The Kibitzer

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Hope Springs Eternal

By Billy Fried

It’s hard to talk about much else these days but the delicious, life-affirming, all-consuming rains that have enveloped us. It washes away the Super Bowl ennui and stands as the one thing we can all celebrate.

Rain glorious rain. It’s renewing our parched lands, filling our water tables, and flooding our gardens. It augurs well for an exceptional season of wildflowers, and if you look closely, the season has already begun.

We love the rains ever so briefly because, for once, there’s no pressure to rush outdoors to another perfect day. We can snuggle by the fire with some Miles Davis and a good book, and listen to the pitter-patter of raindrops on the roof. Prrr. It’s baby-making weather.

And when we do venture out, we get to put on all that tasty REI rain gear that’s been mothballing, go to a coffee shop, and feel, ever so briefly, like we could live in Portland. Our Sport Utilities for once provide utility. We drink in those intoxicating emerald hills, and inhale the mentholated aromatherapy of coastal sage and Eucalyptus branches falling on our cars. It’s the smell of California. I know, they’re non-native, but so are we. And we are the most invasive species of all.

Speaking of invasive, things are heating up down at City Hall, and the anticipated clash of the Titans is finally materializing. I’m referring to the testy exchange during the Jan. 22 meeting between freshman Councilman Peter Blake, and six-term Councilwoman Toni Iseman over a homeowner appeal to build a 100-square-foot roof deck. Design Review denied their application, citing objections over potential noise and privacy. Council wasn’t having it.

Steve Dicterow opined that Design Review “abused their discretion because they failed to follow the appropriate sequence of analysis and failed to give the applicant the rights consistent with the neighborhood.” Three other council members agreed.

Only Toni demurred, calling Design Review’s conclusion “very thoughtful, very careful.” That’s when Peter jumped in, chastising her for defending the embattled Board on principle, not merit. I’ll spare you the details, but let’s just say the frost is alive and well in Laguna, even if the groundhog saw its own shadow last Saturday.

This appeal was especially relevant in light of Peter’s campaign crusade for total Design Review reformation. Most everyone believes the system is broken, particularly unlucky homeowners who have been stymied at every turn from making simple improvements to their homes, like a 100-foot roof deck.

Finally, in the other appeal that same night, some homeowners in North Laguna applied for a permit to turn their two rental units into short-term vacation rentals. (Anyone can do this now because Coastal Commission overruled Laguna’s decision to ban vacation rentals in residential areas.)

Council upheld the appeal and granted the permit. I have been a vocal proponent of short-term rentals, but not in this case. The owners don’t live on property, and they had the temerity to have previously rented one of their units to a sober living facility. Their reason? No one else would meet their rental rate of $7,750 a month. Oh, please. There are only two reasons why a charming 3 bed, 2 bath house two blocks from the beach in North Laguna won’t rent: either it’s on fire, or it’s too expensive. Unsurprisingly, the sober living facility became the scourge of the neighborhood, with reports of noise, cigarette smoke, anonymous package delivery, and discarded hypodermic needles.

So the owners addressed neighbor complaints by applying for short-term rentals, where they can actually double or triple their money. And Council rewarded them for gaming the system for excess profit.

I’ve said it many times. There’s a clear demarcation in how we should regulate this industry. Unless you live in the home, you can’t do it. That’s how it’s now done in San Francisco, where the industry was birthed and went through the most growing pains. It’s a sensible, workable plan. Professional landlords who convert their units to short term housing take rental stock off the market at a time when California has a severe housing shortage.

Council will soon be going before Coastal Commission to submit a new proposal on how to regulate the industry fairly. It’s an easy call. The state’s affordable housing mandate should trump Coastal Commission’s coastal access requirements. Professional landlords not only reduce rental stock, they aren’t around to regulate behavior. It’s a clear zoning violation too—a hotel in a residential area.

Let’s be smart and humane and allow our good neighbors the freedom and responsibility to rent their own homes to whomever and whenever they want—provided they are there to host, foster good behavior, and of course, be brand ambassadors for Laguna.

Billy Fried hosts “Laguna Talks” on Thursday nights at 8 p.m. on KX93.5 and can be reached at [email protected].




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