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Protestors rally to raise awareness of human trafficking

by Steven Felschundneff | steven@claremont-courier.com

Frustration over sex workers plying their trade in Claremont inspired a group of locals to take action Saturday. Their message? Claremont stands for safe streets.

About 60 people took to the street in an anti-human trafficking demonstration in front of the three motels from which officials say much of the sex work emanates.

The group gathered at 6 p.m. in front of the Knights Inn at San Jose Avenue and Indian Hill Boulevard then walked across the street to the Claremont Lodge. They then headed south on Indian Hill to Motel 6. Finally, they marched to the Greyhound Bus station where several people spoke.

The protestors carried signs with messages including “Stop human trafficking,” “Claremont for safe streets” and “Human trafficking is modern day slavery.” As they walked down Indian Hill, the protesters and their signs elicited many honks of support from passing motorists.

The idea for the protest came out of a meeting of the Committee for Safe and Healthy Housing and its chair, Jim Keith. The committee circulated a flyer in the neighborhoods adjacent to the three motels inviting people to “Join us for a sidewalk demonstration along Indian Hill.”

In the days leading up to the event, members of the committee left the flyers on doorsteps of the homes south of and several blocks north of the 10 Freeway.

“It is time for us neighbors of the motels to demonstrate that the pattern of street prostitution and human trafficking of even underage children in our area of town is not acceptable,” read an email from the committee.

Protesters gather along Indian Hill Boulevard to raise awareness about sex trafficking, which continues to impact the area around the motels located near the 10 Freeway in south Claremont. COURIER photo/Peter Weinberger

 

Among the speakers were Christina Jimenez, outreach services director at Project Sister Family Services, who also works with the Inland Valley Anti-Human Trafficking Task Force. Pomona Vice Mayor Elizabeth Ontiveros-Cole talked about her personal interactions with traffickers and pimps as she attempted to speak with young girls in her district just south of the Claremont border.

According to Keith, Ontiveros-Cole said the people of Pomona and Claremont are in a long-term fight over sex work in the area along Indian Hill leading down to Holt Avenue in Pomona.

Claremont Mayor Jed Leano, along with councilmembers Jennifer Stark and Sal Medina attended but did not address the crowd due to the high likelihood they will soon be voting on a special motel nuisance ordinance.

The Claremont Police Commission adopted a draft ordinance in April aimed at combating the sex trade and other criminal behavior at the motels. If passed by the city council, it would put pressure on business owners or managers to curb criminal activities at their properties or face sanctions, including the possibility of losing their business licenses.

Provisions of the proposed ordinance include requiring managers to keep detailed registers of guests, refuse service to any guest who does not provide identification, ban stays of less than a full day, prevent re-renting a room for an 18-hour period if a guest leaves early, installation of surveillance cameras for all common areas, and making everything covered under the ordinance available to police when requested.

The city tentatively plans to present the ordinance to the planning commission and city council this fall.

Keith and his wife Sue have lived in south Claremont for 47 years. Although they are alarmed at the perceived rise in crime coming from the motels, they also believe the problem is solvable.

“We have seen a lot of history and things have improved quite a lot and we have tried to help foster those improvements,” Jim Keith told the COURIER in July.

Twenty years ago, some of the apartment complexes on San Jose Avenue and Arrow Highway became magnets for crime and were seen as unsafe. In response, the city formed the Committee for Safe and Health Housing in 2006, which led to the special ordinance for multi-family rental housing in 2009. That law also set up the Crime Free Multi-Housing Program, which works with landlords, property owners and managers to keep illegal activity out of rental property, according to a story that ran in the COURIER in 2015.

“We discovered by getting involved and by tracking crime and training programs for managers and owners of the units every year that crime went down significantly. Over 60% on San Jose,” Keith said. “I am thinking what we see falling apart with these motels can be reversed as well. It’s not based on their location; it’s based on how they are managed.”

Keith said he started to see a lot more street prostitution on Indian Hill about two years ago. He mentioned the July shooting death of a young man in the parking lot of the Claremont Lodge as an example of the potential for violent crime increasing as well.

“People are seeing these signs of the deteriorating quality of life and are concerned that it will keep escalating, and we don’t want it to escalate without a fight,” Keith said.

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