Coast Inn Remodel Returns for Council Review

Share this:

By Daniel Langhorne | LB Indy

A proposal to add a rooftop pool and renovate the historic Coast Inn will come before the Laguna Beach City Council on April 7, more than two years after Council members sent the applicant back to the drawing board.

Laguna Beach-based Dornin Investment Group is looking to breathe new life into Coast Inn, the former home of the Boom Boom Room, by adding a 3,073-square-foot rooftop deck with a pool and bar for hotel guests.

Laguna Beach-based Dornin Investment Group is looking to breathe new life into the former home of the Boom Boom Room, a landmark for Laguna Beach’s LGBT community, by adding a 3,073-square-foot rooftop deck with a pool and bar for hotel guests, according to a letter from Architect Marshall Ininns.

“The Coast Inn hotel will remain with its existing 24 hotel rooms along with the hotel lobby on the second floor, accessed from a stairway and elevator from Mountain Road,” Ininns wrote. “This has been the same use for over 80 years and has no [conditional use permit.]”

The previously proposed oceanfront restaurant and deck have been eliminated from the project; this area will remain hotel rooms and a guest-only hotel deck.

Chris and Marcella Dornin acquired the Coast Inn in December 2013 and have struggled to get plans through city hall ever since.

In January 2018, the Council unanimously agreed to pause plans for reviving the historic Coast Highway property. The Council appointed then-councilmembers Bob Whalen and Rob Zur Schmiede to a two-person subcommittee to work with the Dornins on a scaled-down version.

Through that process, the Dornins spiked their plans for adding an oceanfront restaurant and opening a public rooftop restaurant, bar and pool.

Gaviota Drive resident Terry Meurer said the project application has been changed so drastically that the City Council should ask the Planning Commission to review the latest iteration before it takes action. She’s concerned the project would attract more cars to Mountain Drive, block neighbors’ ocean views, negatively impact the bluff’s geological conditions by adding a heavy rooftop pool, and create noise and light pollution.

“This is the biggest rooftop deck in the city that he’s proposing,” Meurer said.

Chris Dornin said Wednesday that Bear Flag Fish Co. has signed a 10-year lease for the former Boom Boom Room space, which already has the permits necessary for entertainment, alcohol service, and dining. The restaurant will move in and the 24 hotel rooms will remain open regardless of what happens on Tuesday, he said.

“By in large, the opposition wants to see no changes in Laguna and is concerned about attracting any more people,” he said. “Opposing this project isn’t going to keep that [restaurant] from opening. That’s not what’s on the table for approval.”

If the Council denies the project, the historic building’s exterior won’t be restored to its former grandeur, Dornin said. He also claims that neighbors’ argument that the private rooftop pool could be opened for public use in the future is unfounded, considering the city’s rigid parking requirements.

When Mozambique went before the Planning Commission for a review of its rooftop deck in September 2012, Dornin spoke during public comment about the project’s negative impact on the property values of his Pearl Street neighborhood.

“The people are going to be looking right into my living room,” Dornin said. “The fact that it’s not going to intensify the traffic is completely silly. Why spend all of this money if you’re not going to increase business and increase traffic flow? That’s pretty ridiculous in my mind.”

On Wednesday, Dornin backpedaled on these statements, claiming he and his wife changed their minds about Mozambique after the owner agreed to move an elevator shaft that would have impacted their view.

“We were completely satisfied with that,” he said. “Yeah, we came out at the initial hearing, then we met on-site with Ivan Spiers and his architect.”

Muerer argues that Dornin is trying to “have his cake and eat it too” by claiming the restaurant has grandfathered conditions that don’t require him to provide on-site parking for customers. At the same time, he’s seeking construction permits for a new rooftop deck.

“It’s either grandfathered in and it’s operated that way, or it needs a conditional use permit,” she said.

Laguna Beach resident Roger Butow argues it’s unfair for the city to consider allowing Coast Inn a total occupancy of 640 people without providing a single parking space.

“He has abandoned all plans for valet or off-site parking,” Butow wrote in a letter. “He clearly does not have the interests of the City or the residents in the surrounding neighborhoods in mind.”

The City Council was initially slated to discuss the project on Tuesday, Feb. 4, but city staff confirmed on Wednesday that the item has been continued to April 7.

“We are working with the applicant to navigate the current issues related to Major Remodel, as the Coastal Commission’s definition of Major Remodel and Blufftop setbacks pose significant issues for several projects in Laguna Beach,” City Manager John Pietig said in a prepared statement. “Staff is working aggressively to develop revised ordinances on these matters that meet both City Council and Coastal Commission approval.”

Share this:
Firebrand Media LLC wants comments that advance the discussion, and we need your help to accomplish this mission. Debate and disagreement are welcomed on our platforms but do it with respect. We won't censor comments we disagree with. Viewpoints from across the political spectrum are welcome here. While everyone is entitled to their opinion, our community is not obliged to host all comments shared on its website or social media pages, including:
  • Hate speech that is racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic slurs, or calls for violence against a particular type of person.
  • Obscenity and excessive cursing.
  • Libelous language, whether or not the writer knows what they're saying is false.
We require users to provide their true full name, including first and last names, as a condition for comments. We reserve the right to change this policy based on future developments.

Scroll down to comment on this post.


  1. What a shame that people continue to fight such a great project, even with all the changes the Dornins have made to appease the last round of complaints. Leave it to the entitled silver-haired obstructionists in town to stall stall stall. As long as Village Laguna and their spin-off Laguna Residents First are around, we are doomed to become a boring retirement home with no diversity.

  2. So, Mr. Dornin, how exactly did moving an elevator shaft reduce or mitigate increased traffic circulation and lack of parking issues?
    Those upstream of these monolithic projects being proposed need only look at what happened in the Mozambique neighborhood: A Permit program that basically creates housing hostages. A permit to park in front of your own residence? Go poll those homeowners, get their horror stories.
    Formerly semi-quiet neighborhoods and their free spaces become the employee and visitor overflow lots because:
    (A) Those “grandfathered spaces” are non-existent. Like YOUR grandfather, they’re not around anymore, ILLUSIONS, GHOSTS. Multiple businesses, their attendant CUPs, receive redundant credits for things that don’t exist anymore. Multiple businesses that are undergoing intensification of use, just like Dornin’s Coast Inn.
    (B) With meters popping up like weeds to grab more revenue, incurring upstream to PCH parallel and perpendicular streets, seasonal beach visitors WILL be parking further and further upstream, in many cases because of meter hourly limits. A family will park for free, walk a little further if they don’t have to move the car and not pay.
    So the City will have no choice but to grow out these neighborhood permit programs, eventually every ‘hood along PCH and Laguna Canyon Road WILL have permit programs.
    Now sprinkle in another fact: Last I checked, approximately 40% of our residents rent or lease like myself. Yet such programs leave themselves open to legal challenges as they will be seen as a form of illegitimate taking from residential property owners. So it’ll come down to those 60% property owners who, BTW, are the underwriters of our City’s activities. Multiple-tenant buildings will need to jump through some jurisdictional hoops to assure renters/leasers have a space plus room for guests.
    The breaking point has been a slow train coming, but it’s here now.
    Complicating matters, the Coastal Commission defines Public Parking as the equivalence to Public Access. Now view these huge projects being proposed, and tell me that there’re THOUSANDS of spaces in our ‘hoods?
    Imaging some computer nerd trying to design an application (computer algorithm) similar to the recent award-winning one for Laguna, that reveals those spaces, to lock in Public Access? How is that possible? It’s probably too ephemeral/complex, so probably not.
    Grandfathered spaces are imaginary: I’d love to pay my income taxes that way, with phony money like the game Monopoly $$$ bills.
    The reality is that perhaps HOAs along our coastline haven’t woken up to the domino effect: In just a few years, like predator/prey (parking seeker & parking space), there will be an increase in traffic on formerly lightly traffic streets, and all of the upstream spaces taken up by either commerce guests or recreational visitors.
    Gridlock and neighborhood chaos: That’s what LB City Council really meant when they put up the OPEN FOR BUSINESS sign at City Hall.
    Open for business, but closed for residents wishing back their evening quiet, their former semi-private
    existence but now under vehicular siege.

  3. CJ:
    When is all of this re-directing, gaslighting and accusatory McCarthyism BS going to stop?
    Yes, I’ve lived here for nearly 48 years, am “silver haired,” but I guess in this instance forced to repeat a la 1950s commie pinko haunting accusations: I am not now, nor have ever been member or given donations to VL, LRS, et al. I don’t hang with these people.
    I only registered as a Democrat once, when after being honorably discharged from the USMC in 1968 I voted for RFK. I have been an independent ever since.
    There ARE a lot of free-thinking residents in town like myself, apolitical but growing anxious about massive, city-wide development/re-development’s implications for their ‘hood.
    Commerce moves in its best interests, with City collisional assistance no less, why can’t those who pay for, underwrite city functions do likewise?
    And CJ? I’m a professional enviro-analyst, I guess one of those you disrespect, having grey or silver hair has nothing to do with my conclusions, nor are they left-wing political—-they come from my portfolio experiences over a 20 year period, not an un-educated opinion.
    You make we elders seem like dotards or Luddites, dupes, pawns in VL, LRF etc.’s game plan: WARNING Some day, if you’re lucky, you’ll be 74 like me. One must wonder, if you get to that age, if you’ll be happy being unwillingly tossed into a group that you don’t belong in, have no liking or affinity for?

  4. 1. I would invite “CJ” in 45 words or less to explain how a rooftop deck and pool brings diversity to Laguna Beach. My hair ain’t silver and I know horse manure when I smell it.

    2. Roger is right. Mr. Dornin should explain how moving an elevator cured the traffic and parking issues around Mozambique. It’s pretty clear that when it was Mr. Dornin’s home on the line he took a different tack, and now that it’s his money on the line his principles have shifted. People like that are not be trusted.

    3. It’s all over but the kicking and the screaming. The developers got themselves two city council seats in Nov 2018 and now they’re cashing in. There is a 100% probability that the developer’s candidates, Sue Kempf and Peter Blake will vote to approve this project. This is the exact reason Sue Kempf was installed. She’s not going to let them down, and we all know Peter Blake’s position. So the developers only need one more vote.

    FWIW, The developers were quite shrewd. Their PAC spent in the neighborhood of $150k promoting the Kempf/Blake ticket. That’s a genuine bargain to get to strip mine a small town. Blake would have won without the developer’s backing. Kempf wouldn’t have. The Blake/Kempf ticket combined for about 30% of the vote in 2018. That means approximately 70% of Laguna Beach citizens rejected what the developers were selling. And it just doesn’t matter. There’s simply no way for the everyday people of Laguna Beach to compete with the amount of money these developers have to influence our local politics. We all better get used to it because Mo’s up next and he already has two votes in the bag as well.

  5. There is no way that building could ever hold 640 guests. Having worked there for 17 years, the police never let more than 400 on property. This alarmist attitude about parking is such a tired argument. We live in a tourist based economy here in Laguna. W.Cutler

  6. Mr. Cutler, 84% of our revenue comes from property taxes. We live in a residents based economy here in Laguna. It’s a shame that folks like yourself and our city council so often think otherwise.

  7. Mr. Cutler:
    So WHO pays for increased police services, to monitor/enforce a CUP-mandated, agreed upon capacity onsite? Or traffic control where needed during high season holidays? WE are going to, in sense, subsidize developers, our own demise?
    There’s more traffic during working weekday, off-season days than we had on 3-4 day Spring/Summer holiday weekends. Wake up & smell the coffee….which you’ll be able to do while you’re stuck in gridlock, still parked in your own driveway!
    Are we going to force our police to implement CUPs?
    Yes, they are subject to re-openers based upon complaints, but by then (like at The ‘Bique) the horse is already out of the barn. Developers will throw high-powered, expensive attorneys like Dornin has done in the Canyon, out spend locals legitimately alarmed, concerned about their ‘hood.
    When was the last time ANYONE can remember, can cite the business location & date when a LB Planning Commission rescinded, rolled a bogus site developer back significantly, mitigating per CEQA standards? You can’t because like those phantom, unicorn, imaginary spaces, such a predecessor doesn’t exist.
    We’re trying to triage, slow the bleeding, modulate instead of over-whelm formerly sacrosanct residents, and as Mr. Blaine noted, the ones who pay……….we have no choice, we MUST be the watchdogs of our own community because our failed guardians, our Council only hears the soft rustle of campaign cash, not our muted and many times silenced voices in the enviro-oversight, planning stages.
    Business owners might live in a tourist based economy, anyone know how many, what % ACTUALLY live here?
    “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?” (Who shall keep guard over the guards themselves?) Roman satirist Juvenal in ≈ 1-200 AD

  8. I am the granddaughter to Pappy and Caroline Smith who built our family hotel in 1929. My dad and Karl ran the operation till they retired in 1978. My school friend and neighbor bought it from my dad. First issue: Parking. Dad use to say it was a problem. So could the city consider helping the owners build a double decker either behind my dad’s liquor store or on the lot Capri uses? Then with owners reducing extra amenities thus traffic, will this help?
    Second: Please see my web site: Dad and I loved our new owners who nick named his South Seas Bar the “Boom Boom Room. It’s only the room in the middle off Mountain. Not the WHOLE block. And the name was definitely popular for more then 20 years, but historic? NO Please consider the true history and to include its tales as well. Towns thrive when history is preserved. Please use the web site for some great historic stories that may help the process we all want, a beautifully remodeled and restored building.

  9. The Mosambique redesign features 26% of livable space for guests but 74% for parking. The LCV projects (Hotel Laguna, Hive, Heisler, Cleo) show similar parking fractions due to obsolete parking requirements imposed on Laguna developers since the 1950’s. Why does our Planning Commission allow more livable space for cars than for guest occupants? Why does the Dornin Group propose a 4-story structure with a rooftop deck under the illusion that “nobody will notice”. Laguna’s parking requirements impose these constraints, stop doing that. The solution to tortured parking requirements is to address the mobility system first, not after project completion. Complete Streets Policy would redefine the parking requirements for Laguna Beach so why do our city mentors deny residents this solution?

  10. Oh. My. Gosh. Let’s build it already! This glorious newly revamped exterior which honors the past while championing the future will be a jewel on Coast Highway. The project has sit idled far too long, parking will ALWAYS be a problem( didn’t seem to be a problem when Boom was packed with hundreds of pride filled dancers-me being one-back in the day…) and a wonderful restaurant near Arch Beach Heights is deeply needed!!!! YAY! Approve it and move on Laguna!!!! At least it’s not three stories of cement/metal/glass…….


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here