October 3, 2022

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Just Do Travel

Laguna Beach voters may decide hotel worker wage hike, hotel projects’ fate

3 min read
Pacific Edge Hotel is located at 647 S. Coast Hwy. Photo by Daniel Langhorne

Two more ballot initiatives collected enough valid signatures from Laguna Beach voters to qualify for the ballot, the Orange County Registrar of Voters said Wednesday.

The first would set an $18 per hour minimum wage for hotel workers and see that wage annually increase by a dollar per hour until 2026. The second would require a public vote on hotel construction, major remodels, and certain minor remodels.

Both initiatives are supported by a political action committee formed last October and sponsored by the Southern California hospitality workers union UNITE HERE Local 11. The committee’s treasurer is Ada Briceño, Democratic Party of Orange County Chairwoman and co-president of UNITE-HERE Local 11. Briceño didn’t return requests for comment Wednesday.

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

The City Council must vote to either pass the initiatives into city law or place the initiatives on a special election or consolidate with the November General Election. If councilmembers go with the latter option, Laguna Beach voters could face an increasingly crowded ballot that already has three council seats up for grabs and the major development initiative driven by Laguna Resident First PAC.

Three initiatives would be a heavy ballot for a city of 23,000 residents, Smoller said, but the prospect of voters controlling development will likely motivate Laguna Beach residents to fill out their mail-in ballots.

“It’s an issue that’s going to [activate] the base and anyone who has driven on the main street is going to show up and vote. There may be voter fatigue but that’s caffeine,” Smoller said.

The hotel worker minimum wage initiative submitted 2,593 signatures and county staffers found at least 1,850 were valid. The minimum requirement was 1,838 signatures, Registrar of Voters Bob Page wrote in a letter.

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

Planned hotel remodels have been a flashpoint in local politics as hoteliers attempt to recover from an unprecedented drop-off in tourism due to the outbreak of COVID-19.

Union members opposed the California Coastal Commission’s approval of major remodels of oceanfront Laguna Beach hotels over the last year, arguing the ever-increasing cost of overnight hotel stays has robbed working-class families of their right to coastal access. They’ve pointed to the remodeling of once-affordable motels and hotels, including the Pacific Edge Hotel, into luxury properties as an example of how low- to moderate-income families are being priced out of hotel visits.

The California Coastal Act is supposed to guarantee all Californians access to the beach. As a condition of getting approval for construction projects, hotel operators often agree to pay fees to Laguna Beach and other beach cities to fund coastal amenities, such as hiking trails.

Pacific Edge Hotel’s overhaul will return to the Coastal Commission this year after commissioners found a substantial issue with the feasibility of a $625,000 in-lieu fee to help rehabilitate Crystal Cove Conservancy’s cottages for low-income lodging.

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