City trying to shut down East Oakland hotels that it says cater to prostitution
on March 1, 2012
Andy Nelson calls it an “epidemic.” On International Boulevard in East Oakland, mostly between 14th Avenue and 23rd Avenue, he said, “On any given day, you’re going to see at least—and this is during the day time—half a dozen girls selling sex. At least two or three times a week, I see customers picking up girls.”
Nelson is the deputy director of the East Bay Asian Youth Center (EBAYC), which is located on East 12th Street in East Oakland and works with young people in low-income areas. He said one of the reasons prostitution flourishes on International is because there are hotels that make it part of their business. He said one such hotel is the National Lodge, on International Boulevard and 17th Avenue, where he said he was personally solicited for sex last year.
“Their market niche has really been the sexual exploitation of minors and the facilitation of prostitution,” Nelson said of the hotel.
The Oakland City Attorney’s Office agrees with Nelson. In December, 2010, the city attorney’s office sued the National Lodge, as well as the Economy Inn, which is located on East 12th Street off International, under California’s Red Light Abatement Act, which requires hotel owners to prevent prostitution on their property. The lawsuits include allegations of many instances of crimes committed on hotel property, including prostitution and child prostitution. According to the city, the National Lodge was informed there was prostitution going on at its premises in May of 2006, but it continued unabated.
The trials for each hotel began in state superior court in early February—the National Lodge on February 10 and the Economy Inn on February 17. The next hearing for the National Lodge is scheduled for Friday at 10:30 am at the Hayward Hall of Justice. The next hearing for the Economy Inn is April 13. Lawyers for the National Lodge have pled not guilty, arguing that prostitution has stopped at the hotel.
On Tuesday, the city filed a proposed statement of decision for the National Lodge case, a document that states what the city would like to see in the ruling by Judge Brenda Harbin-Forte. In the proposed statement of decision, the city asks that the court reject the arguments made on behalf of the National Lodge’s owner, Hiral Patel, that prostitution activity at the hotel has decreased and the “court cannot use the statute to punish past acts.”
Daniel Horowitz, the attorney for the National Lodge, did not return calls seeking comment.
According to the statement, the city seeks to close the hotel for one year, under the Red Light act, stating, “absent closure, prostitution will continue at the National Lodge. Prostitution activity in the neighborhood and at the National Lodge has harmed the community, local businesses, drained police and other City resources; worse, the National Lodge has catered to, and supported the abhorrent child sexual exploitation and human trafficking industry in Oakland.”
Nelson said he’s heard a long list of complaints about the National Lodge from people who live in the area—he said neighbors have been trying to close the motel since it opened 30 years ago. In January, 2010, EBAYC conducted a listening survey of about 500 people in the area, and asked them what would make the area a better place to raise kids. Sex trafficking on International Boulevard was among the top four problems mentioned.
Nelson said he’s in favor of the lawsuit against the National Lodge because he believes only a coordinated, city-wide strategy involving the City Attorney’s Office, mayor’s office and police department will help reduce the demand for prostitutes, and help clean up the area.
EBAYC has made numerous efforts to curtail prostitution on International, including installing billboards last year targeted at johns that say, “Here to buy sex? STOP IT.” Nelson said the organization would like to start a “Dear John” letter writing campaign, through which if someone in the neighborhood observes someone purchasing sex, they can copy down the car’s license plate number and the person at the address associated with the license number would receive a courtesy notice that “there may be consequences for their actions,” Nelson said. He said similar letters have worked in combating sex trafficking in cities like San Antonio and Atlanta, and that groups in San Jose and Vallejo are also interested in beginning similar campaigns.
Nelson said neighbors and area merchants are also taking steps on their own to combat the problem, like purchasing video cameras. Still, he said sex trafficking along International is far from “shut down.”
“It’s still very prevalent in the neighborhood,” he said. “We’ve got a long ways to go.”
A good place to start, he said, would be to stop prostitution at the National Lodge. “Shutting down this motel, or getting this motel to stop having it as their business plan, the sexual exploitation of children and prostitution, is critical,” he said.
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