The Kibitzer

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By Billy Fried
By Billy Fried

The Agents of Stasis

The Prohibitionists were out in force at the last Council meeting, squelching every parade, including test parklets, short-term rentals, medical marijuana dispensaries, and outdoor lighting at The Ranch. I’ll get to those last two at another time. This column is devoted to public comments, the opening few minutes normally allocated for random, innocuous announcements. Not organized cabals bent on changing policy.

I thought I was on an episode of “Downtown Abbey” when I heard Councilman Rob Zur Schmiede describe the considerable rancor as a kerfuffle. How bloody charming! But the comments were so angry and uncivil that I quickly remembered I was in Laguna.

Up came the reigning Monarchs of No, Village Laguna royalty Bonnie and Arnold Hano, loaded for bear and ready to tag team the Council into tapping out.

Bonnie stepped up first, apoplectic over the replacement of (all of) two parking spaces in front of Alessa restaurant with an outdoor deck and al fresco seating. “Spectacularly horrible,” she fumed. “It looks like a big box that they haven’t finished enclosing.” Well, exactly right, Bonnie. They haven’t finished. So why not suspend judgment until it is done, replete with flowers, fruit trees, herbs, drought tolerant trees, cafe lighting, and comfortable seating, making it quite possibly the prettiest parklet ever. This is the very first baby step the city has taken to test ways to make our downtown more pedestrian friendly, and encourage people to dine outside in our marvelous climate, and on our beautiful avenue. Statistics show it brings more foot traffic and retail sales.

But Bonnie wants it removed, if not now, then immediately after the two month test is completed. She was joined by a chorus of complainers, who sought to shut it down on the eve of its opening.

How did this kerfuffle come about in public comments, and was it even legal for Council to weigh in? Of course not, it has to be properly noticed and placed on the agenda.

I hope it can be resolved amicably, and the city can avoid further embarrassment and a potential lawsuit by helping the owner open the parklet he was invited to construct. And then the public can test this first step in making Forest Avenue a modern street for the people.

King of No Arnold Hano stepped up next to rail against the notion of short-term rentals as a way of supplementing incomes of younger, perhaps struggling homeowners who, unlike the Hanos, didn’t buy their homes in the ‘50s. He admonished prohibition holdout, Council member Bob Whalen, to “Just say no, like Nancy Reagan.” Oh no Arnold, you didn’t just compare short-term rentals to the war on drugs with a reference so dated nobody who rents their home will understand it, did you?

Then John Thomas took the podium. This man famously said, “Having a short term rental next to your home will ruin your life.” No, maybe living in Flint, Mich., and drinking contaminated water will ruin your life. A short-term renter, visiting from a foreign country and held to a high standard of behavior by sensible regulations, will actually improve your life by expanding your worldview. Just go out and welcome them. Show them how welcoming we are.

John shared a rambling letter he drafted to send to AirBnB, listing the cities that have prohibited short-term rentals, but failing to mention the ones that allow it – an overwhelming majority. He mentioned that Paris is fining violators up to 25,000 euro. Yet not only is it legal in Paris, it actually tops AirBnB with the most homes listed of any city in the world! They just have strict regulations and enforce them, like we could. He said it was signed by all 22,000 Laguna homeowners, who don’t rent their homes. Nice try. We have 11,500 home here.

And finally came the reigning Duchess of Dogma, Village Laguna President Johanna Felder, who presented her version of a smoking gun, a “how to” binder published by a consortium of short-term rental sites for advocates to “engage with policy makers who may be considering how formulating fair and reasonable short-term regulation can responsibly foster this growth industry.” Sounds good to me. Instead of nefarious tactics aimed at misinformation, she revealed these “clandestine” suggestions: begin to organize, look to recruit as many providers as possible, find those who understand and can speak to the short term issues, build an online presence and craft your arguments.

Hold on Johanna, are you sure you didn’t grab the wrong playbook, because this sounds like it was torn from the pages of Village Laguna! Oh, my bad, it couldn’t be, because then you continued with these: stay positive, offer solutions and not criticism, use a combination of facts and stories to support your argument, and always be respectful and constructive in your comments..

She then smugly passed it on to Whalen because “she knows he’d like to look at it.” I hope he does, because it sounds like a respectful document that will once again demonstrate that sensible legislation can be struck to satisfy everyone, hospitality can be democratized, and the death grip our expensive hotels have over visitors can be loosened so working families can not only afford to visit our town, but also live here.

Billy Fried hosts “Laguna Talks” on Thursday nights at 8 p.m. on KX 93.5, and can be reached at [email protected].



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