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L.A. County supervisor seeks tighter rules for maternity hotels

Los Angeles County Supervisor Don Knabe will ask for stricter regulations of maternity hotels that have prompted safety concerns and a surge in neighborhood complaints, his office said Tuesday.

The supervisor will make the request at Tuesday's Board of Supervisors meeting, seeking support to create an ordinance that would regulate the homes -- where women from Asia come to give birth in the U.S. -- and create multi-agency inspection teams, his office said in a statement.

He also will ask for funding to provide inspectors with additional staff, including translators who speak Mandarin and Cantonese.

"These maternity hotels have grown beyond the scope of a zoning issue," Knabe said in a statement. "The conditions inside some of these houses are putting the lives of the mothers and babies at risk, and we must do what we can to protect them and stop this illegal activity."

The announcement cited a Jan. 14 report by the county Planning Department that showed 60 complaints had been filed about maternity homes in the last month, up from just 15 over the previous five years.

The report outlines a plan to step up enforcement by bringing in other agencies, including the county health and fire departments.

The facilities are part of the booming "birth tourism" industry, fueled by women who travel from Asia to the United States while pregnant. They live at the maternity hotels for several months before giving birth, racking up bills of as much as $20,000 by the time they return home with their American citizen babies.

The facilities are typically set up in single-family homes in quiet residential neighborhoods, particularly in the San Gabriel Valley. One Chino Hills site, which shut down after the city sued its owners, had been illegally subdivided into 17 bedrooms and 17 bathrooms, according to city officials.

Neighbors complained of frequent comings and goings, and an overloaded septic tank caused a massive sewage spill.

The facilities in the San Gabriel Valley cater to Chinese and Taiwanese mothers, while women from South Korea patronize maternity hotels in Los Angeles' Koreatown.

The practice does not violate federal immigration laws, but local governments can crack down on the hotels for zoning or building code violations.

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— Kate Mather and Cindy Chang

 
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