The sounds of police and ambulance sirens racing toward motels along Pacific Coast Highway and Long Beach Boulevard may occur more than usual, Christopher Koontz, Long Beach Development Services Planning Bureau manager, points out.
According to Koontz, the city has had to deal with various emergency situations at, what the city calls, “nuisance motels.”
“We receive a large number of what we call ‘calls-for-service,’ so that’s police responding to issues ranging from prostitution–– drugs,” Koontz said.
Although not originally intended for it, a recently passed state senate bill aimed at housing development may have a side effect that could help reduce emergency calls-for-service at nuisance motels.
On Sept. 26, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed Senate Bill 450 (SB 450) into law, making it easier to convert motels into transitional housing if the owner wishes to starting Jan. 1.
The bill was passed on the California Senate floor unanimously with 40 “yes” votes, according to the state legislation website.
Julia Katz, Long Beach Government Affairs analyst, said the city worked with California State Senator Tom Umberg, who represents part of Long Beach and Orange County, to write and sponsor the bill. In a statement from earlier this year, Mayor Robert Garcia said the bill was designed to remove dated regulations that were barriers for more housing projects.
The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) requires new development projects to undergo inspection for environmental impact reports. With SB 450 passing, motel-conversion projects with certificates for occupancy are exempt from the CEQA if they meet certain requirements.
Before SB 450, Koontz said third parties could use environmental studies of conversion projects as a way to litigate the project and stall its development.
“It’s not that noting the environment in and of itself is an issue, it’s that the environmental study is an opportunity for litigation, which can be someone who just doesn’t want to see the project move forward,” Koontz said. “It could be someone who is trying to extort money or funds for the litigation process.”
This caused some housing-nonprofit partners to back off conversion projects because of the cost to keep up with the litigation and added complexity, according to Koontz.
Starting Jan. 1, the city will implement a local ordinance that will do away with environmental study.
“It’ll be a matter of matching a nonprofit partner or development partner with a motel and being able to convert them into say, supportive housing instead of a nuisance motel,” Koontz said.
The bill can help bring about 100 units of supportive housing, which includes some services such as case management and substance rehabilitation, Koontz said.
Koontz said the low-budget operations of some motels don’t allow for much security to be present, which causes a higher amount of emergency calls. The city believes that having supportive housing where the motels once operated could reduce the amount of calls-for-service.
“We think it will dramatically reduce the number of calls-for-services, which allows our first responders […] to be out responding to more urgent issues than doing motel check-ins,” Koontz said.
The city is working on reaching out to individuals who are considered “housing insecure” about future transitional housing provided by SB 450. These are individuals who may spend months living in motel rooms but struggle to find a place to stay once money runs out.
“This would provide them the ability to have more stability, to have an address, so they can be matched with services and maybe be able to […] move in to something more permanent,” Koontz said.
Katz added that the Long Beach Multi-Services Center, a facet of the Long Beach Health and Human Services Department, would take the lead in providing the supportive services SB 450 requires to be offered at or near the transitional-housing project.
Currently, the city is negotiating certain properties for motel-conversion projects, but Koontz said he could not disclose any more details as of press time.
Koontz added that motel-conversion projects alone will not solve the housing crisis in the city, but they can help provide struggling individuals with a second chance.
“It is an important part of an overall strategy to address housing and prevent homelessness,” Koontz said,” and provide people with dignified safe living situations.”