By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
“I think we have to look at ways in which if we’re going to go out and solicit a multimillion-dollar enterprise in our community, then we have accommodations that allow people to come in and live just like any other community,” said Parks, who sits on the Coliseum Commission.
The meeting was run by the Community Coalition for Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment, which led the effort to rid South Los Angeles of the glut of liquor stores that activists say continues to tear at the fabric of the community. The coalition has enjoyed remarkable success — but closing liquor stores that even city officials agree are crime magnets can take 10 years or longer.
“Our organization has been working on this motel issue for 13 years,” coalition director Karen Bass says. “And, see, that’s the problem, because once they open there’s nothing that you can do. So the idea of a new one coming in, that’s what’s so upsetting.”
Lisa Harris lives a few doors from the motel site and attended a neighborhood council meeting at which Parks reiterated his insistence on a “five-star” motel. But she said the councilman, who served as an LAPD officer and then as chief for 30 years, ought to know that any motel can attract prostitution.
“You are not going to get someone from out of town flying into LAX and saying, ‘I think I’m going to go and stay at the Magic Carpet motel on Florence and LaSalle,’” Harris says. “You’re not going to get that. It’s ridiculous.”
Roger Smith, the Southwestern Church of God pastor, agrees. “We know better,” Smith says. “I don’t have relatives that’s going to come from out of town for an NFL game and live here where there’s trash on the streets. If [Parks] believes that then I would have a lack of respect for his intelligence. It’s incomprehensible that he would believe that. I don’t foresee anyone wanting to come to a motel that’s directly in the inner city.”
Williams says he has no intention of applying for the Auto Club diamonds that Parks demands (the AAA now uses diamonds instead of stars). But even if he did seek diamonds, he would never get five of them. The AAA’s 2003 Tour Book lists only five five-diamond hotels in Los Angeles County — the Ritz-Carlton Marina del Rey, and Raffles L’Ermitage, Beverly Hills Hotel, Four Seasons and the Peninsula, all in Beverly Hills. High-season room rates at these hotels start between $300 and $400, and top out at $3,000 at the Peninsula. The five-diamond distinction is only awarded to properties that “reflect the characteristics of the ultimate in luxury and sophistication,” and “meticulously serve and exceed all guest expectations while maintaining an impeccable standard of excellence.” If the Bel-Air, the Biltmore and the Bonaventure can’t get five diamonds, neither will a 58-unit Magic Carpet Motor Inn on Florence.
Parks hedged at a recent neighborhood council meeting, saying he insisted on five stars in part because he knew Williams could never meet the standard. But he also says the community just doesn’t get it.
“You can’t keep telling developers absolutely ‘I don’t want things of any type’ and then have vacant lots and make complaints about having vacant lots,” Parks says. “We will not support a motel that supports prostitution. But this community is in an ideal situation to recoup some of the entrepreneurial spirit if you get a football team. And why wouldn’t you want businesses to come in to support that kind of operation?”
Outside a zoning hearing last week members shouted a list of demands for the property. Build 24-hour day care, they urged. Build a “drop-in work center.” Build senior housing. “Five star, three star, we don’t care, we don’t need another motel,” they shouted, although the rhythm wasn’t quite right and the chant quickly petered out.
Inside, the hearing went poorly for Williams. First a Community Redevelopment Agency representative said the motel design failed to meet CRA standards — although he admitted he had never gotten around to sharing his decision with Williams or allowing him to amend his plan. Then Parks’ aide David Roberts surprised the 80 or so motel opponents in attendance by announcing, for the first time, that the councilman believed the Magic Carpet was not of the proper caliber. If it couldn’t make it in Beverly Hills, Roberts said, it wasn’t welcome in South L.A.
Based on Williams’ failure to meet the previously unknown CRA objections, zoning administrator Nicholas Brown denied the permit request, leaving the Magic Carpet Motor Inns developer to redraw his plans. But Brown also warned that “when you don’t have the support of the council office you’re treading on dangerous ground.”
Williams says he needs a few weeks to figure out his next move. Senior housing, he notes, was a backup plan, but he is in the motel business. For the near future, his lot on the corner of Florence and LaSalle will remain a vacant lot. It is one of many in South L.A., used during the daytime as a backdrop by vendors selling Laker T-shirts to passing motorists, and at night, now and then, by prostitutes who complete their business at any one of a number of nearby motels.