calls in a 60-day period they will be put on probationary status. If problems continue, the motel owner receives a $250 fine each time police are sent.
In Seattle, problem motels are asked to sign a Community Good Neighbor Agreement, which outlines business practices and security measures that the motel must follow. The city council of Seattle has taken legal action or closed the worst offenders,
The Motel 6 is the cheapest motel in Arcata, charging only $50 a night. The Super 8 charges a little more, at $60 a night. Last week Triston Crossland of Blue Lake and Leann Ferry of Arcata were arrested at the Super 8 on Valley West. Crossland was arrested for possession of stolen property, felon in possession of a firearm and probation violation. Ferry was arrested for possession of a controlled substance and her two small children were taken in to protective custody (see page 1). Yet the Super 8 has nowhere near the volume of police calls that the Motel 6 generates. Police problems aside, both of the motels maintain their property and pay their bills, unlike some other Valley West motels.
In February, 2011, the City shut off water services to the Days Inn after months of trying to collect more than $174,000 in overdue tax and utility bills. The Days Inn closed and has remained vacant, except for break-ins by travelers.
The former Days Inn is now owned by Potomac Capital Advisors a real estate development advisory firm in Boston, Massachusetts. Allegedly the Inn is for sale, but attempts to have Potomac Capital confirm this were unsuccessful. City Manager Randy Mendosa said he fully expects to recoup all of the money owed to the City by the Days Inn.
One year later, another Valley West motel is heading down the same path as the Days Inn. The Comfort Inn went into receivership and is now called the Arcata Redwood Inn. It owes the city around $28,000 in overdue tax and utility bills. The motel remains open and is listed for sale online for $2,600,000.
Across the street, the Howard Johnson Express sits at the end of the of the Valley West motel strip. To one side is the higher end Hampton Inn (the most expensive large hotel in Arcata, charging $140 a night) to the other side sits a small vacant lot. The lot is owned by the Howard Johnson Express and was originally intended to be used to expand the parking lot. The parking lot expansion never happened and the lot just sits there, unsightly and overgrown.
Vacant lots, boarded motels, and constant police activity can bring down property values and likely deters tourists. In 2011 the city received about $850,000 in Transient Occupancy Tax from the 10 Arcata motels. Seven of those motels are located on Valley West Boulevard. The Motel 6 is paying their taxes and utility bills, so it appears that the City is benefiting financially from their presence.
However, cost cannot be calculated in currency alone. The cost is much higher when the police are distracted with preventable calls to the Motel 6. The same can be said for fire and ambulance services.
The City benefits from having affordable places for tourists to stay, but it cannot benefit from a motel that generates 285 police calls a year. Arcata is not unique in low budget motels attracting crime and draining City services. The question before City leaders is: how can the City or community intervene to keep affordable motels open while deterring crime?