Column: The end of San Diego’s tortured path to limit vacation rentals is near

For years, regulating short-term vacation rentals has been one of San Diego’s most baffling political fights.

Agreements on proposals seemed close at hand, only to fall apart disconcertingly.

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The lack of progress has prompted repeated questions about the ability to govern in City Hall — not only from the public, but also from San Diego City Council members themselves.

That string appears to be over with the California Coastal Commission’s approval last week of an order from council member Jennifer Campbell, who along with her staff brokered a compromise between some previously disagreeing parties over short-term rentals. term.

Among them were the company that owns vacation rental platforms HomeAway and Vrbo, which had resisted some restrictions, and the hospitality workers’ union UNITE HERE Local 30, which wanted them. Hotel representatives, who also supported the limits, were also involved.

Community groups who essentially wanted to ban short-term rentals also met with Campbell staff, but were so unhappy with the outcome that some of them pushed for an attempted recall of Campbell, which did not go very far.

Without handicapping those who might have had the most influence, it was another example of how integrating organized labor tends to improve the chances of major initiatives moving forward in San Diego.

Campbell’s ordinance had some key similarities and differences with previous proposals. A plan in 2018 had blanket restrictions on the number of rentals people could offer, but included an exclusion for Mission Beach – traditionally a popular vacation area with many short-term rentals.

Then-Mayor Kevin Faulconer initially supported an outright exemption for Mission Beach, but shortly before the proposal was put to council he backed down and suggested keeping grandfathered in rentals. existing short-term loans that were registered to pay the city’s tourist tax. At the time, the city estimated that there were 1,100 such units at Mission Beach.

The Campbell Ordinance, which was approved in February 2021 by an 8-to-1 council vote, caps short-term rentals at 30% of units in Mission Beach, or approximately 1,100 units.

It’s much more generous than the rules for the rest of the city. Whole-home rentals will be limited to 1% of the city’s more than 540,000 homes, or about 5,400.

According to the Coast Commission, the approximately 6,500 licenses would represent a 48% reduction from the current estimate of 12,300 vacation rentals.

The new regulations only allow one permit for people renting out their entire residence for more than 20 days a year. But an unlimited number of licenses will be authorized for vacation rentals of less than 20 days per year or for shared apartments in which a host rents a room or two.

Two-year licenses will be awarded through a lottery system, with priority given to rental operators with longer terms who have no record of code violations in the past two years.

The order originally called for the new rules to come into effect this summer, but that was pushed back due to a new Coast Commission requirement and the need to get the processing system in order. the city.

Faulconer’s 2018 proposal called for allowing people to offer their main home and a second home for short-term rental under certain circumstances. This plan was overturned by Barbara Bry and Lorie Zapf, then members of the Council. In a surprise move, they offered to limit short-term rentals to the primary residence and remove any exemption for Mission Beach. Their proposal was approved by the board.

Opponents, including online vacation rental platforms, garnered enough signatures to force a referendum on the ordinance, and the council later repealed the measure rather than hold an election.

At the end of 2017, a different proposal that seemed to have gained momentum collapsed on the board.

“I’m very disappointed today,” Council Member Scott Sherman said at the time. “We are like a dysfunctional family.

Council member Chris Cate noted that short-term rental proposals had already been stalled for years. “Today’s inaction has proven that as a city council we cannot govern,” he said in a statement. declaration.

The tone these days is much different — and not just from council members and stakeholders who backed the Campbell order.

The Coast Commission approved the ordinance on a 12-0 vote, and Chair Donne Brownsey showered the measure with praise.

“For a city that receives 35 million tourists, I really feel like you’ve done it right, trying to balance all interests and understanding that it’s going to be an iterative process, it’s going to be a work in progress. “Brownsey said, according to a report by Rob Nikolewski of the San Diego Union-Tribune.

This matters because the commission is adamant about providing affordable coastal accommodation and has often looked to short-term rentals as a means of doing so. The panel has jurisdiction over California’s coastal area, which is why San Diego needed the commission to approve the ordinance, even though it applies to the entire city.

The only caveat is that the commission has asked the city to review the effects of the regulations on coastal areas in seven years. This doesn’t appear to be a hurdle, though after the city changes its ordinance, the commission must give it final approval.

One of the arguments for restricting vacation rentals is that it could free up more long-term, more affordable housing, which the San Diego area badly needs. However, few analysts, including Coast Commission staff, believe the city’s ordinance will have much impact there. Still, the rules will likely turn some current short-term rentals into longer-term accommodations, and that can only help.

The main criticisms of short-term rentals relate to noise, congestion and the inconsiderate behavior of some vacationers who sometimes seem to turn the accommodations into party houses.

Ideally, the new rules will lead to greater enforcement against bad actors and bring some order to what has often been called the “Wild West” of San Diego vacation rentals.

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