A closer look at the impact organized hoteliers can have on the legislation governing the industry
I’ve lived in Los Angeles since 1971 and grew up in the family hospitality business. Our first hotel was in downtown Los Angeles, and we expanded to include hotels from economy- to upper-tier branded properties. At an early age, I learned from my parents to be a completer and to protect the family business, and my father taught me about the importance of being involved in local government. For example, a city committee once rezoned a portion of one business district from commercial to residential.
Our hotel, located on that corridor, was rezoned overnight. He organized the business and forced the city to revert to the original zoning. I got to see firsthand how he mobilized the community groups and politicians to force the planning commission to rezone back the corridor to a commercial zone. Because I watched how hard my parents worked on issues like this, I’m highly sensitive to government infringing on the lives of hoteliers. It’s an industry few on the outside understand, and external entities carve away at our profitability every day. It’s through endless hours of hard work, collective efforts by family members, and financial savings that we have come to prosper, but the fruits of that labor is being chipped away by OTAs, some franchises, sponsored vendors, unions, and governmental entities.
STRENGTH IN NUMBERS
Years ago, the hoteliers of Los Angeles came together and formed an advocacy group called Northeast Los Angeles Hotel Owners Association (NELAHOA) to address an adverse law passed by the city council. Collectively, through advocacy and showing up to numerous city council hearings – and ultimately a favorable ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court – the hoteliers of Los Angeles were victorious. We’re a board-driven organization of dedicated hotel owners that advocate for hotelier rights in Los Angeles.
For example, the Los Angeles City Council recently voted to place the “Hotel Land Use and Replacement Requirements” ordinance on the ballot for the next regular city election, to be voted on by the electorate in March 2024. Sponsored by Local Union 11, the organization secured enough valid signatures to have the proposal placed on the ballot for Los Angles voters to decide whether it shall become law. Those who signed the petition were most likely under the understanding they were only supporting homeless housing at hotels through a city housing voucher program. However, the petition includes other initiatives that serve the union and can harm the hotels in Los Angeles. Incidentally, an area poll showed 78% dissatisfaction with the idea of the city using hotels to house homeless people.
Through a collective effort of the various organizations and its members from AAHOA, the California Hotel and Lodging Association, the American Hotel Lodging and Association, Hotel Association of Los Angeles, and the Northeast Los Angeles Hotel Owners Association, we successfully lobbied the Los Angeles City council to send the initiative to the ballot vs. the city council members voting it into law outright.
We had a large presence of hotel owners from the industry, especially limited-service sector hotel owners, who showed up to speak at the Los Angeles City Council hearing. The hotel organizations were able to amass a large letter-writing campaign showing support to send the initiative to the ballot. Having a large presence of “boots on the ground” made a tremendous impact on elected officials.
Looking ahead, my fellow Los Angeles hoteliers will be focusing on the November 2022 city council elections. We need to make alliances with council members and to continue to educate elected officials on our industry.
FORCED COMPLIANCE ISN’T THE ANSWER
While we certainly have compassion for unhoused Los Angelenos, the land-use ordinance isn’t the answer, and one of my key concerns with the ordinance is a loss of business. If this initiative is voted into law by the electorate in 2024, visitors to the city may not want to rent a room knowing they might be sharing space with unhoused guests.
Many unhoused people need wraparound services – around-the-clock security personnel, mental-health care, addiction care, and social-worker care – and hotels that cater to tourists, and corporate and domestic travelers don’t have the resources or trained staff to support the homeless market. Also, there’s great concern for the safety of the paying guest, hotel staff, and surrounding neighborhood. As innkeepers, we have an obligation to keep all our guests and staff safe, and the marketability of our hotels would diminish as we could see a loss of business to neighboring cities.
Additionally, if someone who needs wrap-around services checks out of a hotel and has no means to return to where they have access to those services, they may put themselves at greater risk for gaps in care, thus endangering themselves, as well as the businesses and homes near the hotel.
If this initiative passes, there are great safety concerns overall for the paying guest, staff, and our surrounding neighborhoods.