By Daniel Langhorne, Special to the Independent
After more than a year and a half of wrestling with the California Coastal Commission over short-term lodging regulation, the Laguna Beach City Council sent a revised ordinance back to the state agency Tuesday that would ban new short-term rentals in residential neighborhoods.
In April, the City Council voted to grandfather short-term lodging permits held by 38 homeowners in residential neighborhoods who are currently licensed to market their homes on AirBnb and VRBO.
The city was forced to revisit its short-term lodging ordinance after the Coastal Commission ruled that homes in residential neighborhoods should be available to short-term renters. City and coastal commission staffers instead struck a compromise where residential neighborhoods would be protected if the city agreed to allow short-term lodging at 734 residential units in its commercial mixed-use zone, which relaxes restrictions on properties that don’t currently meet density or other development standards.
Short-term lodging won’t be allowed in multi-family buildings that have covenants against converting units set aside for senior, disabled, and affordable housing, said Greg Pfost, director of community development.
“I still remain convinced that we struck the right balance here to preserve the residential zones,” Mayor Bob Whalen said. “I think it’s most reflective of what the community wants.”
Mayor Pro Tem Steve Dicterow and Councilman Peter Blake renewed their opposition to the short-term lodging regulation approved Tuesday.
“Why can’t we restrict this in a way that’s reasonable and spreads this out through the community?” Blake said. “Why are we focused on the commercial area of Laguna Beach where the apartments are, where the low-cost housing is?”
Although public comment on short-term lodging has been contentious in the past, it took a particularly ugly turn on Tuesday.
“The hypocrisy going on with Village Laguna, a minority of old people in this town trying to rule this town, has to stop,” said Laguna resident Jay Russo. “And you have to stop listening to them. I’m sick of it. I’m tired of it. They’ve got to go.”
After leaving the podium, Russo and members of the audience argued loudly, interrupting another speaker and forcing Whalen to intervene.
“I asked earlier, please don’t be exchanging comments with one another,” Whalen said. “Both sides, as I started off by saying, have passionate views. This gentleman has a right to express his view just as anyone else does.”
Meg Monahan, chairwoman of the Design Review Committee, was one of the many Laguna Beach residents who pleaded with the City Council to stick by the decision it made in April to prevent new short-term lodging in residential areas.
“Allowing short term rentals in our neighborhoods is the same as turning them into hotel districts with no front desk to resolve the noise and nuisance issues,” she said. “If allowed in our residential neighborhoods, the few affordable units which are rentals will be converted to STLs, the monthly rates will quadruple, and our millennials and elders will be forced out and replaced with people we don’t know and have no investment in being good neighbors.”
After years of debate and public comment, Ann Marie McKay encouraged the council members to finally move forward with regulations on short-term lodging.
“How many years are we going to argue the same two sides, the same two arguments?” McKay said. “You’ve heard it all. We can’t continue in this limbo that we’ve had for years with an ordinance that we can’t enforce.”
Attorney Jennifer Zeiter said city staffers incorrectly reported the residential units available in the commercial mixed-use zone, because it includes addresses that don’t exist and condominiums that prohibit short-term lodging. She calculates the real number is 548 units.
Zeiter said property owners should have right to use their property as they wish, within reasonable limits, and that the proposed regulation will displace renters in 376 apartments who rely on the city’s most affordable housing in duplexes and other multi-family buildings.
“You’re sacrificing each of those low-income units so you can preserve your elitist, NIMBYist attitudes in your residential zones,” she said. “There is a state mandate to have more low-cost affordable housing.”
Laguna Beach resident Tom Halliday pointed out that real estate agents are required to disclose if a home has a short-term rental nearby, which can have a substantial impact on its sale price.
“I’ve lived here for 19 years because, along with most people in Laguna Beach, I love this city,” he said. “We love this town for the city it is and its neighborhoods, not for the ability to maximize profits.”