I was getting the plastic key card out of my pocket, having just arrived at my room for the evening, when a large dog trotted around the corner, no owner in sight. He eyed me, stopped at the bushes, and took a dump.
So life goes at the Motel 6 in Carpinteria — located at 4200 Via Real — where pets are welcome, vending machines offer Playboy condoms next to Pepto-Bismol and extra-thin pretzels, and guests can’t stay for more than 28 consecutive days.
The motel is one of two Motel 6s in Carpinteria, the other on Carpinteria Avenue. Two weeks before my visit, Sheriff’s deputies were called after a long-term resident was stabbed in front of his room at around 10:15 p.m. The suspect, who knew the victim, got away and is still at large. The incident brought to mind — at least anecdotally — a cluster of recent activity at the motel, so The Santa Barbara Independent decided to check it out for ourselves. Accompanied by our photographer, my roommate, and a black light, I headed a few miles south.
On the Menu
There aren’t a lot of amenities at the Motel 6. You get what you pay for: low-end, budget lodging with a standard $60-per-night room rate. I paid the $90 weekend fee. That offered an unheated pool, coffee in the morning, coin laundry, and a cable package on a dated 20-inch TV. Wi-Fi is available for $2.99.
According to the chain’s website, Motel 6 began in Santa Barbara and now has more than 1,100 locations around the U.S. and Canada, and by the end of 2015, all existing locations will have 32-inch flat-screens, fresh sheets, new sinks, granite countertops, and “stylish” seating areas. Though the national renovation effort started five years ago, it doesn’t seem as if the Carp location has been updated. The 120-something-room motel was half full last Friday night, the man at the front desk informed me when I checked in. I tried to get a room for Saturday, but they were booked.
If it was excitement we were expecting, there was little to be had. Sitting outside our poolside room, we took interest in the slightest bit of activity, but aside from a few residents leaving to smoke cigarettes or walk their dogs, there wasn’t much action. People drove slowly around the parking lots, shadows paced in the dark recesses, and guests came and went through the motel’s sea-foam-green room doors. A sheriff’s deputy cruised by four times while we were there, and a middle-aged woman in a see-through New York Giants jersey — cigarette in hand — passed out on a set of cement stairs leading to the second floor. The highway was loud, its noise reverberating in the horseshoe created by the three-building, three-level motel, with the open end facing the 101.
After reading some of the reviews online (“a horrible nightmare,” “visible stains,” “loud drunk people,” and “black bugs and bites” were just some of the feedback the motel got, along with a 1.5-star review on Yelp), I didn’t really feel like spending the night, but wanted to see for myself how clean the rooms were.
Inside Room 122, we deployed the black light. Being amateur forensic scientists, we didn’t really know what we were doing, so the impromptu investigation meant to document traces of bodily fluids turned up little in the bathroom and most of the bedroom. There was, however, an unknown stain on the headboard and a yellow, crusty substance on the side of the nightstand and on the carpet. And while the bed comforter looked clean, there was a sizeable stain on the sheets not visible to the naked eye.
It might seem like we’re picking on this particular motel — in a town and region with plenty to go around — but it wasn’t just our imagination that this place is busy: It’s been the site of 302 calls to police from January 2010 through mid-May 2013. The most common types of calls were in-progress incidents involving people (147). There were 23 9-1-1 follow-up calls and five domestic disputes.
To put those numbers in perspective, the highest number of calls for service at hotels and motels in the City of Santa Barbara topped out at 93 last year — also at a Motel 6, this one on upper State Street, according to police. The Fiesta Inn & Suites at 1816 State Street had 60.
When I called Tuesday to follow up on the activity there, the manager pointed me to corporate media relations for my questions. She did say that since she’s been there — for the last three months — the place has been fairly quiet. “It’s quieter than other properties I’ve worked,” she explained. The stabbing incident involved issues between two men that existed prior to their time at the motel, she said. Corporate media relations didn’t return requests for comment.
The following is a statement id from Laura Rojo-Eddy, Director, Corporate Communications of Motel 6:
The safety and security of our guests is our utmost priority. For this reason, we actively encourage every Motel 6 general manager to maintain a close working relationship with their local law enforcement authorities. We train our employees to be observant of their environment and to contact local authorities should they observe any suspicious activities. We have not had the opportunity to review the specific calls for service for this location; however, we are aware that this location’s management maintains ongoing contact with the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department. We plan to review the details of the calls for service for this location and to discuss them with the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department to determine what, if any, steps may be necessary to respond to any concerns.