Opponents of Short Term Vacation Rentals Pledge to Fight On as City Council Votes Against Clarifications to Muni Code

by on November 2, 2016 · 3 comments

in Civil Rights, Culture, Environment, History, Ocean Beach, Organizing, Politics, San Diego


Screen capture from CBS8.

Statement by Save San Diego Neighborhoods

“We fight on!”

Yesterday, in a 7-2 vote the San Diego City Council declined to make edits as suggested by sitting City Attorney Goldsmith in his December, 2015 memo to the “Visitor Accommodations” ordinance (SDMC section 131.0112(a)(6)(K)).

The proposed edits were to delete the word “primarily” and to insert a definition for “visitors and tourists” to conform to the definition of “transient” used by the City Treasurer when levying Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT). TOT is presently levied on all hotels, motels and bed and breakfasts, as well as short-term rentals (STRs).

Council President Lightner and Councilmember Zapf presented these edits as minor amendments which would clarify the Visitor Accommodations ordinance and facilitate enforcement.

City Attorney Goldsmith suggested that making these minor edits would more clearly define a use category in the San Diego Municipal Code within which STRs would fall. And that these changes would provide clarification to STR owners and operators, as well as the residents and citizens of San Diego as to the purpose and activity of the use category, Visitor Accommodations and the application of this use category to STRs.

In his December, 2015 memo, sitting City Attorney Goldsmith opined that the Visitor Accommodations ordinance bars “residential uses that provide lodging . . . primarily to visitors and tourists”.

At the hearing yesterday he reiterated his opinion that the ordinance is too vague and therefore not readily enforceable against STRs and STVRs[short-term vacation rentals]. He offered that the City Attorney’s Office had never been requested to prosecute an STR or STVR under the Visitor Accommodations ordinance.

Council President Lightner pointed out that the reason he had not been asked to prosecute the owner/operator of an STR/STVR is because the Development Services Department, from whom criminal referrals for code violations come, had not been citing violators because of confusion created by memos issued by the City Attorney.

The terms, “short term rental” and “short term vacation rental” are not defined, and are not found in the Use Regulations Tables, in the San Diego Municipal Code. San Diego, like every other major California city, utilizes a permissive zoning method which prohibits any uses not listed in the municipal code.

As a result of the vote yesterday, the uses, STRs and STVRs continue to be undefined and do not fall within any applicable use category in the San Diego Municipal Code.

As a result, STR and STVR, which if the amendments had been approved by the City Council would have fallen into the use definition, Visitor Accommodations, are now undeniably prohibited and not permitted in any San Diego.

Ultimately, the vote yesterday was to apply, and prompt the enforcement of the Visitor Accommodations ordinance against entire home short term rentals in residential zones.

It remains to be seen whether the sitting Director of the City of San Diego, Development Services Department, Robert Vacchi and sitting City Attorney Jan Goldsmith will act to enforce the municipal code and proceed to cite STVR and STR owners and operators.

But, Council President Lightner, joined by Councilmember Zapf, expressed her desire that they do just that. Following the vote Lightner said:

“We urge the City to begin enforcing our existing municipal code zoning regulations now to bring relief to the thousands of residents who face nightly negative impacts from commercial hotel operations in their neighborhoods.”

While we at Save San Diego Neighborhoods remain optimistic that the law will be enforced, both now and after the election of a new City Attorney, we urge all San Diego residents, wherever they reside, whose neighborhoods, homes and lives are adversely impacted by short term rentals to continue to lodge complaints with law enforcement, including the San Diego Police Department and DSD, and Code Enforcement.

And we urge you to vote – and get the vote out – for City Attorney candidate, Mara Elliott, City Council District 1 candidate, Barbara Bry and City Council District 9 candidate, Georgette Gomez.

Save San Diego Neighborhoods


Here’s the report from Ch8News.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

triggerfinger November 3, 2016 at 9:50 am

Semantics. Whether or not “STVR” is defined in the code should not matter. If I open a brothel and call it a short-term-relation-rental, it’s still prohibited by code. The zoning codes define by use, whatever current catchy name for that use is irrelevant.

STVRs use is undeniably visitor accomodations.

Zapf and Lightener made a mistake in trying to simply remove the word “primarily”. As others stated, doing so would cause the visitor accommodation section to apply to any usage, even your grandma visiting for a week.

Is it possible to work within the confines of the code as written and find a way to enforce it? And in doing so, avoid some coastal commission scrutiny? The code as written is quite clear to me at least. “Primarily” means most of the time. The city should be capable of prosecuting someone who hosts a year-round STVR, right now. We can even help compile the evidence for them, since they are lazy.


Christo November 3, 2016 at 3:59 pm

“Is it possible to work within the confines of the code as written and find a way to enforce it? ”
Zapf or Lightener asked the opinion of the City Attorney on that. His opinion was that due to the vagueness of the code- it could open the city up to lawsuits.

Bottom line is that we need to keep pushing for a clearer definition.


Micporte November 3, 2016 at 12:09 pm

Lame city counsellors, and lame duck city attorney, with this Current Crisis in Definitions in San Diego, stop smoking, get a dictionary and FOCUS!


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