Victory in Court for Low-Income Motel Residents

The former Costa Mesa Motor Inn on Harbor Blvd. in Costa Mesa, CA.

Judge invalidates development approvals for conversion of Costa Mesa Motor Inn

Media coverage available from Orange County Register and Los Angeles Times.

Los Angeles – A developer may not convert a Costa Mesa residential motel to a luxury apartment complex by circumventing planning and zoning requirements for affordable housing, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge ruled last week in The Kennedy Commission, et al. v. City of Costa Mesa, et al.

“LASOC’s affordable housing advocacy in Orange County highlights the desperate need for actual affordable units for low-income residents like our clients,” said Director of Litigation Lili Graham, who has litigated this case since 2016. “When many of the households were forced to move out of the Motor Inn, they had very few or no options for housing in this community. Thankfully, the Court confirmed the Legislature’s intent to provide tools that addresses the affordable housing crisis throughout California.”

Judge Mary H. Strobel invalidated development approvals for conversion of the Costa Mesa Motor Inn because the City allowed the proposed project to be built at 54 units per acre, well above the maximum 40 units per acre she said was permitted by local planning and zoning laws. The court ruled that under the state’s Density Bonus Law, cities may permit an increase in density only if the developer agrees to build some units affordable to poor people. That did not happen in this case, said Judge Strobel, who also held that the development approvals violated the City’s General Plan for land use.

“The state law gives developers an incentive to build affordable housing,” said Navneet Grewal, an attorney at the Western Center on Law and Poverty, who represents the Kennedy Commission — an Orange County housing advocacy organization — and four former tenants of the Motor Inn. “What the City and the developer improperly tried to do here was exactly the opposite – build luxury housing at the expense of low income tenants.”

The lawsuit also contends that under state law displacement of the long-term tenants requires the City to prepare a relocation assistance plan, which would include reimbursement for moving and related expenses. “For many years, the City has acted on a plan to demolish the Motor Inn and evict its long-term residents,” said Julian Burns from Bird, Marella, Boxer, Wolpert, Nessim, Drooks, Lincenberg & Rhow, another attorney for the petitioners. “The City may not do that without giving the assistance the law requires.”

Judge Strobel agreed that it was “undisputed that persons who were long-time residents of the Motor Inn have been required to vacate the premises.” But the court stated it was unnecessary to decide the relocation issues, transferring the matter to another judge for trial.

The petitioners are represented by the Legal Aid Society of Orange County, Bird Marella, the Public Interest Law Project in Oakland, the Public Law Center in Santa Ana, and Western Center.

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About the attorneys for the petitioners:

Legal Aid Society of Orange County and Community Legal Services of southeast Los Angeles County provides civil legal services to seniors and low-income individuals and promotes equal access to the justice system.

Bird, Marella, Boxer, Wolpert, Nessim, Drooks, Lincenberg & Rhow, P.C. is a boutique litigation firm, whose trial lawyers defend national and multinational corporations, government agencies, closely held companies, partnerhsips, and individuals.

Public Interest Law Project, an IOLTA funded non-profit state support center, provides crucial litigation and advocacy support to local legal services and public interest law programs throughout California.

Public Law Center, Orange County’s pro bono law firm, is committed to providing access to justice for low-income and vulnerable residents through counseling, individual representation, community education, strategic litigation and advocacy to challenge societal injustices.

Western Center on Law and Poverty, an independent nonprofit law firm originally founded as a joint legal clinic of the law schools of USC, UCLA, and Loyola, brings about system-wide change on behalf of low-income individuals and families through impact litigation, advocacy, negotiations, and legal aid support.