By Allison Jarrell, Special to the Independent
A proposed short-term rental along Coast Highway was denied a permit by the Laguna Beach City Council Tuesday night, opening up a broader discussion about the city’s current regulations for permitted vacation rentals.
The proposed North Laguna rental—a 1,350-square-foot single-family unit at 1060 N. Coast Highway—is located between Fairview and La Brea streets in a commercial neighborhood zone, but a few nearby residents felt that an influx of renters would negatively impact the surrounding homes.
After hearing from staff, the property owner and two opposing residents, the council upheld Community Development Director Greg Pfost’s previous decision to deny the permit by a 3-1 vote, with Council member Bob Whalen opposed and Mayor Kelly Boyd absent.
Even as applications like the Filsoofs are under consideration, city administrators have yet to redraft new short-term rental regulations and must rely on existing ones.
In December, the California Coastal Commission rejected the city’s proposal for stricter regulations because of its expected impact on alternate lodging opportunities and public access. The ordinance proposed to quell neighborhood discontent by allowing short-term rentals only in commercial areas. Since last December, four new short-term rentals have been approved and two denied, bringing the total to 47 permits for 100 units, according to figures provided by Pfost.
The Coastal Commission’s decision was preceded by a 2016 lawsuit by vacation rental owners over the rejected regulations and followed a year-long moratorium on the issuance of new short-term rental permits. The suit remains unresolved with a hearing set for Aug. 15.
Whalen favored permit approval with certain conditions, such as a three-night minimum stay and no barbecues or pets except for service animals. He also proposed limiting the months of occupancy. His motion failed for lack of a second by any other council member.
Navid Filsoof, a Dana Point resident who owns the Coast Highway property, appealed Pfost’s decision.
He argued that occupants wouldn’t be louder than Coast Highway traffic and described plans for a noise buffer of trees and hedges on the side of the property adjacent to other homes.
Filsoof and his wife, Tina, have managed three other permitted short-term rental properties in Laguna for two years. They have an established track record of respecting neighbors in the community, he said. In addition, they intend to occupy a commercial space on the property during business hours and live a few miles away should any issues arise on nights or weekends, he said.
Filsoof added that the site has two parking spaces for renters and would be capped off at a maximum of five guests, whom he would screen.
But 30-year Laguna resident Craig Coffin, who lives 63 feet from the property, argued that noise and guests’ safety would become issues, pointing to the lack of a crosswalk in the area. Another resident, Mark Gold, agreed, saying the property would be hard to supervise sufficiently.
Council member Steve Dicterow noted that, in theory, the rental could have 365 different guests each year, and that in his opinion, the property should have to comply with the same rules that hotels and motels abide by.
Pfost clarified that the city’s current code allows permitted short-term rentals to have new guests every night, although some have been approved with minimum stay conditions.
“Without some conditions that make this look like short-term lodging, I’m going to vote against it,” Dicterow said, “because I think it’s not short-term lodging. I think it’s a hotel and they should have to comply with the rules for a hotel.”
Council member Whalen disagreed and cited precedents of other council decisions. “My inclination would be to put some conditions on this and approve it because I think that’s consistent with our prior actions for the commercial zone, which is, even under the new ordinance, the area which we’ve designated as eligible for short-term lodging.”
Mayor Pro Tem Rob Zur Schmiede said discussions are still underway with the Coastal Commission about Laguna’s regulations and the outcome is uncertain. “There are multiple ways that it could play out. We could reach some sort of an accommodation with them; we could end up in litigation with them,” he said.
After the decision, Filsoof said he felt the council didn’t quite understand the property and was being tough on rentals like his due to pressure from constituents.
“This is an ongoing debate. The Coastal Commission is involved, so this is not the say all, end all,” Filsoof said. “We’re frustrated, but this is just phase one and we’ll go from here.”