The Royal Hawaiian, once the watering hole for locals hankering for a good tropical drink and a kitschy, tiki vibe, closed its doors last weekend after 65 years.
The latest owner, Lyndon Douglas Cole, said the largest contributor to its closure was the restaurant's conditional use permit, which only allowed amplified music and entertainment until 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. He also cited lease negotiations and the slow economy.
Before the permit was issued Feb. 23, 2011, the restaurant had offered live entertainment until 1 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays without necessary city approval. Cole said that without those extra two hours, the restaurant lost nearly $25,000 a month.
However, the city maintains that it did its best to balance the considerations of the adjacent neighborhood and those of the business.
Some Lagunans contend that the Royal Hawaiian's change of ownership in 2006 from Francis Cabang, who opened it in 1947, altered the restaurant dramatically. After that happened, the place just wasn't the same.
Planning Commission takes action
In recent months, the Planning Commission found that the restaurant's noise levels had surpassed limits on multiple occasions, and were in violation of the restaurant's permit.
At the commission's March 28 meeting, the panel notified the Royal Hawaiian that it was on a three-month probationary period and if multiple violations occurred, a hearing would be called to discuss possibly revoking its permit.
The city's planning manager, Ann Larson, said Thursday that in her more than 20 years with the city, she has seen only two permits revoked. She added that it would have taken continued violations to get to that point for the Royal Hawaiian.
Seven people came to support Cole and the Royal Hawaiian at the March meeting, two of whom were employees.
Local artist Nicholas Hernandez appealed to the commission, asking for it to consider the people who enjoy the restaurant's offerings. He pointed to music as an important part of a community gathering.
Employee Joaquin Garcia said he worried that the restaurant would shut down because of one neighbor who he believed was issuing the majority of complaints: Carole Zavala.
Multiple speakers at that meeting were worried that continued complaints could cause the restaurant to violate its probation.
Larson pointed out at the end of public comments that a hearing was "not going to be based on the complaint but the substantiation of a violation."
However, Zavala wasn't the first or only resident to complain.
Other residents have attended meetings, submitted letters and called Laguna Beach police since as early as 2007, according to city documents.
A resident at 350 Cliff Drive submitted a letter to the city on Dec. 1, 2010, to report that the home's windows and floors vibrated late into the night, and that the noise seemed much louder since the restaurant's remodeling, which began in 2006.