When heavy equipment levels the 30-unit Golden Lion Motor Inn this week, the motel’s demise will mark the end of an often-contentious battle between the city of Lakewood and the motel’s former owner.
That effort sometimes involved targeted city efforts to encourage the motel’s owner to clean up the building’s physical maladies and safety issues, and, when those failed, business license revocations and trips to court and to other legal forums to force the issues.
The yearslong effort to resolve the issues that plagued the 65-year-old property is illustrative of how difficult cleaning up problem properties can prove to be.
The Golden Lion is among 14 buildings in Lakewood, including another motel, where the city is attempting to correct building code and safety problems.
Building Abatement Program Manager Jeff Gumm said the motel defied all of the city’s efforts to bring about a positive change.
The motel had numerous problems. In legal documents, the city has contended the motel has long been a haven for illegal activity and a hot spot for police calls.
In 2011, for instance, Lakewood police were called 103 times to the motel at 9021 South Tacoma Way. Thirteen of the calls were for serious crimes, including rape, weapons, domestic violence and narcotics violations.
In 2012, police responded to 156 calls at the Golden Lion. In 2013, officers were sent to the motel 102 times.
The motel’s reputation for illegal activity was nothing new. When Pok Ki Luangrath bought the motel 11 years ago, the property was on the Police Department’s list of crime hot spots.
The department worked with Luangrath to control the problems, and for a while the frequency of police incidents decreased. But the decline didn’t last, the city said in legal documents.
“By mid-2011, however, conditions at the Golden Lion had mostly regressed to its earlier unsatisfactory state. According to Police Department data, the Golden Lion had moved back into the upper echelon of the department’s calls for service categories for motel business,” the city said.
Since 2011, the Golden Lion’s frequency of police calls put it at the top of the list for Lakewood motels. The motel’s average for police calls was five times the city’s average per unit for motels and twice the average of the motel with next most calls.
The owner contended her clientele was “less-wealthy clients” who might have had minor criminal records. Nonetheless, she said, she had worked diligently to reduce the frequency of police calls.
The city began its most recent effort to correct the problems at the Golden Lion nearly four years ago. According to a timeline prepared for the Lakewood City Council, the city gave the owner several chances to fix the problems.
The process of bringing the motel’s problems to resolution was further delayed by an 18-month period when the city was revising its building abatement procedures.
The issues were brought to a head when during one inspection, the city’s enforcement officer noted improper wiring. He called Lakeview Light and Power, which cut off the motel’s power. That power shutdown necessitated the motel to be vacated.
Without a source of rental income, the motel sought bankruptcy. The motel reverted to the lender. The lender sold the property in December to investor Davod Divsar.
Meanwhile, the city asked the council to approve demolition of the building if the new owner failed to do so.
Gumm said new owner has until March 20 to complete the demolition. Divsar has told the city his contractor will begin demolition this week to make way for a possible car sales lot.
“I have no reason to believe that he won’t get it done,” Gumm said. “It’s been a long road.”