Reader Rant: ‘This Short Term Vacation Rental Mess Is Like Groundhog Day in San Diego’

by on September 28, 2017 · 10 comments

in Ocean Beach

By John Thickstun

Save San Diego Neighborhoods thinks San Diego should stop messing around with the Muncipal Code. Do what other responsible California coastal cities – like Santa Barbara, Santa Monica and Coronado – have done. Vote to reiterate – and enforce – what’s already in the Municipal Code – which prohibits short-term vacation rental(s) (STVR) because,

  • STVR fall under the definition, Visitor Accommodations, and therefore, not permitted in any residential zones or
  • Under the permissive zoning scheme, STVR are not a listed use – and therefore prohibited.

Follow me here – I may be preaching to the choir. City Attorney Elliott came out and said STVR are not a listed use and are therefore prohibited – but that’s not exactly correct, because STVR do fall under the definition, Visitor Accommodations.

The reason she didn’t simply say STVR are Visitor Accommodations – and therefore prohibited in residential zones – is because she didn’t want to step on her predecessor, Jan Goldsmith’s toes.  You see, Jan Goldsmith had come out in December, 2015 and, as an excuse for the City Attorney’s Office and the Mayor’s Office and DSD/Code Enforcement’s failure to enforce the law, said the Visitor Accommodations ordinance was too vague to enforce.

This conclusion – that the VC ordinance is too vague to enforce – is nonsense, mumbo-jumbo. No City Attorney worth his/her salt would ever reach this conclusion – and no court would either.

Anyway, City Attorney Elliott not wanting to make too big a political wave by simply saying Jan Goldsmith was wrong and the VC ordinance isn’t too vague to enforce, used his claim that the VA ordinance was too vague to reach her conclusion that there was no listed use for STVR to fall under in the Code. Which is the right legal conclusion, if one were to assume her predecessor was correct. But again, he was not.

We believe, if anyone asked her, City Attorney Elliott would say the Visitor Accommodations ordinance is not too vague to enforce.

So not to put too fine a point on it – last year Sherrie Lightner was simply proposing the Council do what Jan Goldsmith had specifically recommended in his memo – and make two minor amendments to the VC ordinance – one of which was to  remove the word “primarily”.

Of course everybody – and no one more than Todd Gloria – jumped on Sherri Lightner’s proposal claiming it was a “ban”. It wasn’t.  It was simply an attempt to clarify the VA ordinance to satisfy the unfounded concerns of Jan Goldsmith. And to try to get the Mayor and Goldsmith to enforce the law!

So, at this point, you need to ask yourself, why didn’t Jan Goldsmith, after opining – albeit erroneously – that the Visitor Accommodations ordinance doesn’t cover STVR, not take the next step – and state, as City Attorney Elliott did – that STVR are not a listed use in our municipal code and therefore prohibited? We believe it’s because he didn’t want to admit – like so many other politicians – that he had made a mistake and should have been enforcing the law all along.

This whole thing is just another awful mess created by San Diego elected officials.

All they have to do is enforce the code.

So here we are. City officials who – unlike Santa Barbara, Santa Monica, Carmel, Hermosa Beach, Huntington Beach, Laguna Beach, Long Beach, Coronado and all the other coastal cities – refuse to simply enforce the code.

Councilmember Bry’s proposal allows homeowners to rent out rooms and allows whole home short term vacation rental of primary residences for 90 days. Think about this for a minute. How much money do you think it will cost San Diegans to implement and enforce this program? And do you think the City of San Diego can effectively do this?

Who’s going to keep track of the 90 days? How are city officials and administrators going to police this? One of the advantages Airbnb has in San Diego is the lack of trust between San Diegans and City government. When city officials say they’re going to do something or such-and-such a plan is a good one – do you believe them?

And now comes Councilmember Chris Ward – who is still wet behind the ears – but not so much so that he can’t sit down with Airbnb reps and local STVR operators/managers – and draft up a proposal – a complete Airbnb giveaway – couched in the Airbnb lingo like “STVR are here to stay” and “this is the sharing economy”. Give us a break.

Although it sounded cool a few years ago when it was first coined, we all know now, that “sharing economy” is just a euphemism for business models that evade regulation and engage in unfair business practices so rich people can pay poor people even less for the services.

Chris Ward’s proposal was written – and paid for – by Airbnb – which is exactly why Airbnb immediately congratulated him for it.

Barbara Bry has her heart in the right place – she thinks her proposal is the best that can be done – but it’s not.

This is so clearly bad policy.

Just pick up the phone, Councilmembers, and ask any of the City officials in any of the cities listed above. Call Coronado’s City Manager. He will tell you their code enforcement success rate is 85% – and would be 100% except for the fact Airbnb utilizes an “algorithm” that keeps code enforcement officers from viewing STVR on the Airbnb website too frequently.

Or call the Santa Monica’s Code Enforcement Manager, Sharon Guidry or Santa Barbara’s City Attorney. They will all tell you how successful they’ve been enforcing their prohibition of STVR. And they’ll tell you that prohibition is he only way to control STVR and Airbnb.

It’s just a phone call away. Why are you so intent on changing the municipal code for 2500 San Diegans who operate and make big money on STVR? (I think I just answered the question.)

Airbnb actively promotes the conversion of residential dwellings by rich people – investors – to short term vacation rentals. STVR make 4 to 5x what long term rentals make.

STVR anywhere in San Diego – even the “rich” coastal zone – reduces housing stock. Reduced housing stock results in more homelessness. And  . . . you know where I’m going..

Finally, this STVR mess – is like Groundhog Day in San Diego. Pension, policing, Soccer City, housing crisis, loss of the Chargers, ticket guarantee, homelessness, hepatitis outbreak – I could go on.

San Diego elected officials too often play politics with San Diegians, lives and well-being. Enough!

Stop the politics and think about the policy. Stop taking the low road – and kowtowing to big money and their lobbyists.

Do the right thing!

Enforce the code!

You can do it!

And know, that each time you do the right thing . . . it’s easier the next time.



{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Doug September 28, 2017 at 5:06 pm

These politicos were elected by San Diego residents to serve San Diego people!
Now hear this Mayor , & Council: we are being priced out of our neighborhoods by Vacation Rentals; enforce the law, save our homes.


Val September 29, 2017 at 12:19 pm



John Thickstun September 29, 2017 at 8:30 pm

Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.


RB October 1, 2017 at 9:39 am

Talk with District 3 councilman Cris Ward about short term rentals yesterday at Adams Avenue Music Fest. He said he is on board for a solution because it is a problem in his District, but some of fellow councilman are not moved to quick action because it has little impact in their District (wink, wink, Alvarez). He also said they don’t have money for proper enforcement.


kh October 3, 2017 at 1:04 pm

Then maybe ask him why the hell did he help author this proposal that allows basically an unrestricted # of vacation rentals…


RB October 3, 2017 at 3:10 pm

My intent was to let him and the Councilmen in other Districts know that short term rentals are a big problem in the beach area. My intent to let him know living spaces for renters and first time homeowners are becoming commercial businesses rather than homes. My intent was to let this Democrat know he and the Democrat control council are not acting for his voters.

I talked to him for ten minutes one on one….it was a good opportunity. I told him the 90 day rule (45x , two day weekends) was a joke because they rent party houses weekends only in PL. I told him they advertise as party houses. I told him OB is rapidly losing rental spaces. I told him he already has the ability with R1 zoning to shut this down. I told him that when I recently bought a house, I competed with five other cash buyer (investors). I told him he was elected to represent the voters and taxpayers of San Diego not out of town investors. And I can guarantee, I was forceful, focused and a pitbull for those ten minutes.


kh October 3, 2017 at 4:41 pm

Nobody’s going to turn a profit renting a party house out only 90 days a year, weekends or otherwise. Some may still choose to but it’s not going to make it profitable to displace a full time renter.

I think you have to throw them a bone at least to try and get more votes. Because saying NO STVR or “just enforce the existing code” is a proven loser.

Thank you for speaking up.


John Thickstun October 2, 2017 at 5:25 pm

So let’s get this straight. He’s proposing to legalize short term vacation rentals in San Diego with the only restriction being a 3 day minimum rental period in the Coastal Zone and Historic Districts. And this is his solution – in his district where “it is a problem”? Here’s the link to Ward’s proposals.
There’s a reason Airbnb congratulated him on this proposal. It’s everything – and more -than Airbnb could have hoped for.
He can’t honestly believe the fees and penalties he’s proposing will be enough to properly enforce the new ordinance and police the over 14,000 short term vacation rentals that operate in San Diego – much less the thousands more his proposal will create. This is absurd.
If he ever quits politics, he’ll make a great grifter.
And just a word about housing from the experts. USD economist, Alan Gin has opined that if the 10,000 whole homes that have been converted to short term vacation rentals were returned to San Diego’s housing stock, as either long term rentals or sold to San Diego residents – as opposed to being used by transients, i.e. visitors and tourists – San Diego’s housing shortage would be reduced by 14-15%.
And here’s what the San Diego Housing Commission said in it’s 2015 report:
Housing affordability impacts everyone. San Diego has a housing affordability gap equal to roughly 2.5% of city GDP – expenditures that would otherwise go toward growing our local economy and producing local jobs. Low-Income families are particularly hard hit as housing costs rise, and there is an even greater shortage of units available to serve low-income groups. Over one-third of San Diegans struggle to make ends meet. Others are forced to make difficult decisions among commute time, proximity to essential services, and paying for necessities such as food and medicine. Employers struggle to attract and retain a qualified workforce due to San Diego’s high housing costs. San Diego’s unaffordable and rising housing costs are creating an urgent crisis for residents and businesses and limiting the growth potential of our city.

So now tell me Chris Ward is interested in solving the problem. Pathetic.


John Thickstun October 2, 2017 at 6:23 pm

And here’s more from the November 25, 2015 SDHC report.
“As the supply of housing fails to keep up with demand, the price is continually bid higher for both rentals and home ownership, making housing increasingly unaffordable for San Diegans across the income spectrum. This report finds that nearly 50% of San Diegans face housing affordability challenges in rentals and homeownership, and over 70% of San Diegans are priced out of the homeownership market.”
“Housing affordability impacts everyone. Households struggle to make ends meet. San Diegans spend less money in other sectors as they struggle to pay for housing. Employers struggle to attract and retain a talented workforce due to high housing costs. We estimate that the City of San Diego has a housing affordability gap of $2.4 billion annually, creating a 2.5% annual drag on local GDP.”


nostalgic October 4, 2017 at 7:27 am

Where is the hotel industry during the AirBnB decision? Why is this NOT important to them? Or is it? Perhaps this is related to the Convention Center expansion. Perhaps the big hotels aren’t impacted. Who knows? Nobody is saying.


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