Hotel Laguna owner was ordered to stop unpermitted work twice this summer

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A lone guest keeps a light on at Hotel Laguna in the last weeks of its operation back in December 2017. Photo by Mitch Ridder

The developer pursuing a renovation of Hotel Laguna was ordered to stop unpermitted construction twice within the last six weeks, earning a public rebuke from top city officials Tuesday.

City Manager John Pietig said during the City Council meeting Tuesday that city staffers are actively working with Laguna Beach Co. CEO Mo Honarkar and his team to try and prevent future issues with permitting.

“We all want to see the Hotel open and a good project there but setbacks are occurring right now that are unnecessary,” Pietig said. “So we’re doing what we can to make sure we have good lines of communication going forward so the developer can get good advice when they need it [and] get it in a timely manner. But unfortunately, we are going to have to deal with the current situation.”

On June 9, Hotel Laguna Beach was red-tagged for extensive remodel of the restaurant level with new electrical, plumbing, framing, and drywall, according to city records.

A second notice was provided to Honarkar on July 15, for not obtaining proper permits for construction work on the property, Community Development Director Marc Wiener wrote in an email. Photos of the work show a small excavator removing rubble and a cinder block retaining wall being constructed where a beach stairway one stood.

Mayor Bob Whalen voiced his displeasure with the dust-up on Tuesday.

“It’s very frustrating that twice now they’ve had a red tag situation but it does bring up… when we have buildings like this that are under construction we may need more frequent visits from city staff,” Whalen said.

Pietig agreed and said that direction was given before Tuesday’s council meeting.

The Laguna Beach Co. team has been cleaning up and preparing portions of the Hotel Laguna’s ground levels for a new restaurant in collaboration with Michelin star-winning Chef Craig Strong, Honarkar said in a prepared statement Wednesday.

“Much like everyone else within the hospitality industry, we were forced to pivot in order to comply with the ever-changing mandates that have become the norm during these unprecedented times,” Honarkar said. “Since only outdoor dining is currently permitted, we attempted to enhance ADA accessibility and overall access to the terrace and Rose Garden.”

Honarkar added that when historic improving properties, additional complications are often uncovered, which is what occurred at Hotel Laguna.

“Our team appreciates the support of our Laguna family as well as our city staff for helping guide us through this process so we are able to open our doors as soon as possible,” Honarkar said.

Laguna Beach resident Mark Fudge was among the residents who criticized the Laguna Beach Co. for failing to obtain the required permits before starting construction.

“The applicant should be able to build whatever the permitting allows and not one iota less but he can’t be allowed to go in and run amok and ask for forgiveness later,” Fudge said. “This is too important of a project for that to happen.”

Laguna Beach resident Ruben Flores questioned city officials if they planned to change their approach to monitoring construction at other projects owned by the Laguna Beach Co.

“I’d like to know when a developer who is planning on developing two or three other sites in our town decides to construct without permits and then gets the permits only because he was found out, do you then change rules for the construction he may want to do later on given that’s an [modus operandi] for him,” Flores said.

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7 COMMENTS

  1. So sick of these contractors, and owners coming in and taking advantage of these projects! Should follow the laws like the rest of us! Not following codes, trying to stick it to the city! Lying about work done to code!! STOP! It can be dangerous also to the public! Stop now!

  2. Me. Honarkar doesn’t own this property. He is leasing the property for 99 years from a company by the name of Merritt Farms also known as L B partnerships. They own numerous properties around town and are in a lawsuit right now for unpermitted work they initiated on Numerous properties around Laguna Beach without the city’s approval. Chances are, they are behind this. Me. Harnakar is also involved with Merrit Farms aka LB Partnership on a project being built in Laguna Canyon. Chances are the same thing is happening there. These people with money and no values are trying to unethically uproot our community and change our core while taking advantage of a Pandemic. We must fight them. We must stop them. New information will be coming to light very soon upon this whole matter.

  3. It’s disappointing that with the level of top city staff management attention the LBC is getting from our city to help guide and expedite their projects that miscommunication is a problem. Seriously, how many people get special weekly/monthly city manager attention on construction projects?

    The City of LB has had a reputation for discretionary use and enforcement of their building codes and ordinances. We have personal experience on this issue. I hope this isn’t the case here and they are being laxed in their oversight and enforcement with LBC.
    Btw-it’s typical of developers and contractors to do their thing and ask for forgiveness later. The CM and building department staff should be accountable if this is allowed to happen.

  4. Dick Allen – kindly do more research before sharing inaccurate information. We are not business partners with Merritt Farms, nor are we involved in any project with them in the Canyon. I ask that you either edit your post or remove it in it’s entirety.

  5. I Agree with everything above. My wife and I came to The Hotel Laguna 3 times a year for 16 years until they closed. We have only been back once since then, What we found when we came back was Art gallery’s closed, stores closed, and restaurants closed and of course, Tommy Bahama restaurant closed. This is how much Hotel Laguna meant to the city and my family. Hotel Laguna means life for the city.

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