Letter: In Support of the Honarkars’ Efforts


I support the reasonable and progressive efforts by the Laguna Beach Company (i.e. the Honarkars) to move Laguna Beach forward. In 2020, I believe “Saving Laguna” should involve significant renovation and reconstruction of the buildings and amenities that will keep Laguna Beach the attractive magnet it has always been for residents, tourists and investors.

To me (and I am a homeowner) Laguna Beach, is increasingly looking old and out of touch. There are too many storefronts empty, especially onCoast Highway and near it. This is dangerous for our future since Coast Highway is the defining first impression of our community.

We bought our house in 2013 and rebuilt it with great care to stay within the concept of its architecture respecting its uniqueness in every way. We moved into this home permanently in 2018. We value the community and support local businesses.

Moving from the Midwest, we have many visitors who say the existing hotels, built long ago, have walls too thin that allow lots of noise. They don’t like the 1950s feel and vibe. So they prefer the Monarch Beach Resort, and the Ritz-Carlton…both of Dana Point. They also prefer the Marriott Suites near Pelican Hill. Why should we lose this income? Laguna Beach Company’s plans can solve this.

I believe the Honarkars have that same commitment to the progress of Laguna Beach within its rich heritage. They are local. They get this. I support their concepts and commitment to renovate the Hotel Laguna and create a new Cleo Hotel on its current site.

The views the ocean homeowners have invested in should certainly be preserved, but the opinions of renters do not deserve the same rights in my view. They do not have enough “skin in the game.”

I feel Laguna Beach should be thankful and grateful for local residents like the Honarkars, with civic and financial investment in the town’s future. Laguna Beach authorities should move more quickly to seriously consider and approve their moves forward for our town. Please, do not give up.

Our signature Hotel Laguna sits closed as a monument to obsolescence, with its beautiful architecture, and right across the street from the thriving Nick’s where people, daily, observe that lack of communal vitality to re-energize the hotel right in their face.

Please press on with all efforts to improve Laguna Beach…or this town could become a relic of the past soon. That is not “Saving Laguna,” that is letting it die…and no one wants that. The Honarkars have my support.


Janis Murray, Laguna Beach

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  1. “….the opinions of renters do not deserve the same rights in my view. They do not have enough “skin in the game.”
    Really? Had it occurred to you that you’re ignoring/marginalizing renters/leasers (like myself) who compose a significant portion of the residential demographic?
    A 5 minute search online reveals that:
    60% of residents are homeowners & occupy their places, the remaining 40% of residences are occupied by renters & leasers.
    Disenfranchising or diminishing the will of 2 out of every 5 people here should be part of the conversation. Trying to act as if we shouldn’t have certain rights is therefore counter-intuitive.
    I’ve lived here for near 48 years, owned 2 homes now in the possession of ex-wives, rented/leased the balance of my time (about equally between the 2 categories).
    After my 2nd divorce I never recovered enough to purchase again.
    City Hall likes to play the same discrimination game, it’s as if we don’t exist, one step up from the homeless.
    Maybe that’s important part of what’s broken, what’s wrong?
    It goes long way towards explaining why the PAC “Laguna Residents First” has emerged as a force. Notice it doesn’t discriminate in its literature or public statements?

  2. Hi Janis, I want to first commend you for speaking out on this extremely important issue.

    What I fail you fail to see or acknowledge is the history of Laguna Beach, and its many reason, related to this discussion, that are why you and your family found Laguna Beach so attractive that you chose to make it your home.

    Main Beach is a perfect example of this. Had developers been allowed to develop properties unchecked, the beauty of Main Beach that we all enjoy today would not exist. It would have been filled with commercial buildings, eliminating the Main Beach park that so many residents and tourists alike enjoy, and the magnificent views of the Pacific Ocean and Catalina Island that we often take for granted.

    The issue surrounding empty storefronts, failing retail and restaurant closures are by themselves not a cause & effect of limited development. And it is foolhardy in my opinion, to try to link the two. 4,500+ retail stores closed in the US in 2019 alone. The nature of retail has changed dramatically in the last 10 years, with brick & mortar’s no longer in such demand, and online purchase exponentially increasing year over year. The remake of Laguna Hills Mall is now at a complete standstill, and the International Council of Shopping Centers struggles with the future of shopping mall and retail centers.

    Yes, we definitely have some real issues here, where Landlords have not only been allowed to have their commercial properties remain empty for far too long, commercial building Owners have been allowed to have their properties become eyesores, and in some cases, decrepit and even possible safety hazards to the public.

    And our City Leadership had done little to nothing to incentivize retail to come into our town, and based on results, have turned a blind eye to the physical state of downtown properties. Could we apply an ordinance that does not allow a commercial property owner to have their downtown building(s) vacant in excess of 12 months without the property owner incurring some form of penalty? Can we as a City create minimum standards that would prevent building owners from allowing their properties to decay or be fined if allowed to do so? Can we as a City implement a form of commercial rent control similar to what the State just did on residential rental properties?

    But retail and restaurant can and will fail despite the implementation of the above. In some cases, the restaurant chose a poor location with an absence of enough parking. In some cases, they bought a building and could not sustain the cost of operating the restaurant and paying the mortgage on the same property. And sometimes its just poor execution by the restaurant owner themselves, and people simply stop going there.

    But there are restaurants in town that have stood the test of time. And bring some uniqueness to their offerings to Laguna Beach. 230 Forest and Watermarc are great examples of a successful restaurateur, Marc Cohen, making both sound business decisions and demonstrating a real understanding on how to deliver a dining experience that residents and tourists alike enjoy and want to keep coming back for time and again. Dominic Pitz of Dizz As Is is another example of a restaurateur that offers an awesome and consistent dining experience unique to Laguna Beach.

    In my 30+ years as as a resident in Laguna Beach, the people that know me in town know that one of my biggest pet peeves is that still to this day after the closing of Sproutz Reitz, I still cannot buy a reasonably priced pair of Jockey-type men’s underwear without leaving town. I am literally forced to leave Laguna Beach to a destination such as Aliso Viejo Town Center or one of the remaining malls in So. Orange County. And let’s be real, once I’m at such a location, I’m going to get most if not all of my clothing shopping done there. How does that dynamic help Laguna Beach retail??

    Laguna Beach is chocked full with boutiques and other clothing stores filled with $800 jeans, $1,200 blouses and $135 T-shirts. In many cases, owned and operated by individuals who have no retail store experience, other than being consumers, with no market data in hand to demonstrate that there is actually a need and desire being fulfilled for our residents by their retail store. And after their husband’s initial seed money and 2nd & 3rd capital infusions have been made, sales continue to be weak, they fail as a business and are forced to close.

    Adding 50 Hotels up and down Coast Highway or Glenneyre will not fix the retail woes here in Laguna Beach. Nor will it save the restaurant industry here either. Eventually, the Hotels that can accommodate restaurants within their hotels will end up being the only remaining restaurants left, if every new restaurant in town seemingly is a Mexican-style Restaurant and offers nothing new or unique.

    With that all said, I do believe in development and re-development, but only when and where it makes sense. I have been a Commercial Project Manager in the development and construction of commercial buildings including medical, retail and yes, hotels for 15 years. I am not against the Honarkar’s many plans because I am against development in general, as many have erroneously framed this issue and concerned citizens like me. In fact, I support the Honarkars and their investors in their willingness to put up large sums of their money to develop new projects here in Laguna Beach. The Honarkars have in fact done a great job in refreshing the retail spaces of what is now known as The Hive and Terra Laguna Beach (formerly Tivoli Restaurant) in Laguna Canyon. And I as many others have enjoyed the remodeled space of their Royal Hawaiian restaurant.

    But the reality is that Honarkars have only recently become Hotel owners, having bought two existing Marriott branded properties in Palm Desert, that are being operated and renovated under management by a third party. With this lack of experience or completed Hotel projects under their belt, I agree with the City leadership, that the Honarkar’s would best be served by showing what they are truly made of by first successfully restoring and reopening the grand dame of Laguna Beach, the Hotel Laguna, before any of their other hotel projects are approved. This alone will quiet many of those residents that feel the other bidder of the hotel’s long term lease should have been its new operator, and will do a lot in restoring the look and feel of downtown. And it will certainly help ease the fears of many by allowing the Honarkar’s to prove that they can be responsible hotel developers and operators that actually took the concerns of their fellow residents to heart, and incorporated those concerns, as best as humanly possible, in their revised designs for the Cleo and Museum hotel projects. And do so without leveraging excess hotel parking into public parking, and the dangling of future bed taxes that always get our Council-members’ juices flowing, in order to get the City to change long established building guidelines, rule and regulations that were fought long and hard for by the residents that came before all of us. The same residents that made Main Beach the gemstone of Laguna Beach that it is.

    Yes, we can do this as. As they say, “It takes a Village.” And that may never be more true than here in Laguna Beach. And I believe that if the residents, developers and City Management truly come together, get out of the back rooms and into the daylight for all to see, find common ground and work on acceptable compromises, the best of Laguna Beach is yet to come!!

  3. Whether I agree with this or not, your attitude is exactly what I hate about the people who have come in to this town in the past 10 to 20 years. I’m not against the updates or efforts made to bring *some* tourism back. Yes, there are too many empty storefronts, etc., etc… But seriously lady, you’ve been here for like two minutes & to act like you deserve more & that your opinion carries more weight? Bitch please.

  4. Bruce B. Thank you for putting this highly controversial town development issue in perspective and addressing so many of the elements involved. I believe that our City leaders lack of trust and transparency issues with constituents are their own doing. They continue to sidestep and blindside residents. They are responsible for the mismanagement and lack of enforcement in keeping our town pristine. Residents voted for them in good faith to serve and protect our town, coastal environment and cherished quality of life, not to Let it deteriorate and then sell it to the highest development bidder – in this case the Honarkar/Laguna Beach Co. I don’t oppose all of their proposed projects but I agree that the Honarkar’s should focus first on renovating the main landmark Laguna Hotel as proof that they can accomplish this and operate a hotel before they get free reign to redevelop our town. Clearly, since 2018, we have had a systematic town take-over by developers and supporters of Liberate Laguna (starting with the election of CC Blake/Kempf and their political board/commission position appointments) and it’s going to take a strong outspoken and visible community to slow down/halt their special interest plans or we will not be recognizable within a decade. We are more than a resort destination for investors to cash in on.


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