A client of mine owns motels in South Central Los Angeles. He runs a clean business. He has a full-time on site manager who requires several forms of identification before renting rooms. They do not permit “guests” in the rooms. They have 24 hour security. Even though the motels are in a rough neighborhoods, they have had no problems in the motels for a long time.
The neighborhood surrounding the motels is a bad one. People are constantly dumping trash on the sidewalk, outside the motel. Prostitutes are usually loitering at the bus stop across the street from the motel. Drug deals are often done in the vacant lot next to the motel. Other than my client’s motels, the biggest property owner on the block is a half-way house.
You might think that this would give the motel owner a grievance with the City. He is trying to run a clean business, but, since the City can’t effectively police the area, my client constantly has to deal with all of the problems caused by crime, prostitution and drug dealing in the area.
That is not how the City sees it. The way the City sees it, since there are problems in the neighborhood, they must be caused by the only business in the area. The City has brought an action to revoke my client’s business license, or to place restrictions upon it. I went to the administrative hearing. The primary witness were cops.
The cops were hard-working, good people, trying to do their jobs. They admitted very freely that my client’s motel was a good one. They said that my client was doing everything that he could to run a clean business. They said, however, that outside the motel, bad things were happening. Trash was being dumped frequently. Drug deals were being done, and so forth.
Because these bad things were happening in the area, the City says, restrictions have to clamped down on my client. What was the connection between anything my client was doing, or failing to do, and the bad things in the area? There was no such connection, the cops admitted. My guy was doing everything he could. Even still, they wanted to put restrictions on him, because they are looking for ways to take action, and he is the one visibly solvent business in the area. The fact that placing restrictions on the business license makes the motel harder to sell, and harder to get a loan for, is not something that the City thinks about.
This is nuts, both as policy and of law. As a policy matter, this is a good example of why businesses are leaving Los Angeles, and California. My client’s motel is the only job-producing business in a very bad area. A sane local government would be asking my client what they could do to make his life easier and to encourage him to expand his business and to provide more jobs. Since this is LA, the government is looking for ways to make my client’s life miserable, and to encourage him to invest next time in Houston instead of Los Angeles.
Second, the City ordinance which is being enforced, Los Angeles Municipal Code Section 12.27.1, seeks to control public nuisances. It is basic to public nuisance law that the bad guy has to be doing something, which is causing a problem. The City, in this case, has made no effort to prove that our client did anything, which is causing anyone a problem. Rather, the City’s case is that, since there are problems in the neighborhood, they must be being caused by business. Business is presumed guilty of causing every urban ill. We will, of course, appeal this craziness through the administrative maze and then to the courts.