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Bellingham council votes to condemn Aloha Motel

The front of the Aloha Motel on Monday, Sept. 22, 2014 located at 315 N. Samish Way in Bellingham. The city of Bellingham is pursuing condemning the blighted property. "The Aloha has had many crime and drug issues, as have several hotels in the area," Police Chief Cliff Cook said. "We will continue to prioritize resources into the area until the environment changes."
The front of the Aloha Motel on Monday, Sept. 22, 2014 located at 315 N. Samish Way in Bellingham. The city of Bellingham is pursuing condemning the blighted property. "The Aloha has had many crime and drug issues, as have several hotels in the area," Police Chief Cliff Cook said. "We will continue to prioritize resources into the area until the environment changes." THE BELLINGHAM HERALD

The Aloha Motel was officially labeled a blight on the Samish neighborhood late Monday night, Oct. 27, as the City Council voted to condemn the property.

The council voted 6-0 to both name the property a blight and direct staff to start condemnation proceedings. Council member Gene Knutson was sick and left the five-hour meeting before a vote was held.

Though he said he disagreed with the city’s tactics, Greg Greenan, lawyer for the owners of the Aloha property at 315 N. Samish Way, said his clients Sang and Mi Yi were ready to take an offer if the city would pay a fair price.

Before the city can make an offer for the property, it will get an appraisal and present that to council, which will need to weigh in on the next steps.

The motel has gained a reputation as a hub for criminal activity, with 11 rooms condemned in recent months due to methamphetamine contamination found by Whatcom County Health Department tests.

“The city’s selective enforcement of meth contamination has effectively put my clients out of business,” Greenan told the council. “It’s Machiavellian. They’re unable to pay their mortgage.”

Council member Terry Bornemann responded, “Well, if it’s Machiavellian to keep people from renting meth-infested rooms”

Greenan, who had returned to his seat at that point, stood up and said, “The meth epidemic has been going on for 25 years. To my knowledge the city has tested 18 rooms, only in the last six months.”

Greenan’s claim that the Health Department has unfairly targeted the property holds no merit, said Jeff Hegedus, environmental health supervisor with the department.

“(City police) are doing basic crime scene investigation at the place of the worst crime in the whole city,” Hegedus said. “There’s nothing unfair about that.”

In addition to contamination found at the Aloha, the department also found meth contamination in seven rooms at the Villa Inn, another Samish Way motel.

In 2005, a new ordinance allowed the Health Department to test “non-drug houses,” or places were people might have simply used meth. Before that, state law had allowed the department to test only those places where the drug had allegedly been produced, Hegedus said. The department can legally test places only at the request of someone with legal access, such as a tenant, owner or police conducting an investigation.

Since 2005, the number of meth-contaminated sites the department has tested and supervised through the cleanup process has ranged from a single case in 2008 to 17 in 2013, Hegedus said.

So far this year, the department has supervised the cleanup of six sites from start to finish, and has 26 that still need to be decontaminated, Hegedus said.

During the regular public comment period at the start of council’s 7 p.m. meeting, two people used their three minutes to call on the city to close the motel.

One man, Abe Jacobson, said he regularly rides his bicycle down Samish Way and has seen what he called “hotbeds of criminality” up close.

“Since I’m a slow bicyclist, I get to see the flavor of life, and it ain’t pretty,” Jacobson said. “I support Mayor (Kelli) Linville and the City Council taking this courageous step. ... Maybe in 10 years we can have a beautiful part of the city on Samish Way.”

Lisa Anderson, who lives in the area, presented a list of problem motels and called on the city to crack down on the Aloha, then “the next one listed, then the next one,” referring to the Aloha and two nearby motels as the “devil’s triangle.”

City data show between October 2013 and October 2014, the Aloha had 153 police reports. The Motel 6 at 3701 Byron Ave. had the next highest number of total reports at motels in that area, with 151. Villa Inn came in third, with 111 reports. By comparison, the Best Western Lakeway Inn had 43 reports, the Days Inn, which neighbors the Aloha, had 38, and the Coachman Inn had 32.

Several owners of neighboring properties submitted written statements about criminal activity they’d witnessed near the Aloha and negative impacts the motel’s customers had on their businesses.

Jozef Bosman, owner of Diego’s Restaurant, which sits across the street from the Aloha, described catching motel managers on camera putting bags of used needles and waste next to his locked garbage bins and witnessing apparent drug deals take place in his parking lot.

“Customers say eating in my restaurant is like watching COPS on television while looking at the Aloha,” Bosman wrote. “(I’ve seen) guests from the Aloha asking for foil and stealing spoons and cutlery from bus tubs.”

Sterling Fisher, owner of nearby Sterling Automotive, wrote about witnessing people who appear high or on drugs defecate and urinate in public, and said he often finds drug paraphernalia left on the ground.

“It is commonplace for me to find needles and used condoms on and around my property,” Fisher wrote. “I have even found baggies of drugs (crack cocaine) laying in the street.”

Nav Narwal, general manager for the Days Inn, said the inn’s staff members have had to call police many times for people parking in their lot and walking to the Aloha.

“We have asked many people from the Aloha to leave our property,” Narwal wrote. “We have seen many people high and yelling at people walking by on the sidewalk and screaming in the middle of the night. Many of our guests have checked out early as a result of them not feeling safe because of the motel next door.”

Dealing with the Aloha is only the first step in addressing problems on Samish Way and getting to the point where the city can improve the area as called for in the Samish Way Urban Village plan, Linville said in an interview after council’s Monday meeting.

“We expect people to know that we’ll be enforcing the law and that we need responsible property owners that maintain their facilities for the purpose that they were originally intended, which is not long-term rentals,” Linville said.

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