Laguna Beach voters can decide wage increases for hotel workers and the fate of hotel projects

The Pacific Edge Hotel is located at 647 S. Coast Hwy. Photo by Daniel Langhorne

Two other ballot initiatives collected enough valid signatures from Laguna Beach voters to qualify for election, the Orange County Voter Registry said Wednesday.

The first would set a minimum wage of $18 an hour for hotel workers and increase that wage by $1 an hour annually through 2026. The second would require a public vote on hotel construction, major remodeling and certain minor remodeling.

Both initiatives are supported by a political action committee formed last October and sponsored by Southern California hospitality union UNITE HERE Local 11. The committee’s treasurer is Ada Briceño, co-president of UNITE HERE Local 11. Briceño did not immediately respond to requests for comment Wednesday.

“Growth is a big issue in local government and one of the powers that local government has and it scares the hell out of developers. People want to control the environment they spend so much money on to be a part of,” said Fred Smoller, associate professor of political science at Chapman University.

The city council must vote to either incorporate the initiatives into city law, or put the initiatives through a special election, or consolidate them with the general election in November. If council members choose the latter option, Laguna Beach voters could face an increasingly crowded vote, with three council seats already up for grabs, and the major development initiative being driven by Laguna Resident First PAC.

Three initiatives would be a tough choice for a city of 23,000 people, Smoller said, but the prospect of voters controlling development will likely motivate Laguna Beach residents to fill out their absentee ballots.

“It’s a problem that will happen [activate] the base and everyone who has ridden on the main road will show up and vote. There may be voter fatigue, but that’s caffeine,” Smoller said.

The minimum wage initiative for hotel workers submitted 2,593 signatures, and county officials determined that at least 1,850 were valid. The minimum requirement is 1,838 signatures, voter registrar Bob Page wrote in a letter.

The hotel development initiative submitted 2,535 signatures, and county officials determined that at least 1,850 were valid. The minimum requirement was also 1,838 signatures.

Planned hotel refurbishments have been a focus of local politics as hoteliers try to recover from an unprecedented drop in tourism due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Union members opposed the California Coastal Commission’s approval of major renovations to oceanfront Laguna Beach hotels last year, arguing that the ever-rising cost of hotel accommodations has deprived working-class families of their right to access the coast. They have pointed to the transformation of once-affordable motels and hotels, including the Pacific Edge Hotel, into luxury real estate as an example of how hotel visits are becoming more affordable for low- to middle-income families.

The California Coastal Act is designed to guarantee all Californians beach access. As a condition of approving development projects, hotel operators often agree to pay fees to Laguna Beach and other beach towns to fund coastal amenities like hiking trails.

The Pacific Edge Hotel overhaul will go back to the Coastal Commission this year after the Commissioners identified a significant issue with the feasibility of a $625,000 replacement fee to rehabilitate the Crystal Cove Conservancy’s low-income lodging cottages.

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