The City of Laguna Beach ordered Hotel Laguna and 14 West to close Tuesday evening after three separate altercations between two different armed security guard teams broke out on the hotels’ premises. The conflicts were related to an ongoing civil dispute over the control of operations and management at the hotel properties between well-known Laguna Beach real estate investor Mohammad Honarkar and a group of investors who claim to have bailed out Honarkar from foreclosure two years ago.
As part of the bailout, Honarkar contributed all of his assets to a group of investors represented by Cohen Law Group, which includes properties such as Hotel Laguna, the Art-A-Fair building, Cliff Village LLC, Terra Laguna Beach, several vacation homes and the 14West hotel.
However, on Tuesday morning, the Laguna Beach Police Department responded to claims of trespassing and physical altercations between two armed security guard teams at 14 West (formally the Holiday Inn). The police responded to another disturbance at Hotel Laguna in the afternoon and again later at 14 West that evening.
Laguna Beach City Manager Shohreh Dupuis issued the nuisance abatement order late Tuesday evening, citing unsafe conditions for the public and Laguna Beach police.
“Although this is a civil matter, the presence of armed security and these types of altercations require City intervention for the protection of the public and all concerned,” Dupuis said. “We started working with the attorneys on both sides to come up with a resolution in the early afternoon and had urged the attorneys to have their clients voluntarily close the buildings while claims and lawsuits are resolved. Both parties had agreed by 6 p.m. to unarm their security guards at both locations but did not agree to close the buildings.”
During the morning incident at 14 West, Police responded to armed security guards causing a disturbance. The parties were separated and told officers they would remain civil. However, a few hours later, police responded to a 20-person physical altercation between the same parties and others in the lobby of Hotel Laguna, where police arrested a security guard who hit another guard from the opposite group, according to authorities.
That evening, police officers were called in again twice to 14 West to respond to more disturbances from the two parties. Police discovered armed guards still present at that location and Hotel Laguna, according to a release from the City.
“This is a civil issue that has resulted in both parties hiring armed security and attempting to force the other from the businesses,” said Police Chief Jeff Calvert. “Both sides have been warned, but unfortunately, neither side will relent and take the appropriate actions through the civil judicial process. Immediate closure of the businesses will allow a cooling off period for both parties and protect the public from inadvertently being caught up in the middle of a civil issue that has the potential to become more violent.”
Both buildings are now closed to the public, and all staff and occupants were asked to leave the premises. The properties will remain closed until public health and safety threats are over.
Two months ago, at least some of Honarker’s Laguna Beach Company tenants, which includes Hotel Laguna, were sent letters indicating a change in ownership and property management.
One such letter, sent to tenants of the Hive and obtained by the Independent, stated, “Effective as of the date of this letter, Mohammed Honarkar is no longer acting on behalf of the aforementioned company,” the March 29 letter said. “You should no longer have contact with him or his office, including but not limited to paying rent to Mr. Honarkar.”
Despite those letters indicating a change in ownership, a Laguna Beach Company representative told the Independent that Mo Honarkar and Laguna Beach Company were “fully retaining their ownership positions of Hotel Laguna and other local properties.”
“Day-to-day food and beverage management of Hotel Laguna has been temporarily transferred while a business dispute is resolved,” a Laguna Beach Company representative said in a March email to the Independent. “In the meantime, Hotel Laguna and the company’s other properties are operating normally and remain open for business to serve the Laguna Beach community.”
According to the Cohen Law Group, the counsel behind the group of investors taking over Honarker’s properties, removing Honarker from the properties has been complicated.
“Since his removal as administrative manager, Honarkar has engaged in the sabotage of the business operations of the properties,” a statement from Cohen Law Group said. “And as of May 2, resorted to rash tactics of using armed guards to attempt to hastily take over some of the properties that are under the control of his business partners.”
The Cohen Law Group stated the police were called to the properties several times, which led to Honarkar making written promises to the City he would remove his armed security.
“Honarkar breached his commitment to the City only hours after making it by continuing to have armed security at the properties, which resulted in, and provided an excuse for, the City to shut down these properties, lockout the owners who operate the properties, hotel guests, and patrons of Hotel Laguna,” the Cohen Law Group’s release stated. “It is a strange time when property owners are locked out of their own property while the City refuses to eject trespassers with guns.”
However, Isaac Zfaty, counsel to Honarkar and the Laguna Beach Company, told the Independent in a statement Wednesday that Honarkar continues to maintain ownership in Hotel Laguna, 14 West and various other local properties.
“Mr. Honarkar is in a business dispute with some of his affiliates,” Zfaty’s statement said. “Unfortunately, several individuals forcibly trespassed onto two of the company’s properties and attempted to change their locks without legal authorization. In the process, a member of the group assaulted members of Mr. Honarkar’s staff and security team and was subsequently arrested. We appreciate the prompt response by the Laguna Beach Police Department to arrest this assailant and protect public safety. We condemn this outrageous and unlawful conduct and hope to resume normal operations as soon as possible at both establishments.”
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