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Judge Refuses to Block Costa Mesa Hotel Law

SANTA ANA, Calif. (CN) - A judge refused to enjoin a Costa Mesa motel ordinance that critics say could force the mentally disabled, recovering drug addicts and low-income families onto the streets.

Timothy Dadey, the Costa Mesa Motel Resident Association et al. sued Costa Mesa on Nov. 24, claiming that the city's new ordinance limiting motel stays to 30 days hurts the poorest and most vulnerable.

Superior Court Judge Gregory H. Lewis denied their ex-parte application for a preliminary injunction on Nov. 25.

City officials are trying to clean up 12 motels they view as magnets for crime. The city already has fined motels that generate an excessive amount of nuisance complaints involving drugs, gang crimes and prostitution.

The city claims that in 2013 the Costa Mesa Motor Inn was the worst offender, with 497 complaints that year.

"Heroin and meth users stay there. This place has been written up in the local paper as being a public nuisance," one Yelp user wrote about the Motor Inn. "Local drug dealers live there. I would be worried about bed bugs or your car being broken into."

But the plaintiffs claimed that a dearth of affordable housing in the city means that for many poor people budget motels are there only alternative to the streets.

Costa Mesa Mayor Jim Righeimer "made clear that this discrimination is intentional" after approving the ordinance, the residents say.

"If you are living in a motel, you should be moving, you should be knowing that something in your life is not working," Righeimer said, according to the lawsuit. "You're in a motel. You need to change something in your life ... [T]here is a problem that you have. And it could be a mental issue, it could be a drug issue, it could be anything, I'm not sure what it is. But you should be reminded every 28 days, this is not working in your life."

But city is only aggravating the problem, the motel residents say.

Plaintiff Raleigh Christopher, 31, lives at the Costa Mesa Motor Inn with her husband, an unemployed carpenter, her 5-year-old daughter and a 7-year-old autistic son. A trained paralegal, she has lived at the motel for 14 months since her husband lost his union job and the family was evicted from their home. Christopher has to care for her son full time. She says the family moved to the motel so their son could participate in a special program at the nearby elementary school. They can "barely afford" the motel's weekly rate, according to the lawsuit.

"The ordinance will have a life-altering effect on the hundreds of low income individuals and families who rely on the motels for affordable long-term housing," the complaint states.

It adds that the city has approved a plan to tear down the Motor Inn and replace it with condominiums. It approved another ordinance that targets sober living group homes, according to the lawsuit.

The grim reality for the people and families who live in the motels is that every day they will have to pack up their belongings every 30 days and find another place to live, the lawsuit states.

"The burden is magnified for the many residents who have disabilities or who have small children. They are simply not in a position, either physically or financially, to be able to relocate themselves, their family members, and their possessions on a monthly basis, let alone change schools, doctors, child care arrangements, and other necessities of existence affected by proximity and available transportation," the 30-page complaint states.

Even though the ordinance does not apply to people who already are in budget motels, it provides "no relief" for people who moved in on Sept. 4, when the law took effect, the complaint states. Even those who are grandfathered in are vulnerable to the new law because many of them have to "move for reasons beyond their control," the complaint states.

The plaintiffs asked the law to be thrown out for violating federal and state disability and housing laws. They also seek punitive damages.

They represented by Mark D. Erickson with Haynes and Boone, the Public Law Center of Santa Ana, and the Western Center on Law and Poverty in Los Angeles.

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