The Coast Inn debate rages on: hearing takes place on Tuesday at the City Council meeting


The legendary Boom Boom Room will re-open tonight at 6 p.m. for a party hosted by The Coast Inn owners, open to supporters of their proposed renovations to the property.

Festivities begin at 6 p.m. and will include hors d’oeuvres, an open bar and live music. Capacity is 597. 

Property owners Marcella and Chris Dornin hope the party will encourage supporters of the renovations they have proposed. The City Council will review on Tuesday the Dornins’ appeal of the Planning Commission rejection of the project as presented.  

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

The Coast Inn – photo taken on Wednesday this week

Coast Inn neighbor Terry Meurer will attend the council meeting, but not in support of the Dornins’ project.

“It’s the intensification of use that is the problem,” said Meurer. “It adds the rooftop deck for 175 people, and a restaurant and bar for 86 people. Oh, and the rooftop pool.”

She said the project will exacerbate neighborhood problems with traffic, noise, trash and public safety.

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The Coast Inn as it looked between the 1930s and 1954

However opponents of the project may like the alternative even less.

“The bottom line is this: This is an existing commercial property with grandfathered rights that is reopening one way or another,” said Dornin. “Concerns the opposition has regarding trash noise, traffic and so forth, exist today whether or not the proposed project is approved.” 

Permits that are still in effect allow 597 people in the Boom Boom Room, which is approved for dancing and music until 2 a.m.

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Submitted photo

Rendering courtesy Larry Nokes

Rendering of proposed renovation, provided to the City Council this week

The Dornins bought the properties in 2013. They hired architect Michael Ininns to prepare a plan for a major overhaul of the hotel and the restoration and repurposed use of buildings across the street, also purchased by the Dornins. 

Ininns worked with historian Jan Ostashay and the city’s Heritage Committee, which unanimously approved the proposal submitted to the city, a proposal thrice rejected by the planning commission.

Editor’s Note: Terry Meurer, quoted in this article, sent a Letter to the Editor with “questions for supporters” of The Coast Inn project. Her letter appears in our Letters section (click on the Letters tab). We are also publishing again a recent article on the early history of The Coast Inn, given the interest in its historic past. We welcome Letters to the Editor on all sides of this issue.

Coast Inn: Forgotten history is brought alive in new website with photos –your memories wanted


Photos courtesy Carolyn Smith Burris

Whenever the Coast Inn is mentioned in articles these days, the hotel – one of the three oldest in Laguna Beach, along with Hotel Laguna and Camino del Casa – seems almost inevitably paired with the Boom Boom Room, the bar that during the eighties and nineties gained a deep and abiding reputation as a fun, and safe, gathering spot for gay people. 

The scourge of AIDS during those years only intensified the loyalty of its customers, who regarded it as a safe haven, a place to gain solace as well as to forget, for a while, the horrors of the disease and enjoy camaraderie with friends and lovers. 

It’s no wonder the Boom looms large in Laguna’s history.

Which, Carolyn Smith Burris, granddaughter of the Coast Inn’s original builder and long-time owner, “Pappy” Smith, fully understands and appreciates. 

Preserving the history of Coast Inn’s first 50 years

However, Smith Burris is on a mission to ensure that the story of the hotel’s first 50-plus years – from its opening in 1929 – is also recognized, honored and preserved, because, she says, much of that history has been obscured or distorted over time. 

Smith Burris tells Stu News that she wants her family’s role in Laguna’s history – and, by definition, The Coast Inn’s historical role in the town – to become better known and, she hopes, acknowledged in some key way in future iterations of the hotel.

“That will need the City’s support,” she says.

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The first three hotels in Laguna Beach

With that in mind, Smith Burris, working with historians, has just completed a comprehensive website containing a detailed timeline of the Coast Inn’s history and ownership. The timeline in particular, replete with old newspaper clippings and photos, should be of great value to researchers.

She’s also asking locals with memories of the hotel’s past to contribute to her website with their memories – already she has some contributions from people like childhood friend Mayor Kelly Boyd, who as a third-generation Lagunan also has knowledge of those halcyon days. (Boyd recently republished a book that his grandfather, J.S. Thurston, wrote back in 1947, “Laguna Beach of Early Days.”)

“The Coast Inn played such an enormous role in Laguna’s early existence. The population was reaching 2000 the year it was built. It quickly became a local gathering place known for its community spirit,” Smith Burris says. 

“My grandfather opened up the stairs to the beach to everyone the minute they were built. That community spirit has endured throughout its existence.”

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Carl "Pop" Abel, father of Mogens Abel, who created murals for The Coast Inn: the Abels and the Smiths have a long shared history in Laguna Beach

The website also contains some fascinating anecdotes about Laguna’s early social life. A newspaper clipping from 1933 highlights the visit of “world’s champion swimmer Buster Crabb” who, the headline reads (proving that puns are nothing new) “Long Swim for Crabb” who apparently circled the USS Coronado battleship lying two and a half miles offshore.

Clippings also talk about fireworks on the beach, and a “wiener and marshmallow roast” (proving that tastes do change over time).

South Seas Bar becomes internationally famous

“Especially in the forties, the South Seas Bar [which opened in 1936] became famous all over the world as a gathering place for military families,” Smith Burris says. “I was told that ladies would fly out from New York City for a weekend because the hotel was known to attract such a fun-loving beach crowd.

“This fame grew during the years of the Second World War and Coast Inn became even more well-known internationally as military guys, stationed at El Toro, traveled during the forties,” she adds.

The South Seas countertop bar was glass over a fish tank with live fish. Mogens Abel, patriarch of the Abel family, still well-known artists in town, painted a mural that graced the South Seas room, with its Polynesian/tiki themes. 

In the fifties, an annual May 1 beach party was initiated, to the delight of the community, who clearly knew how to party, based on the photos on the website.

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Partying during one of the Coast Inn’s famous beach parties

Smith Burris notes, “The Coast Inn is a key part of our history as a community – I think of the first three hotels as the tripod on which our town was built. I want the city to support and acknowledge that early history as we approach the centennial of our town’s founding. I don’t want that lost.”

Smith Burris agrees that it is personal for her, given her family connections. She has strong memories of the place and recalls many wonderful anecdotes told to her by her beloved grandmother Caroline. 

“Yes, it’s personal,” she says. “But it’s also vital to the town that we don’t forget the past of these three hotels, that we honor their role in our community, and make the effort to embrace their entire history, not just parts of it.”

Smith Burris had no comment on the planned renovation project. “That’s not for me to decide,” she said.

Carolyn Smith Burris’s website can be found at

Barbara’s Column

What every woman should know about money



Money is said to be the Number One source of problems in a marriage and it doesn’t end with death and certainly not with divorce.

That was the message made loud and clear Tuesday night by a panel of financial experts, presented by the Laguna Beach Woman’s Club. Susi Q Director of Care Management Martha Hernandez outlined the common financial problems facing women as they grow older, perhaps on their own for the first time in their lives. Attorney and estate planner Nicole Anderson gave an overview of trusts, wills, probate and new tax laws. Club past president and financial advisor Barbara Crane discussed ways to accumulate and protect assets and business owner Anne McGraw provided simple tools to keep track of assets.

“This program grew out of the knowledge that some of us (women) had big gaps in financial literacy,” said club member Anne Johnson, an advocate for the program.

Hernandez told the audience that on a daily basis she sees women with financial problems. Her job is to listen and then look for resources to help the women cope with or solve their problems.

“Life happens to all of us,” said Hernandez.

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Photo courtesy Kitty Malcolm

 (L- R) Barbara Crane, Nicole Anderson, Anne McGraw, Martha Hernandez

One of the biggest issues for her clients is children in financial hot water. Some are paying their kids’ mortgages – as much as $50,000 or $100,000. And sometimes they don’t get paid back, resulting in their inability to pay their own rent.

Her advice: get a handle on your household expenses, consider long-term care insurance.

“It’s just an option,” said Hernandez. 

But it’s not a good one, if you can’t remember to pay the premiums. Auto pay is a good idea so you are not dependent on your memory, Hernandez added. 

“I hear many of the same stories as Martha,” said Anderson, principal of Anderson Law Group.

“We (women) live longer and get left with a mess without knowing what we have.”

Estate planning is not just for the rich

“I was called out by Anne McGraw to do an estate plan,” said Johnson. “I didn’t think I had any assets, but she said, ‘You have a house in Laguna Beach.’”

Anyone with assets of more than $150,000 – and that’s virtually every homeowner in Laguna – should consider a trust to prevent the state from taking a huge bite of the apple via probate, said Anderson. 

Wills are better than nothing, but they won’t avoid probate, which is a big deal and very expensive in California, according to Anderson.

The state mandated probate fees for $1 million estate include $23,000 for the attorney, $23,000 for the executor, plus court costs, publication, probate reference fee and any extraordinary fees. A trust is a better way to protect the children of a divorced wife from the machinations of a “replacement wife.”

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Photo by Kitty Malcolm

The panel discussion drew a rapt crowd

However, choosing a trustee can be a minefield.

“Some choose their oldest child,” said Anderson. “Being oldest doesn’t always mean the best.”

Picking one child over other offspring can lead to squabbles. Children who fought in the sandbox are not likely to look favorably on favoring a sibling, said Hernandez.

The average cost of a trust in California is between $2,500 and $3,500, well worth the cost, said Anderson. She cautioned that the trust should be kept current to ensure wishes are fulfilled and beneficiaries avoid capital gains tax problems.  

“Money can be a wonderful thing, but it can also be a problem,” said Crane, a certified wealth strategist. “The two things Americans don’t discuss are sex and money. 

A bad idea for a widow – at least as far as money is concerned.

“Statistically, we live longer than our spouses,” Crane added. “Assisted living facilities have seven women to every one male. Don’t go there looking for a man.”

Establish a budget, live within it and keep track of assets

She recommended establishing a budget, living within it, teaching your children its value and keeping track of assets. 

Crane provided charts with financial data for the members of the audience to take home.

McGraw praised the charts. She said 80 percent of women don’t have a clue about their financial position when their husbands die.

“It is important to find everything,” said McGraw, proprietor of Anne’s Bookkeeping LLC. “Know where the money is. Have a list of assets and investments and manager’s names, deeds, credit cards, and loans. Keep a record of passwords. 

“One husband charged $150,000 and hadn’t told his wife,” said McGraw.

She recommended reviewing the list every year and distributed a printed checklist to the audience.  

“And don’t be afraid to ask for help,” McGraw said. 

One last word of advice:

“Never put anyone in charge who needs money,” said Hernandez.   

Laguna Beach Woman’s Club President Kitty Malcolm said more in-depth evening programs are being planned. She asked the audience of some 25 women, not all of them club members, to complete a survey to help guide the plans. 

The club was founded in 1922. Its mission is to provide a nurturing environment for women and encourage them to develop and enrich social friendships, gain knowledge and provide services within our community in meaningful activities. 

But wait – there’s more. You will find advance notice of all the fun and interesting stuff for visitors or residents to do in Laguna by reading

Raptor takes respite in Arch Beach Heights

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Photo by Paula Olson, Laguna Canyon Foundation

This raptor landed on the balcony railing of an Arch Beach Heights residence. Looks like a Red-tailed Hawk, but based on the photo, identification isn’t certain. For more information on raptors and Red-tailed Hawks, check out Orange County Bird of Prey Center at 

Hawk hangs out on deck back in 2015

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Photo by Bill Brasfield

A hawk hanging out on the Brasfields’ deck, keeping an eye on the chicken coop and homing pigeons in a nearby neighbor’s yard

Guest Column

How to avoid the top financial mistakes women make


Women want to get ahead, but often shoot themselves in the foot financially.  With the recent conversation on tax reform it seems appropriate timing to share some of the top financial mistakes women tend to make.  

Waiting to buy a house or condo until you get married. Instead, focus on saving for a down payment and buying a house or condo on your own. You can always rent it out if you get married or you can sell it to buy another place.

Spending more on personal care than you can afford, labeling it as a necessity rather than a want. These expenses include nails, hair, clothes, cosmetics, massages, eyelashes, etc. I suggest monitoring how much you spend on these discretionary items and making sure you are saving as much money on your retirement as you are spending on personal care.  

Keeping too much cash vs. investing it wisely. Everyone needs an emergency savings account. However, women tend to keep too much in cash, which will not outperform inflation. Make sure your money is working for you by investing excess cash into investments that can beat inflation.

Not saving enough for retirement. Statistics show that women tend to live longer than men and yet on average, earn less than men and save less for retirement than men. So, if you are not saving at least 15 percent of your income for retirement, consider how to get to that goal.

Waiting too long to change your lifestyle following a divorce. Too many women focus on staying in the house they love and spending what they used to when they were married, instead of focusing on what they can afford and what makes financial sense regarding their housing.

Not being comfortable with short-term volatility in the markets vs understanding the long-term benefits of being in the markets. No one likes seeing a statement with their assets going down, but there is a difference between short-term volatility and a permanent loss. Women tend to be more conservative when investing and that can be detrimental to their lifetime earning potential.

Starting a business with no cash flow analysis, funding plans or financial planning.  Many women want to start their own business. However, make sure you have a conservative cash flow analysis, a plan for funding the business and have done financial planning before you hang a shingle.

I started out with modest beginnings and experienced setbacks in life but learned from them, experienced success, and want to share my insights with other women. I hope these tips are helpful.

Loreen Gilbert, president of serves on the Executive Board of National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO), representing more than 13 million women business owners in the US. Gilbert is also the Chair Elect of the NAWBO Institute, which provides resources and tools to women business owners around the globe.  She works tirelessly to help women avoid mistakes she’s seen others experience.

Fun class takes the mystery out of Indian cooking

Dr. Vidya Reddy, co-owner of the Buy Hand store in Laguna Beach, invites those interested to spend an afternoon learning to cook ayurvedically. Dr. Vidya will take the mystery out of Indian cooking in a fun interactive class.

Vidya was trained in the Ayurvedic sciences at the world renowned Arya Vaidya Sala in Kerala, India and has been a natural health practitioner for 15 years. 

The class will take place on Sun Jan 28 from 2 – 4 p.m. on the back patio of the Buy Hand store, 1175 S Coast Hwy. 

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Submitted photo

The secrets of delicious Indian dishes will be revealed during afternoon classes

Participants will learn to prepare yummy and healthy food suited to each person’s ayurvedic constitution. 

Featuring fragrant spices of India that not only add amazing flavor, but also pack great health benefits, the class includes recipes, a great meal, authentic masala chai, and a surprise gift.

The cooking class marks the kick off to a monthly series about enhancing your life and health through the ancient Indian practice of Ayurveda. 

Upcoming workshops include: ayurvedic stress busters, introduction to meditation, using ayurvedic essential oils, food combinations, chakra healing and gemstone healing. Dates and times will be announced soon.

The cost of the class is $70 for those who register before Jan 20 and $80 for registration after that date. To register, contact Vidya at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Shaena Stabler is the Owner and Publisher.

Lynette Brasfield is our Editor.

Dianne Russell is our Associate Editor.

The Webmaster is Michael Sterling.

Katie Ford is our in-house ad designer.

Alexis Amaradio, Cameron Gillepsie, Allison Rael, Barbara Diamond, Diane Armitage, Laura Buckle, Maggi Henrikson, Marrie Stone, Samantha Washer and Suzie Harrison are staff writers.

Barbara Diamond, Dennis McTighe, Diane Armitage, Laura Buckle and Suzie Harrison are columnists.

Mary Hurlbut, Scott Brashier, and Aga Stuchlik are the staff photographers.

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