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Party over for Laguna hotel rooftop?

By Tiffany Montgomery
September 17, 2007 6:14 AM

La Casa del Camino Hotel in Laguna Beach will try to keep the party going on its popular rooftop with an appeal before the City Council Tuesday night.

The city's planning department believes the hotel expanded the use of the rooftop beyond what the city approved, including having bar and restaurant seating. Rooftop seating and food service is only for small special events for hotel guests, the city believes.

The hotel, which calls the ruling "ruinous" in city documents, has a different point of view, as you can imagine. It's fighting the ruling with a noisy PR campaign that includes petitions, a Web site and playing up the angle that locals won't be able to enjoy those views anymore.

I wanted to find out a little more, so asked the hotel owners a few questions, which were answered by their lawyer, Laurence Nokes of Laguna law firm Nokes & Quinn.

1. How will this impact the hotel's business if only guests can go on the rooftop?


The harmful impact to the business will be significant. The harmful impact to the residents of Laguna will be equally. People love the rooftop deck. It has become a gathering place for social, business and family events. It is a great place to relax and enjoy the beautiful vistas for which Laguna is famous. People booking rooms at the hotel are generally vacationers from out of town or out of the country. The restriction proposed by the city would completely deprive the locals of the opportunity to enjoy one of the great panoramas on the entire west coast, unless, of course, they rent a room. The result of this arbitrary restriction seems absurd, and it is difficult to believe that the city would want to deprive its residents of free access to this asset.


2. Have they tried to work with the city on this issue?


Yes. Last fall the hotel conducted numerous walk-through inspections of the property with building officials, fire officials and code enforcement officials of the city of Laguna Beach. Those inspections resulted in development of a list of enhancements that the hotel and the city agreed would be beneficial to the rooftop deck. That list was nearly completed when, in April of this year, the city refused to issue a permit for the completion of a few items based on an accusation by the planning staff that the hotel was operating in excess of its Conditional Use Permits ("CUP"). The city demanded that the hotel apply for a new CUP. Not wanting to waive its existing rights, and believing itself to be in compliance with the existing CUPs, the hotel believed it would be a legal detriment to apply for a new CUP. Not wanting to disrespect the planning commissioners in any way, the hotel elected to solicit the views of the commissioners as to their interpretation of the existing CUPs. The commission shocked us all by using that request as an excuse to draft an entirely new CUP with new terms, restrictions and limitations.


The hotel appealed this act by the planning commission, which the hotel view as unconstitutional. Yet, as a good "citizen" and member of the community, PRIOR TO FILING THE APPEAL the hotel sought settlement meeting with the city. The city first ignored the hotels attempts to attempt to achieve a mediated solution, but finally agreed to meet to discuss a solution. The Hotel proposed that the city agree to rescind or vacate this clearly inappropriate CUP, and to direct the planning commission to work with the Hotel to amend the existing CUPs in a way that did not abridge the hotel's rights, and afforded the city the means to address issues that the city viewed as problematic. This proposal was consistent with the dealings the hotel invited and historically encouraged with the city.


The City Manager, City Attorney, two senior planning staffers and the code enforcement officer rejected the proposal and insisted the matter be heard by the City Council. That appeal will now be heard on September 18, 2007 at Laguna Beach City Hall.


3. Are they heartened by the community support?


Very much so. The community loves the hotel and rooftop deck. The hotel has gone out of its way to be a good neighbor, and the testimony from neighbors at hearing before the planning commission verified this. This alliance between the hotel and the neighborhood encourages the hotel to continue to pursue its rights, not only for its own interest, but also to preserve the rights of the public to continue to enjoy this wonderful coastal treasure.


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