Electric cars, seafood tacos and interior design — new businesses coming to Laguna Beach

Moke electric rental cars are coming to a location at North Coast Highway and Fairview Street in Laguna Beach following a vote of the Planning Commission.
(Courtesy of city of Laguna Beach)

Electric rental vehicles, seafood tacos and a new interior design store are coming to Laguna Beach following a series of Planning Commission votes this week.

The commission Wednesday night approved a spot for Moke Electric Vehicles at the corner of North Coast Highway and Fairview Street for 12 Mokes — small, zero-emission electric cars that resemble large golf carts.

The commission also gave the go-ahead to Wild Taco — a Baja California-style restaurant that also has a location in Newport Beach — and Therese Carmel, a home goods store that will offer interior design services.

“I really like the diversity of what’s going on,” Commissioner Sue Whitin said.

Moke Electric Vehicles is taking over the site that drive-through coffee shop Caffino vacated in 2011. Moke cars, which are available for rent through a phone app, reach only 25 mph, so they can take customers through town and to the beach but won’t be able to travel on busy thoroughfares such as Coast Highway.

The commission’s decision followed nearly an hour of input from Moke owner Bob Plakinger and nine people who live close to the operation’s future home. The residents who spoke joined about a dozen written statements from area residents complaining that the electric cars would cause traffic and public safety issues.

The commission approved the business on a 3-2 vote. Members Roger McErlane and Anne Johnson dissented, citing the residents’ complaints.

The motion passed with the conditions that city staff submit a parking management plan and that the business return to the commission for a three-month review after it opens.

“We spend a lot of time in Laguna saying no to things, and I think it’s appropriate to give these kinds of things a try,” said Commissioner Jorg Dubin, who was participating in his first meeting since the City Council appointed him to the commission Tuesday.

Wild Taco, named for its wild-caught seafood, will be at 188 S. Coast Hwy. as the fifth restaurant of owner Thomas Carter, but the first in Laguna Beach. In addition to the Wild Taco in Newport, Carter owns three Bear Flag Fish Co. locations in Newport Beach and Huntington Beach. His new Laguna operation, which the commission approved unanimously, will offer dishes made with seafood caught from his own boat.

A few people who operate other Mexican-style restaurants in town expressed concern that the new establishment would stress an already saturated market.

“You can’t have all these taco shops within a rock’s throw of each other without doing damage,” said Mario Melendez, owner of the Rasta Taco cart catering company.

Therese Carmel will move from Rancho Santa Fe in San Diego County to 305 Forest Ave. in the heart of downtown Laguna Beach. The commission unanimously supported the proposal from interior design mother-daughter duo Laura Pavlovich and Ashley Armour.

“It’s a charming building, and I think this is a perfect use for this building,” Whitin said.

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