Laguna Beach City Council approves ordinance regarding regulation of short-term lodging

Beachcombers enjoy a summer evening on the coastline of Main Beach, Laguna Beach in August 2016.
Beachcombers enjoy a warm summer evening exploring the ocean and coastline of Main Beach, Laguna Beach in August 2016.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Laguna Beach moved closer to establishing new rules concerning short-term lodging, including the prohibition of additional short-term rental units in its residential areas, Tuesday night.

Following up on the October meeting of the California Coastal Commission that saw the state agency approve the city’s plan with several modifications, the Laguna Beach City Council voted unanimously to approve an ordinance agreeing to those conditions.

The Coastal Commission had given its tentative approval provided that certain requirements were met. Those included that the number of short-term lodging units in the city would be capped at 300, and no more than 20% of the units in a permitted commercial or mixed-use district could be converted.

Prior to the Coastal Commission meeting last month, 117 short-term lodging units existed in the city. Those units are to be grandfathered in, and they will count toward the maximum number of units citywide.

The modifications also allow for 165 home-share units, in which the owner is on site in single-family, duplex and triplex homes as long as they are in the permitted commercial and mixed-use zones.

Two helicopters trained Tuesday for using Laguna Beach’s new helicopter refilling tank, which was purchased as part of the city’s wildfire mitigation plans.

Council members agreed to waive a use permit fee of $347 for home-share units, which could encourage participation in the home-share program.

“This is something that the Coastal Commission wanted in our program,” Marc Wiener, the city’s director of community development, said. “They see it as a way of providing lower-cost accommodations, and then also, it has the potential for minimal impact on housing because under home-sharing, the primary resident would live in the residence, but they would be renting out a room or an attached unit, so there really would be no net loss of housing by allowing this.”

To guard against the complete conversion of a property to short-term lodging, rules would be in place that restrict the conversion rate to 20% of the total units on the premises, while only one unit could become a short-term rental for properties with five units or fewer.

Short-term rental permits would be valid for three years following their approval. The city would also have to report back to the Coastal Commission after three years for evaluation of the local coastal program.

With the local coastal program amendment being adopted, it still has to go back to the Coastal Commission to show that the city has accepted the modifications made relating to the short-term lodging regulations.

For the grandfathered units, the use runs with the land, while the use would run with the property owner for newly permitted short-term lodging units and would be nontransferable.

During the public hearing, most speakers expressed support for the ordinance, while some also had concerns about illegal short-term rentals or short-term lodging units that were operating outside of city law.

“I am convinced that after multiple rounds of negotiation within the city and with the Coastal Commission, this ordinance is a sensible compromise of multiple goals and objectives, and we should adopt it,” Jim Danziger said during public comments. “It will give the city a much better basis to enforce the rules regarding illegal STLs.”

Councilwoman Toni Iseman asked if a short-term lodging unit that had been grandfathered in could lose its grandfathered status. Wiener answered that such units could lose that status if the terms of the permit were violated.

“I think this is the culmination of at least four years of work, and ordinarily, it’s frustrating when things take so long,” Mayor Bob Whalen said.

“I think in this case, the length of time really ended up benefiting us in terms of the overall outcome. I think this is really, as a number of the speakers said, a great outcome for the city, a good balancing of interests.”

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