Laguna Beach orders unpermitted work at Hotel Laguna to halt ahead of state hearing

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Coast Highway traffic rushes past Hotel Laguna. Photo by Allison Jarrell.

Laguna Beach ordered construction at Hotel Laguna to stop on Wednesday after city officials discovered last week that exterior work was underway without a permit, according to a letter sent to hotel-lease owner Mohammad Honarkar.

“This project has not followed the normal procedures,” community development director Marc Wiener wrote. “Typically, you would first obtain a use permit for intended uses, and then once approved, would move on to applying for a building permit. However, in this case you performed the work first without the benefit of a use permit and have not made it clear to the city what new uses are going to be.”

City officials demanded Honarkar provide a summary of the intended use of the lower-level spaces, including the conference and proposed new kitchen, as well as the commercial spaces fronting Coast Highway. This is at least the third time city officials have formally warned Honarkar to stop unpermitted work at Hotel Laguna.

“We have just received the City’s Stop Work Order and are in the process of reviewing it,” Honarkar said in a statement on Wednesday. “While we disagree with several assertions in the City’s letter, we look forward to working with City staff to correct the record and resolve the concerns that staff has raised.”

The stop-work order lands within days of a California Coastal Commission notice of a May 12 hearing after the agency’s staff found substantial errors with Laguna Beach’s approval process.

The hearing will turn on an appeal filed in March by Laguna Beach residents, Mark and Sharon Fudge, who challenged a local coastal development permit received by the developer. Among the couple’s claims is that city officials failed to properly study bluff-top construction, unlawful improvements on the beach sand, and major alterations to the historic building’s ground floor, according to a staff report.

Coastal commission staffers recommended the Commission determine that a substantial issue exists on three of the points raised by the Fudges, further clouding a possible opening date for a critical engine for the downtown economy.

“The Hotel Laguna has been an important asset to the City of Laguna Beach and the people of California for decades but has fallen into a state of disrepair,” Mark and Sharon Fudge wrote in their appeal letter. “While repairs are necessary, none of the work can be done to create an expansion of use or an expansion of the building without bringing the uses and structure into conformity with the current codes.

For years, the Fudges have advocated at the city and state levels for Laguna Beach to more strictly follow state and federal environmental laws when reviewing development applications. The couple has appealed multiple city actions to the Coastal Commission, often declaring they’ve chosen to shoulder environmental stewardship when the city hasn’t—in their opinion—followed the law to protect natural and historic resources.

In a prepared statement to the Independent, Honarkar appeared optimistic about his chances of overcoming the appeal.

“My team and I are working with the City of Laguna Beach and the [Coastal Commission] to determine the parameters for the Hotel Laguna’s restoration and feel confident that everything will be resolved in the interests of our community,” Honarkar wrote. “We will move forward as responsible stewards for Laguna’s bluebelt and will respect the building’s historicity.”

Last October, Laguna Beach issued an exemption for the Hotel Laguna to remodel the interior main and basement floor levels, adjust the slope of existing access ways around a rose garden, install a portable ramp over existing steps, and many other improvements. The Fudges quickly challenges this exemption and Honarkar’s team pivoted to pursue a coastal development permit.

The Design Review Board held a hearing and approved the project in February— this action allowed the Fudges’ to bring their challenge to the Coastal Commission.

One of the more noteworthy complaints concerns the seaward façade which contains the Marine Room, which was constructed prior to the Coastal Act’s enactment. The room is located at the base of the coastal bluff and features a deck that extends onto the beach sand. Honarkar proposed to repair and replace a 36-in. guardrail with a 42-inch guardrail that is compliant with state budding standards. A wooden deck covering would be placed over the existing concrete deck, and an existing door to the Marine Room would be replaced.

City land-use regulations for building on oceanfront bluffs, require new minor accessory structures such as decks, patios and walkways that do not require structural foundations to be at least 10 feet from the bluff edge.

“It’s very disappointing and very frustrating to all of us at the city that unpermitted work continues to go on at the hotel,” Mayor Bob Whalen said Wednesday. “We all have a common goal of getting that hotel open again but it has to happen within the rules.”

Whalen highlighted city staffers have bent over backward to get the hotel’s remodel moving forward and review permits for construction already in progress and planned.

“We want the most iconic piece of architecture in town to be open and not vacant,” he said.

The Coastal Commission’s meeting will start at 9 a.m. on May 12 and live streamed from coastal.ca.gov.

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Daniel is currently managing editor for the Laguna Beach Independent. He first started reporting on Laguna Beach in 2018. Daniel moved to Orange County from his hometown of Santa Barbara in 2008 to attend Chapman University. He wrote for the college newspaper, The Panther, for nearly four years before obtaining a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science and English with an emphasis in journalism. While attending Chapman, he started interning at the Orange County Register as a community blogger in Orange. In 2012, he was hired as a staff writer covering Orange and Villa Park. He went on to cover the Nixon Presidential Library & Museum as well as housing, development, education, water, and local politics in other Orange County cities. Since leaving the Register in 2015, he has written for Law360, the Foothills Sentry, the Newport Beach Independent, the Laguna Beach Independent, Los Angeles Times Community News, BehindtheBadge.com, and the California Business Journal. When Daniel isn't busy covering Laguna Beach, he serves as ​engagement editor for a nonprofit newsroom, The War Horse. He lives in Irvine with his wife and son.

9 COMMENTS

  1. Third time’s a charm? Not a great track record for Honarker and his group at their point. Plus the Coastal Commission was not contacted concerning their HUGE makeover as well.
    Guess the grand dam will sit idle and in disrepair(disrespected as well..) through the rest of this year….
    They should have just painter/re-carpeted /reimagined and RE-OPENED already.

  2. This has Village Laguna and Toni Iseman written all over it. Rumor has it they have been working with Fudge and Mo’s ex consultants (who are now conspiring with Ron Burkle) to stop progress on the hotel in hopes of driving the Honarkars out of town. That would then allow Burkle to take over. Sadly it seems people at the city are being threatened if they don’t turn on this family. Residents need to wake up to the corruption, racism runs deep in this town and its organizations, with Toni and George rallying their troops. I can’t believe Mo hasn’t sued the city yet for harassment.

  3. I believe all residents want to see the Hotel Laguna SAFELY opened. It is a jewel. Weren’t there multiple warnings from the City about unpermitted work to the lower floors, which might have led to risks to visitors, sent to the lease-holder repeatedly? It can’t be that big a deal for a professional developer to get a permit on changes to original plans. We require it of residents when they do home remodels, so why can’t hotel developers follow the same rules?

  4. Deborah, why do you hide behind your maiden name and not disclose that you are in fact Deborah Weiss, wife of councilmember George Weiss. For someone that demands transparency, you are being awfully deceitful by not admitting who you are associated with when you write comments and submit Letters to the editor. What is there to hide?

    You and your husband have continued to attack the Honarkar family over the past few years. Remember George’s God awful van during the 2018 election? Let’s not forget the fact that you guys basically started LRF as a way to stop Mo.

    I have no doubt you both play an active role in all this political nonsense along with Mo’s biggest hater, Queen Iseman. Give it a rest and let the damn hotel open. If every permit or CDP they request is constantly appealed, then what’s the point of even trying?

  5. Alas, Mr. Johnson keeps requesting a name change that has always been mine.* However shall I reveal the real name of Rhett C. Wilson on this exchange? Let me provide three hints: It isn’t a male, has different initials, and is involved with a local commercial development company. Speaking of commercial developers, what is the big deal with getting permits? Home owners have to do it for changes to their home, so why shouldn’t developers? Fair is equal treatment, not big money buying different treatment and rules.
    *There are two Deborah Weiss’s in the area: one a realtor in Laguna Niguel, and the other an attorney and professor. I’ve been working in a different corporate industry for decades.

  6. This is the factual issue: “This project has not followed the normal procedures,” community development director Marc Wiener wrote. “Typically, you would first obtain a use permit for intended uses, and then once approved, would move on to applying for a building permit. However, in this case you performed the work first without the benefit of a use permit and have not made it clear to the city what new uses are going to be.”

    The City’s position is pretty clear that the work was done without the proper process and permits. Why is it that some people refuse to accept this and work so hard to blame everyone except those in control of the project? Baffling.

  7. Once again, Mark Fudge self-appoints himself and inserts himself in all things to do with permits. He’s not fighting the “good fight” for the folks of Laguna-witness the way he delayed and harassed the amazing renovation of The Ranch to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars- so he’ll object over and over and delay the Hotel Laguna until it runs out of money or takes 10 more years to re-open. Shame!

  8. My Family and I are saddened by the continued closure of the Hotel. Since I was a little girl we would come and stay at the hotel any chance we got. This started in the late 60’s. In the 90’s my dad moved to Laguna Beach and got a beach club membership and I soon followed to Laguna Hill and purchased a membership, as well. We have enjoyed leaving our troubles at the door and frolicking in the sand for over 50 years!! I have been there when it had a side window to order hot dogs and restaurant in the front. I’ve watched many changes but sadly, I have watched the hotel fall into disrepair over the last 10 years and know wonder?? How can anyone get something done in this town? Get over yourselves and get this place re-opened. I understand needing some guidelines but this sounds ridiculous. It sounds personal and not like a professional business transaction. Check you racial bias at the door and let him proceed.

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