Columnist J.J. Gasparotti and UCI research professor Jim Danziger provide compelling arguments exposing the flawed narrative that six million visitors per year is a net positive for Laguna Beach residents. Gasparotti and Danziger’s analyses struck a nerve. Our community has reached a level of tourist saturation that warrants the somber attention of our civic leaders and elected officials. An action plan is long past due. There is no question that the city of Laguna Beach, directly and indirectly, is subsidizing tourism and, de facto, obligating residents to shoulder the enormous costs.
This impact has occurred in multiple forms: social costs, environmental costs, and economic costs. Indeed, one can cite numerous examples. Tourism promotion has played a major hand in inflating property values, rents, and the costs of goods and services. Our parks and beaches have been beset by increased litter, noise, and pollution. Sewage and solid waste pollution have sullied our coastline to a degree never previously seen. Traffic in Laguna Canyon and on Pacific Coast Highway has become ridiculously impacted and car emissions have created a serious air quality problem, especially for children and older residents. Parking has become a cancer on our public streets and neighborhoods. Every year police and security costs escalate in response to the litany of problems associated with this tourist invasion, the economic benefits of which impact only a small percentage of city residents. In fact, most tourist dollars leave the community, or what economists refer to as “economic leakage,” as the high percentage of those employed in the industry (clerks, cooks, housekeepers, wait staff, etc.) are not residents of Laguna Beach.
Indeed, the resource strain is enormous. If one adds together the millions of tourists indulging in the amenities of our city over the course of a year, the adverse impacts on local resources start to become clear. And, who is left with the tab? Gasparotti and others estimate that local residents are subsidizing visitors between $20 million and $30 million every year. This translates to an average of over $1,000 for each resident or $3,000-4,000 per family. Clearly something is seriously wrong with this picture.
We must be innovative and courageous in responding to this crisis as the social, environmental, and economic costs are irrefutable and the deleterious impacts increasingly evident. It is an inconvenient truth that our city leaders must address.
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