Short Term Lodging (STL) in Laguna Beach

Village Laguna’s June 4, 2019, letter to the City Council:

It’s very good news that City staff has reached consensus with the staff of the Coastal Commission that preserves the essentials of our 2017 short-term lodging ordinance. Confining short-term rentals to mixed-use commercial zones will help keep Laguna a real community by preserving our neighborhoods from commercial activity and limiting further loss of the City’s rental housing stock which is especially  important to our seniors, young people and our artists.   We hope that you will give the ordinance final approval tonight.

Sincerely, Johanna Felder, President, Village Laguna


12/14/2017. California Coastal Commission ruled against Laguna. We currently cannot enact our ordinance restricting new STL to the commercial zones.

On August 9, 2016, the City Council decided unanimously to support the Planning Commission's recommended Short Term Lodging Ordinance, with minor changes. The 36 existing permits would remain, but any new short-term use (less than 31 days) in a residential neighborhood would be illegal. STLs in commercial zones would still be allowed. At the second reading and final vote on August 30, the ordinance was verified. Unfortunately, the ordinance was not enforced pending a decision of the California Coastal Commission, which did not come for almost a year and a half.

Information  on →The City Website

Dec. 8, 2017 Village Laguna Letter to California Coastal Commission, Mr. Jack Ainsworth, Executive Director and Commissioners:

Village Laguna has always been a strong supporter of the California Coastal Commission. Our mission statement includes working to protect and restore our ocean and coastal habitats so we are usually working for the same goals.

The other part of our mission statement states that we want to preserve and protect the unique village character and cultural heritage of Laguna Beach. In many cases, we also align with the Commission on issues that impact these values. In the case of short term lodging (STL) in residential zones of our city, however, we feel this part of our mandate is threatened, and we would be quite surprised if the Commission did not support us in this.

The CCC staff has inexplicably recommended that the Commission deny Laguna’s ordinance that allows new STLs to operate only in the commercial zones of our town, in spite of the fact that much of the commercial area downtown and along the Pacific Coast Highway is very near the ocean with many access points to coast and beach. Approximately 2800 possible STL locations are available in these commercial areas. For comparison, we now have around 1300 short term rental lodgings (hotels, motels, inns, STLs) available in town, which have about an 80% occupancy rate.

 Laguna Beach is clearly already one of the friendliest-to-visitor towns along this coast, as demonstrated by this graph. It’s hard to see how a town of 23,000 can be more visitor friendly than hosting over 6,000,000 visitors a year!  We have miles of public beaches and dozens and dozens of lodgings (including STLs) that range from affordable to luxury, from single rooms to suites with kitchens, as well as many bars and restaurants, all close to the ocean for the convenience and pleasure of our visitors. For even more availability and variety, we have nearby campgrounds at both edges of the city (Crystal Cove and Doheny Park) that can accommodate even more visiting families at relatively affordable rates. (Data assembled from the census and city, visitors’ bureau, and press sources.)

However, if the beaches and other amenities were all that visitors wanted, there are many other locations up and down the coast that would satisfy that need. Our visitors are attracted to Laguna particularly because of the unique charm of the city, its unusual and varied architecture, and the turn-of-the century, quiet ambience of its sequestered neighborhoods. Preserving this ambience is not only a basic necessity for our residents, it’s vital for those visitors who come here precisely to bask in that charming ambience.

The assumption that STLs provide lower cost access to the coast is just that, an assumption. Of course owners are going to make as much money as they can, and a look at the costs associated with rentals in Laguna Beach indicates that many existing STLs (many of which are illegal!) are in the luxury range while quite a few of the hotels and inns are relatively affordable. It’s also a false assumption that hotels don’t provide space for families, including cooking—quite a number have suites and kitchen areas.

The CC staff helpfully “recommends that the City allow itself enough time to evaluate the effectiveness of the newly proposed regulations to control the neighborhood problems that may exist with STLs,” but that’s what we’ve been doing since the original ordinance was written in 1999, and it obviously hasn’t worked. While allowing STLs in residential zones with strict guidelines and oversight may sound like a reasonable compromise, a little imagination, as well as attention to the actual experience of those who have lived near STLs and the city’s efforts to regulate them, proves that these measures are effectively unenforceable. For example, illegal STLs usually don’t use their addresses in their online advertising, they instruct their renters to lie (e.g. “I’m Mr. Smith’s Aunt from Hoboken”), etc.  Even when STLs ARE legal, it’s difficult to keep track of whether they are following their individual mandates: e.g., if they’ve rented more often than allowed or at the wrong time of year, if the landlord actually lives on the premises if required, etc. The regulation of neighborhood STLs essentially requires turning neighbors into spies and puts an intolerably expensive burden on the city to provide services like trash collection, policing, investigation, fire and rescue, extra city and service staffing, and record keeping for otherwise peaceful and problem-free neighborhoods.

The detrimental impact of STLs in residential zones in the town is even more serious when we consider the effect it has on the availability of long-term rentals. We have many senior citizens in our town, we have struggling artists, we have the service people demanded by our visitor-serving businesses, and all need affordable housing. STLs in R1, R-2 and R-3 neighborhoods raise rental prices and cut into the stock of available housing, thereby driving these residents out of their town.

Please allow us to institute our ordinance which limits STLs to the existing legal establishments in residential zones but allows plentiful expansion in the commercial zones where most of the desired amenities exist. Consider the balance required between providing visitor access and maintaining the very charm they’re coming to visit. Also consider fairness to the local residents who have been doing a heroic job of hosting more than our fair share of visitors, providing them with more than adequate lodging, recreational and beach access while maintaining the original charm that draws them to Laguna Beach.

Johanna Felder, President, Village Laguna


8/30/2016  Laguna Beach City Council again voted 5-0 to finally confirm the ban on short term lodging in residential zones! Now for enforcement.

On August 9, the City Council decided unanimously to support the Planning Commission's recommended Short Term Lodging Ordinance, with minor changes. The 36 existing permits will remain, but any other short-term use in a residential neighborhood will be illegal. STLs in commercial zones will be allowed. At the second reading and final vote on August 30, the ordinance was verified.

Earlier History:
The moratorium against Short Term Lodging (STL) will run out in October. The City Council is in the process of gathering information to make a decision about how to handle this thorny issue. The Planning Commission made a recommendation to allow STL in commercial zones only, but to grandfather in the licensed STL properties (36) that already exist.

The City Council is apparently leaning toward allowing Home Sharing, a subset of STL in which homeowners may rent out part of their homes as long as it is their primary residence. A subcommittee consisting of two council members was held on 6/21.

A second subcommittee meeting will be held on July 14 (2016) at the Susi Q Senior Center at 4:30. Please attend, if you can. The staff report below includes (in black) the Planning Commission's proposed ordinance with red suggested changes. These changes would allow STL in our neighborhoods.

→Agenda for July 14 meeting, including the STL ordinance with changes marked on the Planning Commission version. 

 Village Laguna held a forum to educate residents and to allow dialog and expression of points of view about this issue. →VL Forum.

→See what other cities are doing.

→Facts about STL in Laguna Beach

→STLs already legal in Laguna Beach 1-7-16

Documents pertaining to STL, including the Planning Commission's recommendation to the City Council (in both the following links): 1. Regulation of Short Term Lodging  and  2. AHLA (American Hotel&Lodging Assoc.) STL information and a scanned document that shows where legal STLs are located in Laguna Beach.

Local Letters:

by Artist David Milton in 7-7 The IndyArt Colony Threatened by Short-Term Rentals

by Barbara Metzger  in 7-7 The Indy: Short-Term Rentals Contradict City's General Plan

→Previous letters.

SIGNS and Buttons can be requested at villagelagunafb@gmail.comand they will be delivered.


April 27:  OC Register: IrvineProblems with STL in Irvine 

IMG_Map of short term rentals.jpg

June 19: The VergeNew York State: New York Senate passes bill that bans short-term apartment listings on Airbnb

*June 21: EsquireNew York City: Short Term Lodging humorously particularized in NYC (and in general)

*June 22, LA Times Editorial:  Los AngelesHow to regulate AirBnB and Home Sharing. 

June 27: San Francisco ExaminerAirBnB sues SF over new rules on STL

June 28 International Business Times: SF, LA, NYC, Austin, Chicago, Miami Beach: Is Your Airbnb legal? Miami Beach has a $20,000 penalty for a first violation, etc.

*June 29: OC RegisterAnaheimAll Short Term Rentals Banned in Anaheim

July 4, New York Times: Contrasts pro and con points of view about the effect of Airbnb on Bedford-Stuyvesant area of NYC.