"Vallejo motels now targeted for nuisance abatement"
by Rachel Raskin-Zrihen "Vallejo Times-Herald" [http://www.timesheraldonline.com/news/ci_24755654/vallejo-motels-now-targeted-nuisance-abatement]:
They've been going after blighted and abandoned homes and squatters for about a year, and now Vallejo's Neighborhood Law Program has trained its nuisance abatement sights on local motels.
The Times-Herald obtained a copy of a letter sent about two weeks ago to all Vallejo motel/hotel owners, managers and property owners -- some 40 letters in all. The letters alerted them to this new focus on clearing up quality of life issues in and around their facilities, program lawyer Eli Flushman said Wednesday.
"We have some hotels that have presented significant nuisances to certain neighborhoods, but we realized they probably weren't the only ones with problems," Flushman said. "So, we wanted to see if we can have a positive impact on all of them, and so no one feels singled out, we sent letters out to all of them."
The hope is that the letters -- which ask motel management to contact the program's lawyers with what issues they have and how they plan to fix them -- will create a conversation that will lead to change, he said.
An opportunity to remedy some persistent problems is exactly how Brandon Cervantes, the day manager at the Travelers Inn Motel on Tennessee Street, reacted to the program, after reading the letter Wednesday.
"It sounds like a good idea, like not only we are having such problems, and if we all come together we can decrease or stop such activity," the 20-year-old Vallejo resident said, adding that he's "pretty sure" his superiors will agree.
Cervantes said there are "rarely" problems inside his motel, but there's plenty of trouble nearby that he's as eager as anyone to see end.
"There are arguments between civilians; there was a drive-by a few blocks from here," he said. "I'm also pretty sure there is prostitution going on nearby."
These are precisely the types of behaviors residents and business owners complain about, and which this program seeks to address, Flushman said.
"In response to complaints and multiple calls for police service and assistance at local hotels, the city of Vallejo is beginning an effort to examine potential nuisance activity at many Vallejo hotels and immediate surrounding areas," the letter reads. "The city is particularly concerned with controlled substances, prostitution, violent behavior, and any unfair business practices. If you believe any of these issues exist at your hotel, we encourage you to resolve them and call the office of the City Attorney to discuss your plan to abate such activity."
City officials also will be looking at the accuracy and completeness of each hotel's Transient Occupancy Tax payments, it says.
Hotel management can "prevent possible legal action" by finding ways to abate nuisances, but should they fail to comply, the program has some teeth it's not afraid to use, Flushman said.
"We hope (the owners are) already thinking about it since getting our letter, and, hopefully they'll present a plan and we may also may have some ideas, but, if left unadressed, we will look at other ways of dealing with the issues," he said. "For instance, there are certain laws that permit civil legal action if they refuse to abate any nuisance we find on their property."
One option is boarding up the motel, which Flushman said could create a new or worse set of problems. Another is a special receivership, whereby the court appoints someone to take over the property, clean it up, and sell it, he said.
"We want Vallejo business owners to prosper in business here,... and some of these are difficult issues to address," Flushman said. "First we want to know what they're doing to address some of these issues. We're talking to other cities to see how they're dealing with these kinds of issues. It won't be easy."
Incoming City Councilwoman Pippin Dew said she applauds the city's new effort.
"It feels like it's long overdue and I'm glad the Neighborhood Law Program is looking at more than just residential issues," Dew said. "If they're successful, it would mean the police would... not be constantly responding to calls in these areas and that might contribute to a general reduction in crime overall."
But, Flushman warned against expecting an immediate exodus of Vallejo's seedier, criminal element.
"This will be a painstakingly long process," he said. "We are in fact-collection mode and then we'll do a general review; asking these hotels to do an honest assessment of their own properties. Then, we'll do a more throughout review to find the ones with the most problems, and that's where we'll start."