Can Compromises Fix San Diego’s Vacation Rental Problems?

by on February 28, 2018 · 0 comments

in Ocean Beach

By Tom Coat / San Diego Union-Tribune / Feb. 15, 2018

The much-too-long history of short-term vacation rentals in San Diego appears ready to write yet another chapter as early as next month when Mayor Kevin Faulconer joins the fray.

The mayor’s vacation rental point person, Elyse Lowe, is on target when she says Faulconer is seeking to find the “sweet spot” for a balanced solution. But the devil is in the details. What is that sweet spot?

The mayor and the San Diego City Council would do well to take guidance from a growing group of town council presidents who represent more than a quarter of a million San Diegans. Alarmed last fall that a City Council proposal would open their neighborhoods to unchecked vacation rental investments and even more rapid short-term rental (STR) growth than their communities already have suffered, the leaders came together to form the San Diego Coalition of Town Councils.

In the wake of the surprising collapse of a proposal championed by four council members on Dec. 12 and a near-approval of an alternative proposed by Council President Pro Tem Barbara Bry, the coalition last week suggested a compromise. It is based on solid principles that go to the heart of any solution for San Diego.

While the coalition supports many of the provisions again being offered by Bry, the group wants City Hall to also consider drawing up a proposal that would:

Allow unlimited home-sharing (owners present). Permit whole-home, owner-absent STRs, but with community-based limits that protect neighborhoods and scarce residential housing stock from an oversaturation of vacation rentals.
Provide effective enforcement. One option is to base enforcement on a 24-7, interactive, web-based permitting system that would encourage citizens to partner with the city in reporting violations.
This is where the “sweet spot” of compromise lies.

As with most compromises, not everyone will be happy. Those seeking to simply enforce current zoning laws, which, according to City Attorney Mara Elliott, bar STRs from residential zones, won’t be happy.

Likewise, Airbnb, other commercial platforms and investors won’t like limits designed to protect communities and residential housing.

But after failed City Council attempts in 2015, 2016 and 2017 on this vexing issue, compromise based on solid and enforceable protections, while allowing home-sharing and limited STRs, is the right path for the mayor and City Council to take.

Why? The answer is that this compromise addresses the concerns of community leaders and impacted neighbors of STRs while permitting vacation rentals.

Last October, The San Diego Union-Tribune editorialized that allowing investor-driven vacation rentals would worsen impacts on communities and housing stock. That is especially troubling during a 16-year state of emergency in San Diego over a lack of affordable housing.

The problem with San Diego’s vacation rentals, the board said, is that there are too many of them in some areas of the city.

The board is right. In the big picture, oversaturation of STRs also concerns the mayor, City Council, school officials, neighborhood activists, housing officials, employers and many others. It makes an already historically low supply of housing inventory even worse by removing houses intended to be residences and converting them to hotels for tourists.

Cities like Nashville have limited STRs based on a percentage of STRs of total homes in

each area of the city. Other cities have tried limits by restricting the distance between permitted STRs.

To us, what is most important is not the specific method for limiting STRs but embracing the idea that they should be limited on a community-by-community basis in San Diego, especially in areas where rampant STR growth has impacted schools, long-term rentals and housing inventory.

Can this type of compromise be enforced? Absolutely.

In fact, here’s where the mayor and City Council can make a dramatic leap forward that improves the lot of neighbors impacted by problem STRs. This is the micro part of the picture — the impact on individual families who simply want to enjoy a peaceful environment in the biggest purchase they’ve made in their lives, their homes.

Recognize that this is a public-city partnership where everyone contributes to enforcement. We are in the 21st century and should use interactive, web-based enforcement tools to not only root out “bad apples” but to get timely compliance for noise/nuisance disturbances.

And, perhaps most importantly, technology can help ensure that the scofflaws who would risk circumnavigating the law will be easily caught and heavily fined.

A balanced approach, with strict enforcement, will work. It is the elusive “sweet spot” sought for too long. Working together, we can make this happen now.

Tom Coat is founder of Neighborhoods for Residents and a member of the San Diego Coalition of Town Councils.

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