Imperial Beach mayor Serge Dedina thinks that the city should be able to get California Coastal Commission subsidies for lodgings — and not just the inexpensive ones that the commission's funds are set up to support.
"The subsidies play a more important role to a middle-class community like I.B., where we've met our conservation goals and we're broke," he said in an interview on March 13.
Dedina presented his view at a coastal commission workshop on how to preserve and encourage lower-priced accommodations in coast communities.
The San Diego Port Commission brought its definitions to the meeting: up to $108 per room per night is considered low priced and $160 or more is high priced — and then allowed that the port has just two low-priced places in its portfolio, an RV park in Chula Vista and a planned park, according to Penny Maus, senior asset manager for the port.
The coastal commission has a pool of about $10 million in funds left from the nearly $20 million collected since 1975 to use for grants that help low-cost innkeepers, hostels, and campgrounds statewide. But projects seeking some of those millions aren't pouring in.
"A million dollars doesn't buy very much on the California coast anymore," California Coastal Conservancy executive officer Sam Schuchat observed.
A problem is that developers aren't all that interested in developing low-end lodging on the coast — especially if they have to commit to keeping low prices in perpetuity. And sometimes projects that start out low cost don't stay that way, like the cottages at Crystal Cove in Newport Beach, which now go for $230 a night, even after the coastal commission committed $5 million for them as a past project.
In December, a coastal commission report noted that only 7.9 percent of coastal lodging in the nine most popular destination counties are considered low cost.
"We want to make sure all Californians can go to the coast and have a good time and be able to stay overnight and not just go home after two hours," commissioner Martha McClure said. "Low-cost motor inns on the coast are disappearing — that giant carrot that gets hung in front of people of what your land is worth."
The coastal commission has collected just less than $20 million from developers of high-end projects — at around $30,000 a room in fees — and spent about $10 million on low-cost lodging projects. Besides a grant to California State Parks for the Crystal Cove cottages, the projects are either hostels or campgrounds. Hostels were funded in Santa Monica, Santa Barbara, and Carmel.
"If the coastal commission is taking money from wealthy developers and putting it back into wealthy communities, we're not meeting our social equity goals," Dedina said. "You need to make sure these state funds aren't exacerbating income inequality." I.B., he pointed out, has preserved 100 percent of its open space and has set and met high environmental goals.
But it's also a city with no extra money. Dedina noted that high-cost lodgings benefit better-funded communities, which get 12 percent and higher hotel-room tax.
"I've got cheap motels all over the place — and the program disregards sustainable, eco-friendly developments that aren't low priced," he said. "We are an underserved community that needs high quality projects to bring in [transient occupancy taxes] to support our poorer neighborhoods."