Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Aurora Motels

Aurora Avenue is an interesting paradox. It is lined with valuable businesses that are an important part of our community, but at the same time, many of these businesses need to defend their property as if they were in a war zone. Listening to community members and business owners one has to admire their perseverance and dedication.

The problem, like many in our society, has to do with the automobile. In the 1940s and 1950s motor inns sprung up along the U.S. route system to accommodate the growth of automobile travel. In 1956, the Federal Government passed the Interstate Highway Act, creating the Interstate Highway system bypassing the old U.S. routes and hurting the businesses that had grown up to serve them. Throughout the country, communities struggle with crime in these areas, which naturally lend themselves to becoming easy markets for drugs and prostitution. One sharp blogger points out that the plot of the movie Psycho revolves around the Bates Motel, which has been bypassed by an interstate and not had a guest in eight months. In Seattle, we don't have a Bates Motel, but we do struggle with several less than reputable places.

My office has tried several options, with some success. The State is responsible for health and safety at motels, but has only one inspector for the entire state. Our North Precinct Liaison, Ed McKenna created a checklist based on state regulations which he gave to police officers to use whenever they were inside a motel room on a call. The officers filled out the checklist and Ed faxed them into the state inspector. This has led to better conditions at some motels and closures at others. Not everyone likes this program. Since we need consent to enter a room, one motel owner directed his guests not to cooperate with the police or my office.

We also have conducted motel training. The idea is to help motel owners better understand methods of preventing crime in their properties. Simple steps, such as asking for identification, can make motels less desirable for drug dealers and prostitutes. The reputable business owners attend these sessions and have done a good job at reducing crime around their businesses. Unfortunately, the problem owners do not often attend these sessions.

As a regular part of our operation, we file tax delinquency cases against businesses that fail to pay city taxes. It is rare, however, to file a case with 152 charges, such as we filed this week. Working in coordination with the Mayor's office and several city departments, we filed these cases as part of an effort to address five problem motels, which happen also to be behind on their taxes.

We were very concerned about innocent people who might be living in these places. Accordingly, city outreach workers accompanied by Seattle Police officers went to each of the properties in question to help the people living in these motels. This is only the first step. We owe it to the community and the other businesses to follow through on this effort and do all we can to make Aurora the vibrant thoroughfare it could be.

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