Coastal Commission widens scope of Hotel Laguna beach club probe

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Visitors enjoying Main Beach and surf as seen from Laguna Beach Club on June 22, 2022. Photo by Daniel Langhorne

The California Coastal Commission expanded the scope of its Laguna Beach Club probe to include unoccupied beach chairs and umbrellas staged for guests, state officials wrote in a letter Wednesday.

Signs placed on the sand along Hotel Laguna’s northern property line to discourage beachgoers from intermingling with guests of a July 30 event attracted scrutiny from state officials. Photos posted to a local Facebook group show a row of PVC pipe frames inserted into the sand displaying canvas signs emblazoned with “Laguna Beach Club” and “private members only” facing the public stairway.

“Regardless of the size of the signs on the beach, the placement of the signs alone, and the staging of unoccupied chairs and umbrellas, is placement of solid material, and… could interfere with the public’s ability to use the beach,” Coastal Enforcement Officer Nicholas Tealer wrote in a letter to the Laguna Beach Co.

Placement of visually intrusive signs on the sandy beach is inconsistent with state law that protects coastal resources, Tealer added. To avoid enforcement proceedings, coastal staffers directed Hotel Laguna’s management to only place chairs and umbrellas on the beach when they will be occupied.

On Aug. 2, City Manager Shohreh Dupuis said she spoke with Laguna Beach Co. CEO Mohammad Honarkar after receiving photos of the signs.

“Those signs were placed on Saturday but they were removed and he understands those signs cannot be placed back on the sand,” Dupuis said. “He placed them there to reserve the area for his guests.”

Hasty Honarkar, vice president of the Laguna Beach Co., wasn’t immediately available Thursday for comment on the state panel’s letter.

“We understand concerns regarding public access on the beach, and want to apologize to the community for any issues our temporary placement of signs may have caused. The signs were placed for a temporary event and were removed the very same day. We are collaborating with the City and the Coastal Commission regarding the full re-opening of the Hotel Laguna and are committed to the hotel being an asset for the entire Laguna Beach community,” a Hotel Laguna spokesperson said in an Aug. 4 statement.

The Laguna Beach Club allows private members and hotel guests to reserve a chair and umbrella on the sand to enjoy food and beverages. This use predates the California Coastal Act of 1976 and allows serving alcohol between the hotel above the median high-tide line.

The State Dept. of Alcoholic Beverage Control requires the liquor license owner to post signs at all stairs and ramps leading from the hotel boardwalk to the beachfront area. The signs can’t measure less than seven by eleven inches and must notify patrons that open alcoholic beverages cannot leave the beachfront area.

In June, Hotel Laguna hosted a soft reopening of the renovated Coral Room, a historic banquet hall in the hotel’s basement that has been transformed into a members-only club overlooking the Pacific Ocean and Main Beach.

This isn’t the first time Honarkar has run into headwinds with the state panel.

In May 2021, the Coastal Commission voted to find substantial issue with how Laguna Beach approved Hotel Laguna’s remodel, indefinitely delaying the historic landmark’s reopening. The Laguna Beach Co. changed course and decided to open the hotel’s first floor last October.

Hotel Laguna LLC was granted a city building permit in April to remodel two hotel guest rooms as model rooms for the hotel, public records show.

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3 COMMENTS

  1. Widens the scope of the probe?
    Having read the first online blast, Danny, could you explain what you see now as having been specifically widened?
    Is the headline intentionally alarming, unnecessarily inflammatory or? Investigation of the year, crime of the 21st Century?
    And speaking of distress: Not sure if intentional, but “widens” and “scope” together sound like a gnarly, invasive (and for some a humiliating) uncomfortable diagnostic procedure all those of a certain age endure.
    Or perhaps dental work—btw, ever notice that if a doctor does it to you it’s a “procedure,” but if you did it to him/her it’d be “surgery?” Just wondering.
    Jocularity aside, this little elitist section below the Hotel was a subject of derision when I moved here in 1972.
    So Cal beaches were always considered egalitarian, and no more so than in the ocean where regulars are just people, classless.
    One of my 1st construction jobs when I landed in 1972 was major remodeling of both residential and commercial units on the 2nd floor of the Heisler Building.
    I brownbagged my lunch as home was in North Laguna, I went down to the beach just south of the Hotel and everyone laughed at the VIP ropes, etc., those who paid dearly to feel special and be treated like royalty.
    The snobbery was obvious, it reflected the occupants sense of entitlement. Even their “costumes” were amusing and entertaining to gawk at—frankly most seemed clueless.
    I wasn’t alone, a lot of locals used to sing the lyrics of “Baby You’re A Rich Man” to those who found it rico and suave to be waited on hand and foot by servants: “How does it feel to be one of the beautiful people, now that you know who you are?”
    Can’t tell if this is a tempest in a teapot, maybe comeuppance for snobs, beach justice or whatever.
    It is to those of us knowing its history funny regardless.
    And feeding your face, drinking alcohol in the sun while damaging your skin is so passé, so 20th Century btw, sunscreen or not.

  2. Thanks Daniel. Seems our city manager and staff are unclear about the legal use/signage of this issue so it makes sense that the CA. Coastal Commission should take the lead.

    Once again, not sure why the hotel owners/operators didn’t seek guidance and a permit from either in advance. The visibility and impact to our main local and tourist area beach park was bound to draw attention. And judging from the comments on social media, it wasn’t just LB residents who had some concern about the legality but our visitors too.

    Hopefully the hotel patron’s private sand use and necessary signage issues will be resolved soon.

  3. It – the level of trivialty – never ends. Locals get their undies in a bundle over a hotel putting chairs on the beach they pay taxes for. This continual mindless petty butt-in-ski ratting them out is exactly why all of So Cal knows Laguna is a penny ante nest of fools who have nothing to do except re-fi the house that grampa bought for 30 Grand in 1940 and then willed it to the kids. Now they call themselves real estate investors. Get a life people. Time’s running out. And I go to Santa Barbara.

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