CITY COUNCIL ‘Not the time to jerk us around,’ Mayor tells Residence Inn
by Mark McDermott
The Residence Inn on Sepulveda Boulevard, where an attempted murder occurred in September, came under the Manhattan Beach City Council’s scrutiny Tuesday night. The council, in light of the shooting that occurred on September 8, brought the hotel’s conditional use permit up for review, and what they discovered — 107 police responses to the site this year — greatly and unanimously displeased council members.
An exchange between Councilperson Steve Napolitano and David Millard, a managing director from the group that owns the hotel, was indicative of the level of frustration and distrust the council felt towards hotel management.
“The question is, what the hell is going on out there?” Napolitano asked Millard. “A hundred and seven calls. That’s a terrible rap sheet.”
Millard, who said he was a Manhattan Beach resident, suggested that the incidents that had occurred at the hotel this year were related to the pandemic. He said the hotel, located at 1700 N. Sepulveda, had reduced its rates in order to attract business after the collapse of the hospitality industry due to COVID-19.
“I think unfortunately we didn’t anticipate that lowering our rates and trying to attract any business that we could would necessarily invite people who have a predilection to party and cause problems and do things that are not in keeping with our house rules, which we try to vigorously enforce,” Millard said. “So I agree with you. It’s outrageous that the police department had to respond to these kinds of volumes of problems. It’s absolutely frustrating and maddening. And we are…”
Napolitano cut him off.
“It sounds like they’re still going on. And I’ll tell you, you’re this far away from a revocation hearing,” he said. “I’m ready to go there. You’re still having problems out there.”
Millard said he was “not privy” to who was making those calls.
“Your neighbors,” Napolitano said. “Your neighbors are making the calls.”
“Right. And I live in the Tree Section. And we have a ton of crime that’s happening here,” Millard said. “And we make a lot of calls, too. It is an unfortunate fact that we have a social issue that is impacting the entire city.”
Napolitano said that what was occuring at Residence Inn was not a citywide problem.
“The problem is the hotel’s,” he said. “I think you are deflecting to the city right now.”
“Well, that’s that’s your opinion, and I respect it,” Millard said. “I think I’m not trying to deflect it on the city, I’m trying to point out that we are living in extraordinary times. And I think you are trying to suggest that the hotel has invited these problems.”
“You are certainly not controlling them,” Napolitano shot back.
The Manhattan Beach Police Department, in a city staff report, indicated that the uptick of criminal activity at the Residence Inn has occurred since January and that incidents had included loud music and parties, evictions, stolen vehicles, narcotics, assault with deadly weapon, battery, fraud and forgery, discharge of a firearm in public, and the recent attempted murder (which also involved a firearm). The police timeline did note that since the attempted murder, on September 8, MBPD had worked with hotel management and only four calls have occurred since.
Millard stressed that the hotel is in the process of making changes, including increased security, motion-activated sensor lights, and increasing the height of the wall separating the property from nearby homes.
“We are trying our best to be [good neighbors] and we are taking significant actions to try to alleviate the neighbors’ concerns…There’s a lot of things we think we can do, and we’re moving forward with those projects expeditiously,” he said. “But to suggest that this is all just all Residence Inn Manhattan Beach and is not a situation that our entire community is facing I think is wrong minded.”
“I don’t get calls from Seaview Inn, from Shade Hotel, from the Marriott,” Napolitano said. “Nobody’s getting the same calls as you guys.”
Millard said he couldn’t explain this except that perhaps the hotel’s physical accommodations had something to do with it. The Residence Inn (which is also “by Marriott”) has 44, two-level, 850 sq. ft. penthouses among the 4.5 acres and 176 units the property encompasses. Those units, unlike other hotels, also have kitchens.
“And so [the penthouses] attract groups that wouldn’t otherwise try to crowd into a single hotel room…It’s the only logical explanation I can offer,” Millard said. “”I mean, we haven’t had this problem in the past.”
Millard said that the hotel’s management needs to balance neighborhood needs with those of investors.
“We have a $75 million investment in this property,” he said. “The property is not owned by a group of wealthy individuals or some developer; the ultimate owner of this property is the state of Washington pension system. So the CalPERS equivalent in Washington State — these are the police, fire people, the teachers and all of the public employees. We have a fiduciary obligation to those investors to protect their pension assets. And I do think that, you know, we are doing our best to manage that obligation versus the obligations to our neighbors, who we desperately want to make happy and feel comfortable.”
“We’re open to having an ongoing and collaborative process,” Millard said. “I don’t know why you would take the opportunity to threaten us.”
“How have I threatened?” Napolitano said. “I’ve asked for you to fix the problem. You are saying it’s the city’s problem. It’s unknown. It’s everything but your problem.”
Several neighbors offered testimony that contradicted Millard’s suggestion that issues only arose since the pandemic. They said the problems dated back years but were less apparent because neighbors tried to deal directly with the hotel rather than call MBPD.
Resident J.R. Curly said he and his wife Nicole have endured problems with the hotel for several years. He said he’d spoken directly to Millard about some of the physical issues and was told, even during a $20 million renovation, that increased security measures were unaffordable.
“The hotel has known about these repeat issues for years,” Curly said. “This is not new. This is not a six month issue. But only now, at the City Council and with significant resident intervention, have they begun to do anything of any impact to actually solve these issues.”
Curly said a public records request showed the problems began to intensify in 2016, when police calls registered a 100 percent increase, and that those problems peaked with 180 calls to MBPD in a single year.
If you can imagine having the MBPD coming to your neighbor’s house 200 times a single year,” Curly said. “It’s unbelievable and actually ridiculous.”
Neighbor Kenny Arena said his family had endured problems since moving next to the hotel three years ago but had tried to resolve the issue directly with management.
“As it continued to occur and my kids got older, and they weren’t able to sleep due to the noise, due to the fighting — there is fighting in and out of the hotels,” Arena said. “It falls into the parking lot. We are on 18th Street, north of the hotel, we can see down into the hotel and into the parking lots and there are moments of 20 to 30 people fighting in their parking lots, at two or three o’clock in the morning. This has happened since we moved in here. This has nothing to do with what’s happened in this country and in the world since March. So that’s a terrible excuse, to say this is COVID related.”
Resident Jeremy Cramer said the problems had been ongoing for years and no changes would occur unless compelled by council. He noted the sensor lights were only installed the day of the council meeting.
“He put lights up. It was hours ago,” Cramer said. “I mean they’re just doing the bare minimum at the last minute to try to appease you guys.”
The council debated whether or not to schedule a revocation hearing, which would entail the possible loss of the hotel’s conditional use permit and, in essence, its business.
“I wasn’t attempting to threaten anything,” Napolitano said. “I’m just saying that if no one’s going to do anything that we will…That’s not a threat. I’ll make a motion to have a revocation hearing. I’ll set it in a month. I don’t have a problem doing that because I haven’t heard any proof after 107 calls that anything’s changed.”
Mayor Richard Montomery said that hearing neighbors accounts of the problems was beyond concerning. “I’m embarrassed it ever got this far,” he said.
Councilperson Hildy Stern said that she wasn’t sure physical changes to the hotel were enough.
“I’m really concerned about this other issue, which is the nature of the clients that are coming to this hotel and are engaging in [criminal] activities. “That doesn’t make for a good neighbor, right? If there’s parties in the parking lot, if there’s loud noise and music and smoking, those are things that need a different culture at that hotel, really. They need to be addressed. Certainly from the inside out.”
Councilperson Nancy Hersman was also ready to go there rather than take more limited action, such as modifying the hotel’s use permit or setting up another review in the future in hopes of improvement.
“For us to now say, ‘Well, let’s give them another chance to meet the basic requirements…’ I don’t know,” said Hersman. “I’m not confident that that’s going to get us there.”
The council, at the mayor’s suggestion, instead chose a slightly less punitive approach. Councilperson Suzanne Hadley made the motion to schedule a public hearing to consider changes to Residence Inn’s use permit while not ruling out a subsequent revocation hearing should problems persist at the hotel. Hadley noted that this approach had the best chance for swift change, noting the hotel had asked for four months to enact an array of changes suggested in a letter by City Attorney Quinn Barrow — which included a new gate, a higher fence, increased room rates, no same day bookings, and a $1,000 deposit requirement for each guest that would be forfeited if the stay resulted in a police call.
Hadley said four months was too long to enact the changes.
“That is unacceptable,” she said.
The motion passed unanimously.
“I’ll go along with it knowing that the stick is right behind,” Hersman said.
“Yeah, absolutely. I’m all about the stick right behind,” Hadley said. “But I do think it’s important to give a chance to correct, restorative justice. Just not a long lead, not a long time.”
“This is not time to jerk us around,” Montgomery warned. ER