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Eureka turns to new ordinance to combat problem motels

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Hotels and motels in Eureka may be required to have an annual permit to make up for frequent calls for service.

"It classifies them based off how many emergency calls for service they receive as compared to the number of rooms in each facility," Brian Gerving said.

Gerving is the chief building official with the city and has been working with law enforcement and fire officials to draft the ordinance. He said it would classify the 32 hotels and motels in the city into two tiers, which would decipher how much they pay annually for the permit. City staff was looking at requiring all motels and hotels to pay an initial permit fee set at $200, however after yesterday’s study session, the requirement may only apply to tier two motels. Those motels would also be required to pay an additional amount on top of that initial fee.

"Tier two hotels would have a base fee that would be multiplied by their calls for service to room ratio," Gerving said.

Eureka Police Department Sergeant Steve Watson said in 2011 the 32 motels in the city accounted for 7.3 percent of all service calls.

"That is a significant number," Sergeant Watson said.

He adds that the most common calls are criminal activity related.

"A lot of drug activity— both sales and use, possession of stolen property, sales of stolen property, things of that nature," Sergeant Watson said.

Sergeant Watson said they’re not trying to deter managers from calling police.

"What we are trying to do is put the responsibility back to managing these premises, back to the owners and managers and not city government and the police department," Sergeant Watson said.

Some motel owners, like Chris Ambrosini of the Best Western Plus Humboldt Bay Inn, support the ordinance.

"We feel that something has to be done with some of the other hotels in eureka that are having problems," Ambrosini said.

But they're concerned about the administrative side of the deal.

"That's not fair that hotels that don't really have problems are having to pay for this program also," Ambrosini said.

He adds that they’re also worried the criminal activity will just go elsewhere— Gerving said there is potential, but that’s not the main reason for the ordinance.

"The property owners in many situations aren't taking responsibility for the safety and the security of the occupants, which is what we're trying to improve," Gerving said.

The council will hear the introduction to the new ordinance on September 3 at their regular council meeting.