If you’re to believe its website, the Value Motel has “comfortable family accommodations” and “a room for every budget and every traveler.”
What goes unmentioned is what has attracted the attention of Clark County’s top cop: The motel is known as a place where prostitutes openly ply their trade, drug use runs rampant and teens gather for drinking parties.
The question, then, for Garry Lucas is this: What to do? Lucas, Clark County’s six-term sheriff, in February ordered a task force to come up with that answer.
“We want it to be a clean, livable space that’s not full of all these activities,” Lucas said.
The 1963 Hazel Dell establishment received renewed interest from local officials following a Feb. 3 article by Vancouver Voice reporter Marcus Griffith titled, “Short stay: A night at Clark County’s seediest motel.” He wrote about the drug use and prostitution and of waking up with bug bites.
It was soon after that Lucas directed a group of law enforcement officers, county officials and community members to take a close look at the Value Motel. Lucas pointed to a collaboration between motel and hotel owners and law enforcement that helped push back against crime at strip of trouble establishments in Tacoma as a similar and successful effort.
Bud Van Cleve of the Hazel Dell Neighborhood Association is not a member of the task force, but says he has spoke with people who are. He lumps together the Value Motel and Callaham’s Mobile Estates, calling their owners “two of the biggest slumlords in Clark County.”
He sees only one solution: “Close ’em up. Run a bulldozer through them.”
The primary focus of the Value Motel task force is a search for health, structural and fire codes that are out of compliance. Not to shut the place down, as Van Cleve advocates.
The task force is looking “to point out some things to the owner to make it a viable business in the community and to reduce calls for service,” said Keith Kilian, a sheriff’s commander leading the effort. “We’re just trying to get the owner on board.”
Across from the Value Motel is the Totem Pole shopping center, which is centered by a vacant building. Milton O. Brown, the man who owns both properties, as well as a few other parcels on Highway 99, has not been actively involved in the county’s plans. He did not return calls for this article.
The Value Motel property is leased by Haresh Patel. A message to the motel asking for a manager to comment was not returned.
According to Clark County Fire District 6 data shared by spokeswoman Dawn Johnson, there are 161 rooms at the Value, about 20 of which aren’t currently in use because they’re in various states of disrepair.
There has been discussion, said Marty Snell, Clark County’s director for community development, of applying laws relating to public nuisance. He declined to provide additional details on that possibility.
On March 30, Snell was at the motel meeting with representatives from the Washington Department of Health and local health officials. They toured the facility for more than two hours, he said. “(State officials) go in individual rooms and look at things,” Snell said. “Our local public health looks at common areas — pools, spas and laundry facilities.”
Ultimately, he said, curbing crime can’t be done entirely through codes. “That’s with the sheriff’s office,” Snell said.
Mike Evans of the sheriff’s office said the Value Motel and Callaham’s Mobile Estates farther north on Highway 99 are landlords of last resort. They accept people with criminal records, don’t perform credit checks and are cheap.
Whatever solution surfaces, it won’t be something that can be accomplished solely by the sheriff’s office, he said.
The one thing the Value Motel’s website does acknowledge is the building’s exterior leaves something to be desired. Don’t let it fool you, it says. That may be another reason it seems to invite crime, Evans said.
He referred to a study in which a pair of Harvard University professors argued in an article, “Broken Windows,” that neighborhoods with abandoned cars and dilapidated buildings require a greater police presence than quiet, well-tended suburbs. The article was published in 1982 in The Atlantic Magazine.
To control crime, George Kelling and James Wilson argued, “police — and the rest of us — ought to recognize the importance of maintaining, intact, communities without broken windows.”
Evans said of the Value Motel, “The reason why we take code enforcement out is to make sure that broken window gets fixed.”