San Diego Is Back to the ‘Wild, Wild West’ With Short-Term Vacation Rentals

by on October 23, 2018 · 6 comments

in Ocean Beach, San Diego

Image from Pixabay.

Once again, San Diego is left with the “wild west” of no enforcement of short-term vacation rentals. Where does the action taken by the City Council in a vote of 8 to 1 on Monday, Oct. 22 to rescind the regulations they hammered out this past summer leave us?

In the face of the political muscle displayed by the pro-Airbnb crowd – lawsuit threats, sufficient signatures to overturn the July vote, and a recent poll showing limited public support for some kind of vacation rentals – the Council crumbled. It was just too much – even after three years of wrangling over one of the most contentious issues to face San Diego, even after a number of huge massive council hearings, even after the City Attorney declared STVRs illegal in residential areas, the Council galloped toward undoing the block to outside investors eating up the city’s housing supply they had fashioned in July and confirmed in August.

Money talks here.

Just on the surface, a profit-making industry – like the host companies such as Airbnb and HomeAway – had (and have) more resources to throw at an issue such as this. Airbnb and the smaller companies had the wealth to hire a small army of signature-gatherers to swamp San Diego voters – with appeals – many of which misrepresented the petition – to get people to sign. Airbnb and HomeAway parent company Expedia together contributed more than $1 million toward the referendum effort.

So, we’re back in the Wild West of unenforced vacation rentals – as Mayor Faulconer continues, apparently, to hold to his strict prohibition of allowing city code officials to enforce the municipal code on this issue.

Peeling back the onion a bit, the Council felt it only had two choices on Monday. Either – because of the signature-backed initiative – place the issue on the ballot (obviously too late for this year) and let the issue go unresolved for as long as two years until it went before voters- or, rescind their regulations. Which is what they did.

Many people at the coast were very disappointed with the decision.

Councilwoman Barbara Bry – who was the primary driver of the summer’s regulations – said it was “a sad day for our city.” And Councilwoman Lorie Zapf, also a backer of the restrictions on STVRs, had been the lone vote in the repeal. Bry is not facing re-election, but, of course, Zapf is, and if she had voted for the repeal, she would have been met with howls of protest from her constituents at the coast in District 2.

(In a more cynical view, it’s probable Zapf knew the vote outcome beforehand as her Republican colleagues on the Council were the ones pushing for the repeal. So, it was okay for her to be the dissent in the vote.)

The other side on the Council, led by Councilman Scott Sherman, appeared to be brimming with optimism that a compromise can be manufactured. Never mind the repealed ordinance was already a compromise from Faulconer’s original summer proposal. Sherman publicly supported the pro-Airbnb referendum and famously declared in public, meant to encourage supporters of STVRs, “sue us.”

On Monday, Sherman stated:

“What I’ve always said is a good compromise is where you find yourself where neither side is totally happy. We found ourselves, though, where one side was very happy and the other side very unhappy, but I think there is room to find a true compromise. We’re going to have to let the dust settle and cut back on some of the rhetoric. We can get to a place where I think a compromise can happen.”

In an ironic twist, Sherman – who made the motion for the repeal, recognized the “wild west” by saying:

“What the council passed here a little while ago was obvious[ly] an overreach. We also have to understand that a ban on one side isn’t going to work, and an unlimited wild, wild west on the other side isn’t going to work.”

Councilman Chris Ward said now is the time for both local neighborhoods and vacation rental operators to work out a compromise solution. He said:

“I’m ready and available for all parties to be able to continue the conversation to get something right that will pass muster and will be able to satisfy the interests of our neighborhoods in reducing the nuisances and being able to mitigate and push back against the impacts to our housing supply.”

The Mayor was also optimistic. His office stated, post-vote:

In a statement released after the vote, Faulconer’s office said they’re already working on a new compromise plan with the various stakeholders.

“Today’s action may take us back to the drawing board, but the good news is that we are not back at square one. Mayor Faulconer will continue to advocate for a system that protects neighborhoods through increased oversight and enforcement, and in the meantime staff will continue to enforce existing laws against noise and other quality-of-life crimes.”

His office expects a new set of proposed regulations in 2019.

The leader of the local chapter of Unite Here labor union, representing workers in San Diego’s hotel and hospitality industries, Brigette Browning, had been a key player originally for more restrictions on STVRs. On Monday, she supported the repeal.

Of course, the coalition of short-term rental hosts and management companies was pleased and said:

“This rescission passed because voters want regulations that protect private property rights, encourage tourism, weed out bad actors and create an enforceable regulatory structure.”

Bry and Zapf expressed reservations with finding compromise. Bry said:

“This is really a sad day for our city. After a multi-year process and numerous compromises, the council passed a legally sound ordinance. It was not a de facto ban.”

She then lowered the boom and got more direct:

“I’m disappointed that a corporation valued at $31 billion descended on our city and used deceptive tactics to force us to where we are today. If this goes to the ballot, this large corporation would likely spend millions of dollars, and since the next regular election is not until 2020 our city would endure a two-year freeze on any progress on this issue.”

For the interim, Bry urged Faulconer to enforce the city code and bar short-term rentals. She added:

“We don’t want to be in limbo for two years.”

For herself, Zapf had to walk a fine line. She said:

“I was not elected to represent the interests of out-of-town investors …”

Then continued on a slippery slope and said:

“…I will not let corporate interests with a lot of money bully me into rescinding this ordinance.”

In her re-election campaign, Zapf has built a mighty warchest filled to the brim with lots of money from corporate interests.

In the end, Zapf wasn’t optimistic. She said:

“There is no guarantee a compromise will be reached any time soon or ever.”

La Jolla Town Council President Ann Kerr-Bache pushed the Council:

“Our communities cannot wait an indefinite period of time to bring this pressing issue to resolution.”

Kerr-Bache leads a working group on short-term vacation rentals that represents 20 community groups. She said:

“We are prepared to immediately work with the city and all stakeholders to create legal, reasonable and improved ordinances that protect our communities.”

Matt Valenti from Save San Diego Neighborhoods expressed his clear opposition to STVRs:

“You can’t operate a tannery in a cul de sac, you can’t start a macaroni factory next to my house, you can’t open a marijuana dispensary in a residential zone. None of those things are listed in our code, but it’s very clear and it’s very common sense that you can’t operate a business like that in a residential zone.”

Other speakers at the Monday hearing also urged the Council to take speedy action on replacement regulations. Even others pushed the council to take immediate steps to enforce the city’s municipal code, which they say bars all short-term rentals.

Under directions from the City Attorney, the city has the option of adopting a new set of regulations within 2019, but they must be “essentially different” from the ones that were repealed.

There’s other currents in the mix. Voice of San Diego threw another facet into the heap:

If the City Council had opted to send the matter to voters, it would likely have ended up on the November 2020 ballot. Thus, the measure could have shaped Bry’s mayoral bid since she led the push for restrictive rules. Had the rules remained on the books, they may have alienated both Democratic and Republican voters who back permissive rental rules.

And if Bry and other Democrats had pushed for an earlier vote through a special election, they would have had to grapple with a city law passed in 2016 that was backed by left-leaning interests that requires general-election votes on city ballot measures.

Bry told VOSD the prospect of waiting two years for action, not political concerns, drove her to vote to rescind the rules. She said she plans to begin meeting with community groups about potential vacation-rental rules after next month’s election and will use their feedback to inform her next steps. “I would like to lead,” Bry said.  Voice of San Diego

So, here we are – back in the wild west. With unenforced code enforcement of short-term vacation rentals, with thousands (11,000?) of short-term rentals eating up the slim supply of housing, with rentals going amok at the beach – nothing has changed.

It’s very unclear of what will happen next. The Mayor and Council will review multiple proposals over the next months in efforts to seek a compromise. Until anything meaningful is on the books, residents at the beach and the coast – are on their own.

News sources:

San Diego Union-Tribune

Voice of San Diego


{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Frank Gormlie October 23, 2018 at 5:47 pm

This is for our late afternoon and evening readers.


Michael October 23, 2018 at 8:41 pm

Can someone elaborate on why this is inferior to keeping the unenforceable law until 2020? The CC doesn’t have a good track record of getting things done quickly, but the idea of enforcing existing regulations sounds promising.

Honestly curious about the alternatives.


OB Mercy October 24, 2018 at 3:25 pm

Most know where I stand on this despicable breakdown of our community.

Now I’m wrestling with, do I stay at an air bnb when we go to Italy in the spring like most of my friends have advised?


Chris October 25, 2018 at 6:14 am

That’s the big irony. As disheartened as I am about this, I’ve used air bnb several times myself. Tho it was always at the actual residence of the host as opposed to a STVR.


sealintheSelkirks October 25, 2018 at 1:40 am

Well, that asymmetrical warfare by the wealthy thieving corporate klepto-class I warned about worked just fine. Just another Greek Tragedy in a long line of them.

Hiring those aggressive outside paid petition army ants to harass people into signing petitions they didn’t really understand along with the possible/probable behind-the-scenes power plays with campaign cash and promises of status and income in the revolving door of corporations from politics worked well. Year after year, decade after decade, an endlessly repeating outcome that never fails to sicken the heart. As it almost always does, money rules this country.

Eventually the wealthy elite’s Class War on everybody else will push their profits over your neighborhoods, the limits on high rise buildings in the beach areas will go the way of the Dodo bird, and Miami Beach West will arise on the western edge of San Diego. This I’m sure has been in the works for a very long time. I remember it being talked about when I was a kid at Mission Beach School and old man Evans died and left in his will Belmont Park Amusement Park to the children of San Diego forever.

That didn’t last long.

This is what they do, what these kinds of people have always done. Most people truly don’t understand the depths of depravity that greed creates in human beings. There is a mind sickness that justifies anything in favor of profit.

Rich does NOT equal intelligence. Never has. It does, however, sound good for a greedy sociopath harboring a set of ethics that would do credit to a vampire.

Sucks, doesn’t it?



ZZ October 25, 2018 at 1:48 pm

A little while ago kh gloated this comment:

“We are hosting a bake sale this weekend to help raise money for all the commercial hosts that took a hit to their bottom line.

It’s at the Mission Beach Community Center, we also rented a cry room booth and hired a band to play tiny violins.”

How is that arrogance working out for you now? Still have the tiny violins and cry room?


Leave a Comment

Older Article:

Newer Article: