City Hits the Brakes on Electric Vehicle Rentals

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By Daniel Langhorne, Special to the Independent

A proposal to add an electric vehicle rental shop in North Laguna Beach was killed Tuesday by a unanimous vote of the Laguna Beach City Council, which argued the commercial use was not a good fit for the neighborhood.

Residents of Fairview Street appealed a January vote by Planning Commission to approve the rental of Moke Electric Vehicles, which are similar to golf carts, on the grounds that automotive services are not allowed in the commercial-neighborhood zone. They also argued that the Mokes’ top speed of 25 mph would force them to exclusively enter and exit the property via the residential neighborhood on Fairview Street, creating traffic congestion and safety hazards.

Architect Anders Lasater, who represented Fairview Street residents for this appeal, said it would be more appropriate for the Moke rentals to be based in Laguna Canyon, which is home to other automotive businesses like Enterprise, Jeeps R’ Us, and Beach City Mopeds and Scooters.

“The Moke is cute, the gentleman who wants to put it there seems like a nice guy, but it doesn’t work here, and it’s not even allowed here,” Lasater said.

Bob Plakinger of Moke America said Moke-involved traffic collisions unlikely because the electric vehicles can accelerate quickly but also have a limited top speed.

“I just don’t see how it’s going to be a traffic concern and when a vehicle like that is being so quiet, I don’t see it as obnoxious in the area,” Plakinger said.

Greg Pfost, director of community development, said his staff disagreed with Lasater’s interpretation of the zoning code. Instead, city staffers considered the Moke rentals as more of a commercial use that is allowed as long as the Planning Commission ruled that the project’s impacts weren’t more detrimental than other businesses in that neighborhood.

Councilman Peter Blake commended Plakinger for thinking outside the box in trying to bring Mokes to Laguna Beach, but also believed their impacts combined with those from Hotel Joaquin across Coast Highway would have a serious negative impact on the neighborhood.

“The people who live on this street bought a block away from PCH, so it’s not like this is some idyllic neighborhood cul-de-sac that all the sudden got a marijuana dispensary,” Blake said.

Unlike a coffee shop where customers could drive directly onto North Coast Highway, the Mokes rentals would have a detrimental impact on residents by only using Fairview Street for ingress and egress, Mayor Bob Whalen said.

Councilwoman Toni Iseman was also concerned the electrical vehicles would aggravate traffic congestion when their batteries die and wondered how quickly an employee could arrive to move and recharge them.

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