Tattoo Shop Inks a Future in Laguna

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By Daniel Langhorne, Special to the Independent

A new tattoo parlor is set to open at 2940 South Coast Highway after a majority of the Laguna Beach City Council denied an appeal filed by Councilwoman Toni Iseman, who is concerned the new business is under-parked and that Laguna is already saturated with four existing tattoo shops.

Tattoo artist Zane Leibowitz said Bare Bones Tattoo will offer a classy, intimate experience for tattoo enthusiasts looking to express themselves with ink on their skin.

“I understand the potential concern may be the preservation of Laguna and things should be kept as is, but I feel now more than ever we need to work on bridging gaps and embrace growth, progress, and diversity, because we can’t move forward as a people if we are held back by the past,” Leibowitz said.

The addition of a tattoo parlor three storefronts down from Cardinal Drive, which acts as the driveway for St. Catherine of Siena Parish School, riled parents who are concerned about students’ safety and a shortage of parking.

Erica Berberian said she opposed the opening of another Laguna Beach tattoo parlor as the mother of St. Catherine students and resident of Rounsevel Terrace. She said the parking spots on the southbound side of Coast Highway are too far from the storefront and it’s dangerous to cross because of the speed of traffic. 

“I’m not sure why we need another, and if we are going to have another one, I don’t think this is the right spot near a school, where my children play, where I live. Put it downtown in the Hip District,” Berberian said.

Associate Planner Anthony Viera said there are 10 on-site parking spaces, but only one would be reserved for tattoo shop employees.

Iseman also argued that it’s a stretch to say Bare Bones Tattoo will mostly serve residents because, for example, she couldn’t see someone getting a tattoo every two months. In what appeared to be a jab at Councilman Peter Blake, who has said downtown is full of empty storefronts because of the decline of retail, Iseman suggested that Leibowitz find another location.

“We talk about how there are spaces all over, well if there are spaces all over, there has got to be a better space for this tattoo parlor than where we’re talking,” she said.

Councilwoman Sue Kempf pointed out that under the city’s zoning code, a hair salon would have the right to open with four chairs without seeking a permit, and would have the same effect on parking as the tattoo shop.

“The comment about people running across Coast Highway is completely accurate, but they run across Coast Highway all over the place, especially in South Laguna,” Kempf said.

City Attorney Phil Cohen noted that federal courts have upheld that a person’s self-expression with tattoos carries first amendment protections. In light of this, cities cannot prohibit a tattoo shop from opening simply because of the service it offers.

A 2015 poll conducted by Harris Insights & Associates found 47 percent of millennials have at least one tattoo.

“Stereotypes of tattoo shops, sure there are those. But times have changed, I mean, I’ve tattooed doctors, lawyers, everything,” Leibowitz said. “If everyone wants to come see the place when it’s done, I invite the entire community to see how beautiful it actually will be.”

Bare Bones Tattoo will be open from 12 p.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday, according to the staff report.

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