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Laguna Beach

Council still split on STL locations, ordinance passes 3-2


Nothing that happened at Tuesday’s council meeting changed opinions of the amended ordinance regulating short-term lodgings.

There were no changes in the ordinance from the first reading in April, no change in the council’s 3-2 vote – Mayor Pro Tem Steve Dicterow and Councilman Peter Blake opposed – no changes in the staff recommendations and no changes in the lopsided support by the speakers from the audience. 

“I am convinced we have struck the right balance and [the ordinance is] most reflective of what most people want,” said Mayor Bob Whalen. 

The ordinance provides that short-term lodging is not allowed in residential zones; that currently approved permits under the existing ordinance are to be grandfathered and run with the land; that short-term lodgings are allowed in certain commercial zones that establish additional regulations and standards for the operation of STLs; and that a permit for them under the revised ordinance does not run with the land. 

“We have heard all the arguments,” said South Laguna resident John Thomas. “Laguna is doing the right thing by simply limiting the STL locations to Laguna’s commercial and mixed-use zones where visitors prefer to stay.” 

The crux of the dissention on the ordnance is the prohibition of STLs in residential neighborhoods, and it caused a ruckus when opposing view holders almost came to blows. 

Residents who oppose the restriction of STLs to commercial zones claim the ordinance violates property rights and flies in the face of reality.

“Since the beginning of time, there have been boarders here,” said Eric Bell.

Statistics on the number of legal and illegal STLs and on reported disturbances by the short-term renters were questioned by Jennifer Zeiter. 

She opined that concern about the adverse effects of short-term lodgings are overstated.

“It’s a bunch of fear mongering,’ said Zeiter. 

A letter written by Michele Monda from Italy praised the experience she is having in an STL she rented for 30 days. 

“No one is saying don’t regulate,” she wrote. “No one is saying don’t supervise. No one is willing to allow party houses. Work on a compromise where those who want to rent their homes/units out occasionally can.” 

Laguna does not ban rentals of 31-or-more days in residential neighborhoods. 

However, opponents of the ordinance’s prohibition against short-term lodgings in residential neighborhoods were in the minority at the meeting.

Nineteen of the two dozen speakers supported the ordinance as written.

“This is a reasonable compromise,” said Ann Marie McKay, a former city employee.

The next step is requesting certification by the California Coastal Commission, which approved the city’s original version of the ordinance submitted in October 2016, but removed the restriction on STLs in residential neighborhoods, which the city declined to implement.      

Starting in February of 2018, the city and the commission began a series of meetings to negotiate modifications to the disputed terms of the ordinance and to avoid litigation. The result is the version of the ordinance approved Tuesday.

“Failure of the Coastal Commission to approve this ordinance [version] will only cause additional delays,” said Thomas. “If the ordinance works out well, we’ll find out. If it isn’t working well, you know we’ll hear that too. And we can make adjustments.”

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