By Breeana Greenberg, Special to the Independent
The Laguna Beach City Council voted Tuesday to approve the remodel of Pacific Edge Hotel, including the addition of 25 guest rooms, new conference areas, outdoor dining, and a new cafe.
“Our goal was really to just upgrade this property to bring some consistency to it,” Architect Rocky Rockefeller said. “We really put a lot of effort into trying to create an architectural style that held together. As you know, some of these were apartment buildings, condos, hotel, you name it. So we tried to really look at all the comments we’ve received through this long, almost five-year process.”
The lobby and valet stand will be relocated from the South Coast Highway building to the Villa building off Sleepy Hollow Lane. The three-car garage at the Villa will be converted into an office and conference room.
The existing lobby area will be converted into a fitness room and cafe. Parking currently located at the Coast building will be replaced with an outdoor dining area for the cafe.
Seating at the Deck restaurant will be reduced from 163 to 115 seats. The private dining area at the Driftwood Building will be opened to public use, increasing the number of seats from 100 to 162 seats.
At the 15-room Bahia Building, six larger hotel rooms will be divided to increase the room count to 21 rooms. The 34-room Seas building will be expanded to 38 rooms. A pool area at the Seas building will be demolished and used for additional parking.
The ground level of the Reef Tower and Cottage will be converted into a retail space for hotel guests. A new Reef building will be built over an existing parking lot. The building will provide 15 new guest rooms and a pool deck over a parking garage.
An elevator set to be built for fire code access requirements will exceed the city’s maximum building height in order to reach all floors of the Reef Wing, New Reef building, and new parking garage.
“I’m just really impressed, and I think that this hotel rather than targeting the extremely wealthy traveler has gone after a middle class to upper-middle class, younger, more hipster type of traveler,” Councilmember Peter Blake said.
Members of Unite Here Local 11, a union representing hospitality workers, spoke out against the project at the city council meeting.
“We’re deeply concerned about the pattern of development that this hotel represents,” said Jonah Breslau, a research analyst with Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy and member of Unite Here Local 11. “We’re facing an incredible wave of coastal gentrification and this hotel, as was already mentioned, as recently as 2012 had rooms for as low as $79 a night. And this project should, in fact, must account for this loss of affordability as the Coastal Act and the local coastal program require.”
While disappointed in the approval of the remodel and expansion request, Breslau explained that Unite Here Local 11 “will continue to advocate for affordable accommodations on-site at the Pacific Edge Hotel and are hopeful the Coastal Commission will take these concerns seriously, in contrast to a city where one City Councilmember objected to having to listen to workers speak Spanish, their native language.”
Blake argued that he felt it’s unreasonable for hotel owners to be expected to provide low-income accommodations.
“We have to stop thinking like free stuff progressives here,” Blake said. “There are no $79 rooms in a place as expensive as Laguna Beach. You can’t expect these people to close their business down for a year while they remodel and spend tens of millions of dollars and then somehow or another offer up these rooms.”
Many workers can’t afford to stay in the hotels they work in, said Chuck Brauer, co-chair of the Catholic social justice ministry at Saint Edward the Confessor Church in Dana Point. Brauer noted that the Catholic social justice ministry is working in collaboration with Laguna Beach’s St. Catherine of Siena Church to “work for fair treatment of workers in our community.”
“A big part of your economy, as you know, is based on the success of the 40 plus hotels and inns that are here in the City,” Brauer said. “Much of the hotel success though, is based on the backs, or carried on the backs of the workers themselves. These are hardworking people who are often underpaid, overworked, not appreciated, and not respected.”
The Coastal Commission requires 25% of the total number of proposed hotel rooms to be affordable accommodations or an equivalent alternative fee. A $625,000 fee for the 25 new rooms will be used for cottage restoration at Crystal Cove.
“The city doesn’t have any formal program to implement in a hotel for overnight accommodations and policing of it,” Architect Morris Skenderian said. “Hence, our suggestion that we put the money at the place where it’s already established by the state and operated in a successful manner.”
Community Development Director Marc Wiener mentioned that staff would like to look at developing a program for future programs to use in-lieu funds for low-income accommodations.
“I think it’s something that we could do over the next six months, working closely with the local hotels and looking for opportunities,” Wiener said. “But in this case, we were concerned that we don’t want to hold up the project while we develop the program.”
The Crystal Cove project would double the cottages’ capacity from 22 to 44 units, said Kate Wheeler, president and CEO of Crystal Cove Conservancy. The whole project will cost at least $45 million. Wheeler noted the Conservancy still needs to fund about $4 million but has identified possible donors. The $625,000 from the in-lieu fee from the Pacific Edge Hotel renovation would help fill in that gap to complete the project.
“All of the cottages at Crystal Cove State Park are low-cost accommodations,” Wheeler said. “We’re the contracted nonprofit partner and concessionaire to Crystal Cove State Park and the park actually sets the rates. Whenever we want to see a rate increase, it has to be justified based on the consumer price index.
The cottages range from $39 a night for a dorm room or shared cottage that sleeps two people to $277 a night for cottages sleeping up to nine people.
“Affordability is being really exported to another city. That’s my kind of objection to this,” Councilmember George Weiss said.
Ashley Johnson, president and CEO of Visit Laguna Beach explained how the local economy depends on hotels and tourism.
“Not only did we see how our small businesses drastically suffered without tourism during the pandemic, but we also saw the negative impacts that hotel closures and decreased tourism had on tax revenues and staffing levels,” Johnson said. “Visitors contribute more than half a billion dollars for our local economy. Also important is the $18 million in visitor generated local taxes for our local government and the employment of more than 6,000 workers in our small beach community.”
Pacific Edge expects to obtain required permits within seven months followed by another year of construction, Skenderian said.View Our User Comment Policy