Oakland City Attorney John Russo announced a new strategy in the city’s struggle to halt the sex trade Wednesday: his office is suing three hotels he called “hubs of prostitution.”
The city is suing The National Lodge at 17th and International in Fruitvale, The Economy Inn at East 12th Street and 1st Ave, and The Sage Motel on MacArthur near High Street in East Oakland. Two of the hotels are located near a stretch of International known as “the track” — a high traffic area for pimps and prostitutes.
The city lawsuits seek up to $25,000 in civil penalties from the owners of the three hotels, and may also seek to shut the businesses down for up to a year. The suits are based on a 1914 state law that allows authorities to seek damages from the owners of buildings where prostitution takes place. “The owners of these hotels cannot turn a blind eye to what’s going on in their rooms,” Russo told reporters during a press conference.
But the manager at one of the hotels said he doesn’t turn a blind eye. “We do our best,” said Hiral Patel of The National Loge. “We do more than we are supposed to.”
Patel said he turns away nine to 10 customers a day, and that he has called the OPD and dialed 911 when he has seen prostitution across the street from the business.
Patel, who was recently interviewed by The Bay Citizen as he turned away customers, told the Citizen‘s reporter, “we’re getting blamed, but the whole city is known for prostitution.”
Prostitution is a well-known problem in Oakland. Last year, the OPD’s Child Exploitation Unit made 640 arrests—mostly for solicitation—and more than 10 percent of those arrested were minors. Oakland North profiled the members of the unit as they arrested several young women, including one at the National.
OPD spokesperson Holly Joshi said the victims can be children from 11 to 17 years old “persuaded or forced by pimps or predators into a life of selling their bodies for the pimp’s profit.”
Russo told reporters that the hotel operators being sued could do more to prevent prostitution, like enclosing their parking lots and looking at IDs from their customers.
No one answered the phone at the Economy Inn and the clerk at the Sage Motel declined to comment on the suit. Messages for the owner were not returned.
Note: this article has been updated. An earlier version incorrectly listed the location of The Economy Inn.