City Turns Blind Eye as Badly Needed Housing Becomes Airbnb ‘Mini-Hotels’

by on July 26, 2019 · 13 comments

in Ocean Beach, San Diego

Rally and “Walk of Shame” against OB’s STVRs, Nov. 2017. Photo by Dave Rice.

Editordude: The following opinion piece by Councilwoman Barbara Bry – who is a candidate for San Diego mayor – originally published on July 22, 2019 at Times of San Diego – has been circulating among locals who her stance resonates with.

By Barbara Bry

San Diego is being inundated by a new wave of short-term vacation rentals as building owners are renting out apartments as short-term vacation units.

This is in addition to the up-to-16,000 single-family homes in San Diego that our City Auditor estimates are currently being used as short-term vacation rentals. So here we are, significantly reducing our housing stock and artificially inflating rents for San Diegans, in the midst of a historic housing crisis.

Our City Attorney has declared short-term vacation rentals in residential zones illegal according to a memo dated March 15, 2017.

It is time to enforce those laws.

This is more than a beach community issue. On a recent day on the website, a two-bedroom apartment at The Millennium in Mission Valley was listed for $395 per night for the first weekend in August. At the Louisiana in North Park, apartments were listed between $208 and $274. Sonder’s competitors include Domio, Stay Alfred and Barsala.

According to Techcrunch, has raised over $400 million in funding with a valuation of over $1 billion. They have thousands of units available all over North America and Europe. The investors aim to be the next Hilton of such rentals.

These new mega-versions of short-term vacation rentals can more easily avoid notice, governance, and regulations while operating outside the existing law. They are also cheaper than comparable hotel rooms. They take over space in existing condos and apartments where it can be more difficult to identify than in a single-family home.

These buildings have received permits to operate as living units for San Diegans, not as hotel rooms for tourists.

How widespread is this? We don’t know.

The neighborhoods already hijacked by Sonder rentals include La Jolla, North Park, Little Italy, downtown, and Mission Valley.

Let’s put this in perspective.

In 2018, the City of San Diego issued just under 10,000 building permits for new housing units. We are taking steps to reduce fees, streamline permitting, and allow for more density around transit.

Housing experts say if we build more units, prices will come down or at least stabilize. But turning many more multi-family units into short-term rentals at premium prices may artificially inflate prices on all other units. In addition, our lack of enforcement means that investors will continue to snap up both single-family homes and condominiums and turn them into mini-hotels. We are simply playing a game of whack-a-mole.

We have tried to be reasonable. Last year, I led the effort to pass legislation allowing unlimited home sharing in a primary residence and permitting residents to rent out their primary residence up to 180 days a year on a short-term basis (less than 30 days at a time). It wasn’t enough for Airbnb and other vacation rental platforms. They spent a fortune and made misleading claims to collect referendum signatures, and we were forced to rescind our ordinance.

I am not attacking home sharing — the ability to rent out a room in your primary residence if you are on-site to supervise.

At a time that we have a housing crisis, more and more precious units are becoming short-term vacation rentals. This unfortunate trend will continue until we act. Rents will continue to soar. Our infrastructure is already overwhelmed.

I urge the Mayor and the City Attorney to enforce the law. Now.

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Vern July 26, 2019 at 12:46 pm

“The housing crisis isn’t a crisis, it’s a design project”

“… Gentrification is often cast as intrinsic to the march of development, with the displacement of poor residents or companies as a sad but necessary sacrifice on the pyre of progress. …”


Innovative Ideas July 26, 2019 at 9:25 pm

We have to think about innovative ways to solve the housing crisis. Restricting vacation rentals are the perceived low hanging political fruit on the way to the Mayor’s office. But the proposed legislation was overruled by the people of San Diego so don’t run on that platform. Subsidize auxiliary unit building costs from vacation rental fees collected and require a time period of low income only renters possibly. Think outside of the box and use the income generated by the vacation rentals to help build more affordable housing.


Obkid July 29, 2019 at 1:13 pm

You mean the airbnb and vrbo sponsered signature gathering which continually lied to people to their face about what it meant? That didn’t overrule anything!

People in the beach communities know the destruction this is causing. Limit home sharing to owner’s private residence…enough of these out of state, out of city, companies that are renting housing like hotels.


Denise December 9, 2019 at 4:07 pm

Limiting STVRs to those owned by owners seems to me like a sensible solution/compromise. But I’m baffled by the complaints about the ‘lies told’ by the signature gatherers. If you read a petition before you sign it, I don’t understand the problem. Just asking. We’re new to the community (and have no interest in renting our our place — but have happily rented a VRBO property before we lived here).


Lyle December 10, 2019 at 10:09 am

I agree with you, Denise. Unfortunatley very few petition signers read the petition, and the signature gatherers care only about the fee they collect when people sign.

Also, ballot petitions are required to gather a number of signatures equal to 5% of the last elections gubernatorial vote. So 95% of the potential voters did NOT sign the petition; and when the city council buckled in to this vocal 5% minority, they disenfranchised the rest of us.


triggerfinger December 10, 2019 at 1:36 pm

But had it went to a vote Airbnb would’ve done the same propaganda campaign in the form of TV ads targeting all the suburban residents who aren’t directly effected by the negative impacts. I know all their talking points and BS claims.

This is why councilmembers chose to rescind.


Suzr July 29, 2019 at 2:37 pm

“Subsidize auxiliary unit building costs from vacation rental fees collected and require a time period of low income only renters possibly. Think outside of the box and use the income generated by the vacation rentals to help build more affordable housing.”
With what money? the city make more money from parking tickets than it does from STVR meanwhile in addition to to cost of depleting housing for residents,STVR cost millions in trash pickup, policing and demands on infrastructure.


triggerfinger December 10, 2019 at 1:40 pm

Agreed. It would be as nonsensical as turning 10 public parking spots over to a private business and then taxing them enough to build 1 public parking spot.


micporte July 29, 2019 at 2:08 am

used to be “mini-dorms”, now “vacation rentals”, especially since San Diego is one of the only, and best, cannabis legal international beach vacation destinations…yup, stakes and prices are high…


OBKid July 29, 2019 at 1:12 pm

Air bnb and VRBO have already bought the city council and mayor…the destruction to the neighborhoods, tax base, schools, etc. will continue until San Diego is a shell of its former self – all so people can play hoteliers with much needed housing stock.

Disgusting, vote them out!


Joe Bob September 4, 2019 at 8:15 pm

(((Barbara Bry))) absolutely no self interest in this.


triggerfinger December 10, 2019 at 1:48 pm

Every current and future resident has a self- interest in this. Especially in the beach neighborhoods. That’s the entire point.

Residents can’t compete with Airbnb superhosts when it comes to purchasing property. Apparently raising a family isn’t a profitable enough venture to warrant using housing for.


sealintheSelkirks December 12, 2019 at 10:14 pm


The whole point is that there won’t be any future residents. Just a city full of lovely profit statements. The peasant workers will be transported from outlying areas to the ‘full employment’ of low paying dead-end so-called ‘service jobs’ since, after all, somebody’s got to clean the toilets, cook and serve the dinners in restaurants. Read this and weep for the children:

Meet America’s New Underclass

…Indeed, a fast-growing new job category is called “wealth work.” That doesn’t mean getting wealthy — it means working for the wealthy. It’s a new underclass of poorly paid personal service attendants who beautify, shop for, and otherwise tend to the care, feeding, and desires of the rich.



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