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Community Commentary: City needs to flex power for middle-price restaurants

September 22, 2011|By Justin Nedelman

Re. David Hansen's column "Digging into problem with our restaurants," Sept. 9: This article raised an issue many locals talk about: the lack of middle-priced sit-down food options. What this article lacks is a solution.

Instead of suggesting that rents are too high, which is why entrepreneurial restaurants can't open middle-priced dining establishments, this article should suggest that the city needs to use its power of zoning and entitlements to make this desire a reality.

Laguna Beach is a free market. If a landlord wants to charge an outrageous rent, and a tenant is not concerned with profit margin and is willing and able to pay such outrageous prices, so be it. That is what makes America great and I support this.

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If locals want something and the city staff has been hired or elected to serve the people, then the city needs to take action to solve the problem.

The city wants a balance of retail options to drive tourist traffic, which is a critical component of Laguna's identity. This makes sense and the city has done a good job with laws that ensure that we keep an ample supply of galleries, high-end and low-end T-shirt shops and non-chain unique restaurants.

The city has failed though in attracting middle-price-point restaurants by not using its power. In fact, they have contributed to the focus on higher-end options due to restrictions. Only the most expensive restaurants can justify the fixed rent costs due to lack of year-round sales volume.

There is not much land left to build parking structures other than a few city parcels. This is a tough battle to raise the funds to do so and increase density. It is common knowledge that the city makes it nearly impossible to convert non-restaurant space to restaurant space. Why? Perceived parking challenges.

Reality: A restaurant versus a floundering retail establishment will not significantly change how tourists and locals park. Everyone figures it out nine months of the year when it is slow. When it is packed, the tourists are so motivated to be here, a half-mile walk down a street is no barrier to their patronage.

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