Bad bed bug problem among factors in forced closure of motel

Bad bed bug problem among factors in forced closure of motel »Play Video
Officials set up Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2013, outside the Tropicana Motel on Union Avenue in Bakersfield, Calif., which they were closing due to health and safety violations. (KBAK/KBFX photo/Johnny Guillen)

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) — A central Bakersfield motel that was home for at least 126 people is being ordered to close because of serious health and safety concerns.

The Kern County Public Health Department found violations last week during routine annual inspections at the Tropicana Motel on Union Avenue near 18th Street. The violations hadn't been resolved by Wednesday morning, so the agency is shuttering the motel, at least temporarily, under health and safety codes.

"It's rare when an entire facility is shut down, especially one this large," Kern County Public Health Director Matt Constantine told Eyewitness News. "The level of violations that we observed last week and then today are significant."

He said the problems won't be easy or quick fixes, and that's why everyone living in the motel has to leave.

"Supposedly they're making us move, but why should we get punished," resident Margie Marshall complained. She said there were no bed bugs in her room, but it has had other problems. She pointed to a patch in the bathroom ceiling, saying there had been a hole for eight months. Marshall also said there was no cold water working.

Constantine said the inspector found a series of problems at the Tropicana.

"We have some real concerns about bed bugs, about cockroaches, we also have issues about plumbing," he ticked off from the list of violations. "Leaking pipes so much that ceilings had collapsed, part of them. We have mold in rooms, we have exposed electrical connections, and structural issues."

Jimmy Van Hook said he's lived in a room at the Tropicana for seven years.

"Bed bugs, that was (the problem)," he said. "Other than that, everything was quite all right."

But, Van Hook and his two roommates also had to move.

Various other agencies set up outside the motel to assist the people living there with relocation and hygiene needs.

"We have our mobile shower unit mobilized, along with gently used clothing in order for the residents that have to leave a lot of their belongings behind," Kim Albers said. She's the executive director of Bakersfield Flood Ministries. Albers said they want to help residents get a fresh start.

The ministry also had facilities to launder residents' clothing that they want to keep. Running clothes through a hot wash and dry cycle will eliminate the chance of bed bugs. The idea is to help residents leave, without taking any hitch-hiking bed bugs along with them.

"We have a lot of tenants this year that dive in dumpsters and get stuff and bring stuff into their rooms," Tropicana manager Kevin Carr said. He said that's how the insects infested the motel. And Carr said management didn't spot other problems, because some residents won't let them into the rooms.

Health inspectors went room to room, letting people know they'd have to leave and that services were available to help them.

Fifth District Kern County Supervisor Leticia Perez also spent the day at the motel trying to link up residents with help for new housing.

"Everybody's situation is different and unique," she told Eyewitness News. Perez also said the Tropicana owner was cooperating with efforts to pay for alternate housing.

Margie Marshall had headed out to talk with the various help agencies by about noon.

"I signed up for housing," she said. "We've relocated to another motel."

But, she still worried about having enough time to gather up medicine, oxygen and clothes from her Tropicana room.

Other residents wondered how long they'll be out of the Tropicana, and how long they'll get assistance to pay for that.

"We should have been more vigilant, and from here on we're going to be more vigilant," motel manager Carr said. "We're going to do a clean slate, and we're going to turn into a different type of motel."

He also said they'll begin screening tenants in the future.

Public health director Matt Constantine said the Tropicana can house residents again "If and when the owner can achieve" a healthy and safe living environment for people. In the meantime, the local organizations were ready to make sure residents had that in other locations.

"It's pretty powerful to see the collective energy to try to help people better themselves," Constantine said. "and better their living conditions."