Last Movement in Laguna Hills Instrument Shop Controversy?


To Rebecca Apodaca, a single mom who repairs and rents musical instruments, her home-based business puts food on the table and helps her daughter through college. To city officials in Laguna Hills, she’s a lawbreaker. And they’re asking a judge to close her music shop.

Apodaca, 49, runs her music business from home--a business the city says is illegal. Deliveries and traffic generated by her A&D; Music shop create a nuisance in the neighborhood, and the conversions she’s made to her home violate city code, said Laguna Hills Planning Director Vern Jones, who oversees code enforcement.

After 18 months of trying to get her to comply, the city’s patience wore out, Jones said.

For more than two decades--long before Laguna Hills became a city--Apodaca ran her business from home without any problems. She’s renewed her business license every year and paid her taxes.


But city officials say neighbors have filed complaints about the shop, and they feel the nuisance it has created cannot be tolerated. The city’s legal action against her is scheduled for a municipal court hearing in August.

“I understand some people think if you’ve been doing business that way for a long time that you should be able to continue,” Jones said. “I don’t agree.” Under city code, home businesses are limited to an office and “minimal” storage, Jones said. Employees, commercial deliveries and retail transactions are prohibited.

Apodaca’s living room looks like a retail shop. She’s hired a worker to help her lift boxes and load instruments onto her truck. Her garage has been transformed into a workshop, where she repairs and stores instruments throughout the summer. During the school year, she rents them to students.

She said she has met a number of the city’s demands. She has stripped the outside of her tidy home on Colonna of anything that might be perceived as an advertisement. She installed a fire door between her garage and the home’s interior--another city requirement--and she has cut down on traffic by conducting most of her transactions over the Internet. If she changes anything else, she’ll be forced out of business, she said.

If that’s what the city wants, it should pay her what the business is worth, Apodaca said. She figures that’s about $15.5 million, and she plans to file a lawsuit to force Laguna Hills to pay up.

Apodaca is among a handful of residents in her neighborhood to catch the eye of city code enforcers in recent years.

Until 1998, the hilly pocket of modest, well-kept homes was part of unincorporated Orange County. County code enforcement was somewhat lax, so home business owners were little noticed, regardless of their code compliance.

That changed four years ago when the city annexed the neighborhood. Last year, officials took action against three home business owners, including Apodaca. The other two have since met the city’s list of requirements for compliance, Jones said. Only Apodaca’s case remains unresolved.


“What she has done is so blatant that she’s uniquely out there by herself,” Jones said.

Apodaca argues that her case isn’t so unique. She points to a neighbor who came under fire last year after the city learned he was keeping two alligators.

He was granted a hearing before the City Council, who agreed to let him keep his gators if he installed safeguards.

Apodaca would like the same consideration. “I’ve asked for hearings with the City Council, and they’ve denied my requests. They’re being so arbitrary in regard to these rules and regulations. It’s unfair.”