Laguna Beach bans Airbnb and other short-term rentals from residential areas but will grandfather in existing units

A crowd of residents sport white shirts and “protect our neighborhoods” pins in support of an amended short-term lodging ordinance in Laguna Beach Tuesday.
(Faith E. Pinho / Daily Pilot)

After nearly two dozen speakers and a sometimes-rowdy debate about property rights Tuesday night, the Laguna Beach City Council narrowly approved an ordinance to prohibit short-term rentals, such as Airbnb, from operating in residential neighborhoods.

The 3-2 decision, with Mayor Pro Tem Steve Dicterow and Councilman Peter Blake dissenting, pleased a majority of the residents who spoke on the issue — many of whom sported “protect our neighborhood” pins and white shirts.

Residents cited noise and safety concerns, along with the possibility of rising rents, as reasons for supporting the amended ordinance.

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“We don’t want commercial ‘touristification’ in our residential neighborhood,” said resident Charlotte Masarik.

The revised law — which passed its first reading by the same margin last month and will now head to the California Coastal Commission for review — would restrict short-term rentals to certain commercial zones. Properties intended for affordable housing, senior living or the disabled would still be restricted from operating as short-term rentals.

The few dozen residents already legally running such rentals in their neighborhoods would be grandfathered in once the new regulations go into effect.

The updated law also would increase penalties for those who violate the ordinance and place additional requirements on short-term lodging platforms, including Airbnb, to enforce the rules.

Some residents opposed the changes, saying they unfairly limit homeowners who might want to tap into an additional income stream. At one point, a verbal spat broke out after a disgruntled resident — who cursed during his comments at the podium — claimed another member of the audience had raised his cane at him, prompting Mayor Bob Whalen to call for order.

“There are passionate views on both sides,” Whalen said.

Councilwoman Sue Kempf said she sympathized with property owners concerned about the effects short-term renters may have on their neighborhoods. Echoing several speakers, Kempf said she likes to mind her own business when she’s at home and not worry about temporary residents next door.

“I’m kind of a property rights person a little bit too, but you know there’s property rights for the benefit of the community,” she said.

Blake said he felt there could have been more reasonable restrictions on homeowners.

“Why are we focused on the commercial area where the apartments are and the low-cost housing is?” asked Blake.

Resident India Hynes read aloud a letter that Michele Monda — another resident and frequent speaker at council meetings — wrote from a short-term rental in Sorrento, Italy, to urge council members to find a compromise.

“Why can’t someone experience Laguna the way I’m experiencing Sorrento?” Monda wrote.

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