The stance of Save San Diego Neighborhoods and sympathizers on short-term rentals is simple: They’re illegal in residential neighborhoods and laws on the books prohibiting them should be enforced. Period.
The hot-button issue, which dates back years along the San Diego coast, was like a hurricane picking up steam recently when District 2 Councilmember Dr. Jennifer Campbell surprised most with her compromise proposal on a new set of rules and regulations to govern the short-term rental industry moving forward.
To some, Campbell’s proposal seemed more like a betrayal than a compromise. They are contending the council member reversed her campaign pledge to oppose STRs in neighborhoods. They also allege she wasn’t acting in good faith by negotiating with some – but not all – of the stakeholders behind the scenes.
“The community was left out of the process. We were ignored,” said Brian J. Curry, past chair of Pacific Beach Planning Group. “We feel that once again we (residents) have no voice when we should be the primary voice they (local government) listen to and address.”
“It’s their (government’s) job to listen to us, we’re their constituents, not Expedia and the union,” concurred Pacific Beach Town Council member and honorary PB mayor Cathie Jolley. “They should be talking to us, the people.”
“The thing is we don’t have a mayor that has the political backbone to actually enforce the code,” said Brian White, Pacific Beach Town Council president. “And we’re three months away from electing a new mayor. We shouldn’t be trying to rush an ordinance through in the form of a backroom deal. It’s disingenuous to rush this through now.”
“Short-term vacation rentals today are flatly illegal,” contends attorney Cory Briggs, who is running for City Attorney in November. “There’s no statute of limitations on when a City fails to enforce the law. Laws don’t grow stale due to lack of enforcement.”
“Enforcement needs to actually happen,” argued yoga instructor Nicole Turner, a PB homeowner living near a short-term rental. “Right now there’s no enforcement.”
“This really does affect communities and neighborhood housing adversely,” argued John Thickstun, a La Jolla attorney and board member of SSDN, a nonprofit with a mailing list of nearly 3,000. “The implication has been that there needs to be something added to the code to solve the problem of short-term rentals in neighborhoods in residential zones. And the fact is, the municipal code states that uses that are not enumerated in the code are prohibited.”
It was the position of Jan Goldsmith, San Diego’s previous City Attorney, that the status of STRs in residential areas in the municipal code was somewhat murky because the language in the code was too vague.
But present City Attorney Mara Elliott has had a different take.
“Because short-term rentals are currently not defined or regulated in San Diego, they are not a permissible land use under the San Diego Municipal Code,” Elliott said in a 2017 memo. “Short-term rentals in San Diego should be defined and regulated in a clear and comprehensive manner that respects the rights of property owners and protects our neighborhoods.”
Elliott also expressed disappointment that “a 2018 ordinance that had been passed (by the City Council) to define and regulate short-term rentals was then immediately repealed due to the threat of referendum from the short-term rental industry.”
Regarding Campbell's STR compromise proposal Elliott said, “Our office will not be commenting on this ordinance, which is still being written.”
PB homeowner Turner suggested there ought to be a “three strikes rule” applied by code enforcement toward legal STR operators to keep them honest. “If the property manager gets a complaint and doesn’t handle the situation three times, then they need to lose their permit,” she said. “Make the people (operators) buy the permits, then put that money into the enforcement program.”
“The real issue is why is San Diego not following the rules?” asked attorney Briggs. “City hall has said we’re willing to sell ‘get out of jail free’ cards to people who are willing to send us tax dollars. The ones who are turning a blind eye are violating their oath of office to uphold the rules. The prosecutors have to enforce all the laws.”
“Short-term vacation rentals are prohibited in San Diego – that’s the law,” concluded Thickstun. “We want the law enforced. Anything short of that is simply (us) being held hostage by STR operators and owners in the City. Short-term vacationers are visitors, tourists. The code is written to keep those visitors and tourists out of our residential zones. They’re transients.”
“She (Campbell) broke a campaign promise to enforce the existing code,” contends small-business co-owner Curry noting the primary problem is not with hosted (onsite owner) rentals. “Whole-unit residential short-term rentals (less than 30 days) are illegal in residential zones,” he added. “We need to follow the law and return all of that housing to San Diego residents, owners and long-term renters.”
“We’ve (residents) been working on this (STRs) for 10 years,” pointed out Jolley. “There’s been a disconnect at her (Campbell’s) office. They didn’t reach out to us.”
"In a press release, Campbell's office, along with Expedia and Unite Here, urged the City Council to straight-docket this STR proposal,” said PBTC president White. “Why fast-track this thing? It should go to committee first, then later come back to the full council. The timing is really suspect.”