Why do the citizens of Laguna Beach provide free office space to the Laguna Beach Chamber of Commerce (CoC)? To hear CoC representatives tell it, long ago their organization gave the citizens of Laguna Beach its cherished property and in return the City agreed to free office space in perpetuity. That telling presents an inaccurate account of what really happened back in 1937. Back then, the CoC was in danger of defaulting on their mortgage and it was in arrears for property taxes too. Foreclosure loomed. The 1937 agreement in which the City takes on the obligations of the Chamber in exchange for title reads in part:
“Whereas, the party of the second part (aka CoC) is unable to meet its obligations arising under said deed of trust and to pay taxes and street assessments; and
Whereas, the party of the first part (aka City) desires to assist the party of the second part to have at all future times a place for an office…” and viola!, the Chamber is entitled to free rent in perpetuity (“perpetual agreements” have been found to be legally unenforceable unless all parties agree).
Beyond taxpayers’ providing them free space, the CoC also benefits from the City’s providing them service contracts and outright grants. Throughout the 20th century, the City regularly executed agreements with the CoC for “community promotional activities and services”; annual fees in the 1970s were around $20,000 (about $140,000 in today’s dollars). Agreements have been replaced by outright grants in recent years (e.g., $25,000 per year for the “Think Laguna First” campaign in 2020).
But all of this taxpayer largess raises the question of whether City monies should be spent on an organization focused on private businesses or whether our over-touristed city needs promotional campaigns at all. I encourage voters to question prospective Council candidates’ positions on continuing to provide such generous financial support to the Chamber of Commerce and indeed, whether 85 years of free rent is enough.
Michael Morris, Laguna BeachView Our User Comment Policy