Numbers don’t lie.
Of the city’s 25 hotels, the top six in number of 911 calls — and seven of the top eight — are all situated along one stretch of North Samish Way, according to statistics provided by the Bellingham Police Department.
Drugs, prostitution, theft — you name it, it is happening there. But the crimes aren’t just occurring at the hotels — they spread out in concentric circles like ripples on a pond, and area businesses and residents bear the brunt of the ill treatment.
The hotel owners must take their share of the blame for the activity that starts in their businesses and fans out to affect others; they are, after all, allowing these patrons into their businesses, and while some owners may actively work to discourage the kind of behavior that fosters these criminal elements, we feel that others pay lip service toward these goals and accept the constant calls to police as the price of doing business.
What is incontrovertible is how these businesses have changed — or more accurately, had change forced upon them. The majority of the hotels on North Samish Way were built in the 1950s, 1960s, or 1970s, at a time when business travelers still made their way around the country by car, family trips were done in the station wagon, and gas was cheap. The concept of the Motor Inn was rooted in our societal fabric, and was an artifact of the brave new postwar world.
But times have changed.
There are newer, more high-end hotels in town. Business travelers fly more often than not, and the Internet has made business travel less necessary. Gas prices make packing the family into the SUV a more expensive proposition, so these hotel owners have had to shift to a different business model altogether: They now rent rooms on a weekly, monthly, and even yearly basis at bargain-basement prices, functioning more as low-cost apartment complexes than as a motor inn designed to attract travelers.
According to the manager at the Villa Inn, 34 of his 39 rooms are rented out to weekly or monthly renters, some of whom have lived there for years.
None of these facts make either the hotel owners or the residents bad people. The hotel owners are doing what they can to fill their rooms, pay their mortgages, and make payroll each week. Unfortunately, the way they have to go about their business is an attractant to many of the wrong kind of customer — the kind who turn their rooms into meth labs or flop houses.
The owners can do more. They can be more active about enforcing their rules, such as no guests after 10 p.m. They can install cameras and keep their parking lots and property brightly lit. They can be more proactive about removing renters who cause problems.
In the end, while we sympathize with them in many ways, they owe it to their neighbors, both business and residential, to do a better job policing their own property and stopping these problems before they have a chance to snowball into yet another 911 call.
by Rik Dalvit