San Diego Community Newspaper Group caught up with Venus Molina, chief of staff for District 2 Councilmember Dr. Jennifer Campbell, for a Q&A on the recent compromise proposal Campbell has offered on short-term rentals, which has stirred emotions on all sides.
Q. Were you surprised by the adverse reaction in some quarters to your office’s short-term rental compromise proposal?
Molina: Absolutely not. We knew there was going to be strong opposition, that people felt very strongly about the issue, and that they wanted us to wait until after the election. People have asked us to step up and take this issue on, as it was daunting.
We have been meeting with folks who came into our office over the last year. Expedia was working on their memorandum of understanding (MOU), and we wanted to hear from our constituents as well in another round of meetings. We met with the Save San Diego Neighborhoods folks, and the OB Town Council to get a temperature check on where they were at and they were in the same place that they had been: they don’t want them.
But it’s not the wild wild west. We knew we had to do something. The majority of folks really want to see something happen.
Q. Tell us how the council member’s compromise proposal arose.
Molina: People don’t know this is not our MOU. The MOU is between two outside parties. These are the terms they agreed to. [Campbell] was a coalition builder. It’s up to the City Attorney now to work on a draft and finalize the new (STR) ordinance. We still want to get as much input as possible from everyone on this new ordinance.
Q. Why didn’t you wait, as some have suggested, until after the November election to unveil this compromise STR proposal?
Molina: In the new year we’re going to have five new council members who will have to start over being educated on this and other very complex issues. The council members that are still there now understand the issues. They are very much aware of it and have been living with it for years. We want to get this done now versus waiting for the new council, which would be another year. People want to see this now.
Q. Why is the municipal code pertaining to short-term rentals not being enforced?
Molina: Enforcement right now is not realistic. If we could do that, we would have. You’ve seen the (STR) platforms come after the City and force the City to have a referendum and to rescind their last policy (on STR reform). So they’ll (platforms) sue the City, and it will keep this issue in the courts forever. San Diego is one of the top STR markets. The STR industry would fight for this market.
Also, you can’t take away from people something they’ve been doing for years, taking away their income. If we (City) said, ‘We’re going to shut you down,’ we would most likely get sued by the platforms and they would probably win. That’s what our attorneys have said to us.”
Q. Some are alleging that the council person was opposed to short-term rentals in residential neighborhoods, but has since reversed herself. Your reaction?
Molina: [Campbell] didn’t understand at first why the municipal code could not be enforced. There is no way you could enforce the code now as it exists and not get sued by the (STR) platforms. We need to better define them (STRs) in the code, then create enforcement around them and regulate them.
Q. What is good about the council member’s compromise STR proposal?
Molina: The STR platforms and the union usually do not like each other. These two powerhouses could sue or referendize or take down any proposal we could come up with. Now you have two opponents working together to figure something out and come up with a compromise that works for everybody. Now, this (MOU) gives us something to work with. Now we have to fill in the blanks and bones of this structure (new STR ordinance) to come up with a compromise that works for everybody.
Q. Your reaction to the claim that short-term rentals are intrinsically bad and counterproductive because they take away from the housing stock depriving permanent residents in the midst of a housing crisis.
Molina: This new agreement we are proposing would cut the number of STRs by 70%, and release that housing back into the market for rental and for sale, so we would have more housing for permanent residents. Reducing it by 70%, that’s a huge win. We’re trying to run with that before they (platforms) change their mind. This is a pretty good deal for us (City). The agreement would lower the number of STRs estimated at about 16,000 down to 3,750. That is huge. We’re looking at the opportunity for us (City) to do something with that, and not miss out on it.”
Q. Is there a way to broker a peace between the short-term rental industry and those opposed to short-term rentals in single-family neighborhoods?
Molina: The only people not willing to compromise are those belonging to Save San Diego Neighborhoods. Now we have the union and two of the largest STR platforms on board, and the City Attorney is drafting a new ordinance trying to make everything very legal and equitable.
Q. What do you think of your chances for the new ordinance being drafted passing?
Molina: I feel very confident, as long as everyone understands that it is a compromise. It’s going to be a give and take. But the largest parties are at the table, and we have residents who want a new ordinance in place. We need to have an ordinance that’s defendable in court. That’s why we have to get this right, why it’s important to have the platforms on board because they would be the ones to sue us (City).”
Q. Is there still time for the public to weigh-in on the council member’s STR proposal?
Molina: People can reach out to us. We’re still meeting with folks. We’re open to people’s ideas and suggestions. They can reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.