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Mayor Bass Moved About Two Dozen Homeless People Into A Motel Known for Criminal Activity and Prostitution

Last month, the city of Los Angeles moved people living on the streets into a motel that was previously declared a “public nuisance” and had been a source for criminal activity for more than a decade, according to officials

4:20 PM PDT on June 15, 2023

    A Google maps screenshot of the 108 Motel in South L.A.

    A Google maps screenshot of the 108 Motel in South L.A.

    Last month, the city of Los Angeles mistakenly moved people living on the streets into a motel that was previously declared a “public nuisance.” According to officials, it had been a source of criminal activity for more than a decade.

    During an Inside Safe operation in early May that took “months of coordination and focus,” according to the local councilmember, roughly two dozen unhoused people living along a median in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Council District 5 were moved approximately 15 miles to the 108 Motel, a one-story motel in South L.A. next to the freeway that the city has been trying to shut down for years.

    The city council declared the 108 Motel a public nuisance in 2018 “and required the discontinuance of the motel’s use and any similar land uses at the property.” 

    This month, Councilmember Marqueece Harris-Dawson introduced a new city council motion to padlock or fence off the troubled motel at 10721 South Broadway after the owner reportedly removed a fence erected earlier.

    Harris-Dawson’s motion calls the 108 Motel “a public nuisance” that “has continued to be a source of criminal and other nuisance activity.” The motel has been a magnet for prostitution and violent crimes for more than a decade, according to the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD).

    “Given the owner's failure to secure the property, the Department of Building and Safety must now ensure that the building is vacated and secured using chain link fence, gates, or padlock,” Harris-Dawson wrote in the June 6 motion.

    In a phone interview with L.A. TACO, Harris-Dawson said that it’s a “long process to get the city to declare a building a public nuisance,” and in that time, the motel owner was given “several chances to correct the conditions.”

    The pandemic extended that process even further, and in that time, the motel was “sold” to a family member, Harris-Dawson said. At some point this year, the new owner “back channeled” to the mayor’s office and offered their rooms for Inside Safe.

    Councilmember Harris-Dawson believes that Bass’ office “should have known” that there were issues with the motel, but he doesn’t place all of the blame on them. 

    “The city does such a terrible job enforcing its own rules on business owners,” the council member said. 

    Despite the council member’s efforts to shut it down, the 108 Motel has continued to operate as a motel intermittently since being declared a public nuisance.

    Harris-Dawson’s office was notified that the mayor’s office was planning to use a motel in his district for Inside Safe but they did not specify which one, according to the council member. The mayor’s office does not typically identify hotels being used for Inside Safe by name due to privacy and safety concerns.

    After Harris-Dawson’s office realized that the 108 Motel was being used for Inside Safe, residents living there were moved to a nearby motel.

    Overall, however, Harris-Dawson believes that Inside Safe has been more successful than past efforts to bring people indoors, and he welcomes anybody in need of a bed into his district. 

    “I’m very reluctant of council members being in the mix of where people can sleep,” Harris-Dawson told L.A. TACO.

    In response to a detailed list of questions, Zach Seidl, spokesperson for Mayor Bass explained in a statement that prior to moving people to the 108 Motel, “staff visited the 108 Motel, checked its business tax registration certificate, verified habitability with the County Department of Public Health, and reviewed the owner’s insurance policy.”

    According to Seidl, “The motel owner signed an agreement stating that he had a legal right to operate the motel and that he was in full compliance with all federal, state, and local laws.”

    Seidl said, “Once it was determined that the owner did not have the right to operate the motel, the Mayor’s Office conducted outreach days in advance to notify the Inside Safe residents there that they would be moved into a different nearby motel.”

    “The Mayor’s Office worked quickly to place the residents in the nearby hotel a few weeks ago, and all participants agreed to move,” Seidl said. “If there is an issue with the living conditions of Inside Safe participants, we take action to fix it.”

    Seidl added that “The Mayor's Office is refining the motel vetting procedure to ensure that this doesn't happen again.”

    Some participants of Inside Safe have criticized city officials for shuffling people from one location to another with little transparency or notice and failing to provide basic resources like food.

    Undercover LAPD investigations revealed that rooms at the motel were allegedly rented out by the hour and used for prostitution. There was also often no security guard present at the location, or they were unlicensed, according to police. 

    One anonymous Inside Safe participant living at the Silver Lake Hotel earlier this year said that they were notified they had to move the following morning after they had changed their address on their ID and started receiving mail at the address, according to a testimonial

    “I’ve been applying for jobs with THIS address. My girlfriend is in the program here with me and is eight weeks pregnant. So this sudden eviction is really worrying us both,” the Inside Safe participant said.

    During Mayor Bass’ first six months in office, more than 1,300 people were moved from tents and encampments into motel rooms through Inside Safe, according to the mayor’s office. According to a report from the City Administrative Officer, the city expects to spend more than $7.5 million on renting motels and $11 million to rent more than 450 rooms at the L.A. Grand in DTLA by the end of the month.

    It’s unclear if the 108 Motel owner has invoiced the city or been paid.

    ‘The Most Nasty Ass Motel’

    According to city council files and reports, issues with the 108 Motel date back more than a decade.

    In 2016, the LAPD reported that the property was associated with crimes that included homicide, rape by force, prostitution, assault with a deadly weapon, battery, kidnapping, and burglary. Between 2011 and 2014, the LAPD reported more than 25 calls for service at the 108 Motel and nine arrests for homicide, rape, and robbery.

    That same year the motel was cited for illegal construction during a joint investigation between LAPD and Building and Safety. Undercover LAPD investigations revealed that rooms at the motel were allegedly rented out by the hour and used for prostitution. There was also often no security guard present at the location, or they were unlicensed, according to police. 

    The property owner responded by saying many of the LAPD’s allegations were “hearsay” and that they had corrected previous concerns. 

    “In a neighbourhood (sic) of 80% homeless people who can not afford to rent the room for a day, they rent a room for an hour to take a shower take some rest,” the owner at the time, Amit Kumar Shah, wrote in a 2016 appeal to the Planning and Land Use Management Committee. Shah said hiring a 24-hour security guard would cause him to “go bankrupt in 6 months.”

    In 2018 the city council declared the property “a public nuisance” and ordered the owners to stop running a motel on the property. Around that time, the property changed hands, according to Councilmember Harris-Dawson. “I say ‘sold’ in air quotes because it was sold to a relative,” the council member told L.A. TACO.

    The 108 Motel doesn’t appear to be currently renting rooms online. On Google, they received just over three stars. And on Yelp, two and a half stars. Reviews range from suspiciously positive to terrible. Complaints of roaches, mold, and poor customer service go back years.

    “If you are broke and don't mind sharing a small room with roaches this is the place to be,” one Google reviewer wrote.

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