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El Cajon tries to crack down on hotels – state says no

City must allow their use as shelters in spite of crimes

The December 12 shooting instigated the aborted clamping down on hotels taking vouchers.
The December 12 shooting instigated the aborted clamping down on hotels taking vouchers.

El Cajon planning commissioners last week voted 4-0 to revoke the "deemed approved" status of a motel where adults had rented rooms for minors, and a teen was found shot in the head.

The motel can stay open but will now have to operate under a conditional use permit, which allows the city to impose stricter conditions.

It all began last December 12 when a mother received a call saying that her daughter had been killed at a motel on East Main Street, south of Madison, west of the intersection with I-8. That led police on a harrowing search that took them to the El Cajon Inn & Suites where they found the girl badly injured, but alive.

"It was this tragic event that became the catalyst for where we find ourselves tonight," said Sally Schifman, with HWL Planning & Engineering, representing owner Nilesh Patel, who owns three hotels in the city.

The investigation of the crime revealed other violations at the motel, which included a long list of medical and "nuisance" calls for service - 24 during 2022 and 10 through April 30 of this year. El Cajon police Capt. Rob Ransweiler said they discovered several runaway juveniles with illegal firearms, drinking and partying in two of the rooms. The rooms, initially rented by adults, were being paid for by two teens.

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At the same time, there had been a surge in hotel crimes in El Cajon, some involving recipients of the county’s hotel voucher program for the homeless.

Motel 6 on Montrose Court

At Motel 6 on Montrose Court two men were alleged to have molested a 16-year-old girl and videotaped the act. Both men are registered sex offenders and wore ankle monitoring devices. The police believed at least two other minors were assaulted by them.

El Cajon Inn & Suites was among those the city threatened for taking too many vouchers last year; others were Motel 6 (Montrose Ct, about two miles from El Cajon Inn & Suites) and Best Inn & Suites (Oakdale Ave., about a half mile away).

To crack down on the businesses, the city sent warning notices to hotels participating in the voucher program, accusing them of unlawfully operating emergency shelters and threatening fines of up to $1,000 a day.

That, in turn, brought a warning from the state to rescind the notices.

Schifman said the city may feel they are carrying an extra burden in the county in regard to the hotel vouchers, "but we maintain that we can hardly pinpoint the problem to one establishment or one location or one operator."

Best Inn & Suites (Oakdale Ave.)

The city has already revoked the status of two approved establishments, she added. "Four or five more may come before you after the one tonight, and perhaps there is a nuisance threat to the public health and safety" tied to the influx of hotel vouchers, but it doesn't stem from the El Cajon Inn and Suites.

"We ask that you not punish business owners for struggling public policies."

It's not about vouchers and the city isn't out to shut down a business, said commissioner Shannon Edison. "What we're saying is, we need to clean things up."

Schifman said the owner has been working diligently with city staff since the violation notices were issued. The motel is on track for a 40 percent reduction in service calls this year because of changes they've made, like adding more security cameras and lighting, hiring a guard to walk the property, and the use of a new guest registration form.

In addition, motel staff will undergo training on human trafficking and sexual harassment and will have to submit reports to the city about how many people are renting rooms with outside assistance, including those using county vouchers.

"We ask that rather than revoke the deemed approved status that they be allowed to retain their status - and that therefore you would not need the CUP," she said.

Commissioners said that anybody who wants to run a business in the city gets a conditional use permit (CUP). It does the exact same thing. Many businesses don't have one due to their age, which is why the deemed approved status was put in place, to grant owners the right to do business with a set of guidelines. If the guidelines weren't met, the city would bring any business back to follow under a CUP.

"If there's no difference, why impose it?" Schifman asked, saying the city's performance standards are already being met.

"The deemed approved status is just a baseline," said city planner Noah Alvey. The CUP gives the commission the ability to add more terms of approval, like a more robust registration system, above what the code allows.

Without a CUP, he added, "things could go back to conditions earlier this year and the city would not have the ability to hold them accountable for more than the deemed approved status regulations."

Another hearing will be held in 90 days to review the motel's management plan.

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The December 12 shooting instigated the aborted clamping down on hotels taking vouchers.
The December 12 shooting instigated the aborted clamping down on hotels taking vouchers.

El Cajon planning commissioners last week voted 4-0 to revoke the "deemed approved" status of a motel where adults had rented rooms for minors, and a teen was found shot in the head.

The motel can stay open but will now have to operate under a conditional use permit, which allows the city to impose stricter conditions.

It all began last December 12 when a mother received a call saying that her daughter had been killed at a motel on East Main Street, south of Madison, west of the intersection with I-8. That led police on a harrowing search that took them to the El Cajon Inn & Suites where they found the girl badly injured, but alive.

"It was this tragic event that became the catalyst for where we find ourselves tonight," said Sally Schifman, with HWL Planning & Engineering, representing owner Nilesh Patel, who owns three hotels in the city.

The investigation of the crime revealed other violations at the motel, which included a long list of medical and "nuisance" calls for service - 24 during 2022 and 10 through April 30 of this year. El Cajon police Capt. Rob Ransweiler said they discovered several runaway juveniles with illegal firearms, drinking and partying in two of the rooms. The rooms, initially rented by adults, were being paid for by two teens.

Sponsored
Sponsored

At the same time, there had been a surge in hotel crimes in El Cajon, some involving recipients of the county’s hotel voucher program for the homeless.

Motel 6 on Montrose Court

At Motel 6 on Montrose Court two men were alleged to have molested a 16-year-old girl and videotaped the act. Both men are registered sex offenders and wore ankle monitoring devices. The police believed at least two other minors were assaulted by them.

El Cajon Inn & Suites was among those the city threatened for taking too many vouchers last year; others were Motel 6 (Montrose Ct, about two miles from El Cajon Inn & Suites) and Best Inn & Suites (Oakdale Ave., about a half mile away).

To crack down on the businesses, the city sent warning notices to hotels participating in the voucher program, accusing them of unlawfully operating emergency shelters and threatening fines of up to $1,000 a day.

That, in turn, brought a warning from the state to rescind the notices.

Schifman said the city may feel they are carrying an extra burden in the county in regard to the hotel vouchers, "but we maintain that we can hardly pinpoint the problem to one establishment or one location or one operator."

Best Inn & Suites (Oakdale Ave.)

The city has already revoked the status of two approved establishments, she added. "Four or five more may come before you after the one tonight, and perhaps there is a nuisance threat to the public health and safety" tied to the influx of hotel vouchers, but it doesn't stem from the El Cajon Inn and Suites.

"We ask that you not punish business owners for struggling public policies."

It's not about vouchers and the city isn't out to shut down a business, said commissioner Shannon Edison. "What we're saying is, we need to clean things up."

Schifman said the owner has been working diligently with city staff since the violation notices were issued. The motel is on track for a 40 percent reduction in service calls this year because of changes they've made, like adding more security cameras and lighting, hiring a guard to walk the property, and the use of a new guest registration form.

In addition, motel staff will undergo training on human trafficking and sexual harassment and will have to submit reports to the city about how many people are renting rooms with outside assistance, including those using county vouchers.

"We ask that rather than revoke the deemed approved status that they be allowed to retain their status - and that therefore you would not need the CUP," she said.

Commissioners said that anybody who wants to run a business in the city gets a conditional use permit (CUP). It does the exact same thing. Many businesses don't have one due to their age, which is why the deemed approved status was put in place, to grant owners the right to do business with a set of guidelines. If the guidelines weren't met, the city would bring any business back to follow under a CUP.

"If there's no difference, why impose it?" Schifman asked, saying the city's performance standards are already being met.

"The deemed approved status is just a baseline," said city planner Noah Alvey. The CUP gives the commission the ability to add more terms of approval, like a more robust registration system, above what the code allows.

Without a CUP, he added, "things could go back to conditions earlier this year and the city would not have the ability to hold them accountable for more than the deemed approved status regulations."

Another hearing will be held in 90 days to review the motel's management plan.

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