After more than five hours of public testimony, and an impasse among its nine members, who split between two competing proposals to regulate short-term vacation rentals, San Diego City Council on Dec. 12 failed to approve new regulations to regulate the burgeoning industry.
The two proposals presented, which the council failed to merge, included a more-restrictive version (Option 1) authored by council members Barbara Bry and Lorie Zapf from Districts 1 and 2, and another less-restrictive proposal (Option 2) by inland council members Scott Sherman, Chris Ward Chris Cate and Mark Kersey. Swing votes consisted of City Council president Myrtle Cole of District 4, along with council members David Alvarez of District 8 and Georgette Gomez of District 9.
After multiple votes failed to gain a majority, Cole opted to end the hearing more than 10 hours after it began. Council members haggled over, and were unable to reach a compromise, on several issues regarding STVRs. Those stalemated issues included proposed ordinance language that could have raised legal issues, whether to limit issuance of permits to San Diego residents with primary residency in the city only, and other details including the length of minimum stays and the number of total days a year a residence could be shared as an STVR.
Neighbors citywide have been complaining for years about the alarming proliferation of unregulated STVRs, and about noise, trash and other complaints associated with them. Residents have also become increasingly concerned about outside interests coming in and buying up properties specifically to turn them into STVRs, which some contend removes units from the market worsening the existing housing crisis.
Appealing to the other side, in introducing she and Zapf’s proposal, Bry pointed out the similarities between the two presented STVR ordinance proposals on the table.
“We both have unlimited home sharing and both agree on the importance of enforcement,” said Bry. “In the end, politics is the art of the possible. We cannot punt this football down the road.”
Bry said STVRs are a land-use issue, noting, “I can’t build a gas station or raise cattle in my backyard.”
“Our job is to make tough decisions,” said Zapf, noting her coastal district “is the most impacted by STVRs.”
Largely due to the tourist industry, STVRs are disproportionately located along the coast. Not surprisingly, a large number of the approximately 200 people who testified before the City Council were beachfront residents.
Brian Curry, immediate past president of Pacific Beach Planning Group, said PB began asking the city to take action to curb the unchecked proliferation of STVRs as far back as 2007.
“The beaches — we’re the most impacted,” said Curry, noting he favored hosted home sharing, but not whole-house rentals of less than 30 days, which he characterized as “visitor accommodations.”
“Visitor accommodations aren’t allowed in residential zones,” Curry said. “They’re illegal. What [the council] is promoting here is a change to the law to make an illegal use into a legal use.”
PB activist Marcie Becket testified about San Diego’s diminishing housing supply, blaming STVRs as one culprit for the shortage.
“There are more than 10,000 whole-home STVRs in San Diego as of October, with a housing shortage (regionwide) of 40,000 to 50,000 units, 25 percent of our housing shortage,” Becket said, arguing Option 2, the inland council members’ proposal, “would open the flood gates [potentially] opening up every property in San Diego to [the possibility of] becoming an STVR."
“Option 1 is the lesser of these two evils,” Becket testified.
“Today, the San Diego City Council failed to pass any of the motions put before them,” said an exasperated Rachel Laing, a consultant on behalf of the Airbnb industry in San Diego. “The meeting adjourned with no resolution.”
Ann Kerr Bache, president of La Jolla Town Council, said the Ward proposal (Option 2) “would fundamentally and irrevocably change the character of San Diego neighborhoods, favoring commercial interests over San Diegans, violates [California Environmental Quality Act] and is also a violation of California state law on housing elements.”
Gary Wonacott, president of Mission Beach Town Council, implored the City Council to “come up with a sensible plan to help people supplement their incomes” via home sharing STVRs. Noting STVRs are a “complex problem,” Wonacott pointed out Mission Beach is unique in that it has the highest share of STVRs of any beach community, in excess of 40 percent of the total housing stock, a fact he said needs to be addressed with any new ordinance changing the status of the STVR industry.
Pacific Beach activist Tom Coat argued that passage of Option 2 would lead to “an army of investors transforming our neighborhoods.
“We are your voters? Not investors,” Coat told the council. “We vote because we care about our neighborhoods and our homes. Don’t be on the wrong side of this issue. Please find a compromise that protects our neighborhoods.”
Jonah Mechanic, representing the local vacation-rental industry, labeled arguments presented by proponent of much-tighter STVR regulations as “propaganda, rumors, myths, lies and legends.”
“I’ve yet to see a reliable source [of evidence],” said Mechanic, adding, “Throwing a bunch of red dots on a map doesn’t make for reliable data.”