The National Lodge on International Boulevard and the Economy Inn on E. 12th Street both have to close by July 31 and remain closed for one year because of all the illegal activity that has been happening on their premises for several years.
The neighborhood surrounding the National Lodge and Economy Inn is full of graffiti and prostitution. "When I dropped my son off when he was in kindergarten, he'd say, 'Mommy why is it so cold and they're dressed like that?" Tracy Laigo told ABC7 News. A judge has tentatively ruled to shut the hotels down, a great relief to families who live nearby. "Oh, thank God," Laigo said. "I mean, our prayers have been answered. Basically, that's what I can tell you. It's been answered and I'm glad."
"It's a personal decision. It's what I choose to do," one prostitute named Jazmine told ABC7 News. "I don't believe I'm a victim at all. I'm my own free will person. I make my own choices." But now, one of those choices has been taken away. Authorities say the motels repeatedly ignored state laws preventing prostitution on their properties. The closure will force Jazmine and other women like her to find somewhere else to ply their trade. "The only thing that's making it hard for me is the fact that it is illegal and that slows me down, you know, majorly," Jazmine said.
The Economy Inn was actually declared a public nuisance back in 2005. There were several cases of rape and kidnapping there, sometimes involving young girls. "We will not allow prostitution in our community and we will not allow businesses to have a business model that profits from the human suffering and human trafficking," Oakland City Attorney Barbara Parker said.
"These are our children. This is our community," Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O'Malley said. In addition to preventing children and teens from being pulled into prostitution, the Alameda district attorney's office is the only agency with the authority to prosecute those they say peddle in flesh and use their businesses for the sex trade. "We've already prosecuted over 250 cases with a very significant number of convictions," O'Malley said.
A large part of that success can be attributed to neighborhood groups like "HEAT" (Human Exploitation And Trafficking) started by the district attorney's office. It uses the community as its eyes and ears on the streets. "Tell us when there's something going on on the street or they see a child being exploited, so that we can step in and do something about it," O'Malley said.
However, community watch can only do so much, and Jazmine is quick to remind people that her profession has been around a lot longer than the role of the district attorney. She says that as soon as one hotel closes, she and others will simply find another. Although, business owners should beware because officials say they are watching. "If they move down the street and another motel gets involved, we'll shut them down," O'Malley said.
Both hotels are to spend a year making improvements and coming up with a better business plan. The next step comes on July 3 when the hotels' owners go to court and are levied with fines totaling $45,000 for each hotel. Then, on July 31, they will shut down. The hotels can appeal these decisions, but that is unlikely to happen. After the one-year closure, the properties will be turned back over to the owners.
Neither hotel's owner was available for comment Friday morning.