Audit Reveals San Diego Losing $2 Million a Year Due to Free Trash Pickups at Short-Term Rentals

by on October 8, 2019 · 13 comments

in Ocean Beach, San Diego

A report by Union-Tribune writer David Garrick last week confirmed the fears: according to a recent city audit, San Diego is losing $2 million a year by allowing trash pickup at short-term vacation rentals around town.

Short-term rentals, along with commercial buildings, apartments, multi-family units and condos are excluded from the free trash pickup embedded in stone with the People’s Ordinance which guarantees free trash pick-up for single-family homes.

The new city audit has come up with this number and the auditor now recommends San Diego either stop collecting trash from the roughly 16,000 homes believed to be vacation rentals, or amend the People’s Ordinance to clearly state it doesn’t apply to short-term rentals.

It is improper to provide free trash pickup to STVRs as they are considered commercial operations generating non-residential trash, according to the auditor.

The 16,000 vacation rentals estimate is based on a consultant’s study done in 2018.

Right now, the city spends $34 million a year for providing free pickup for 289,000 residences. This boils down to $117 a year per residence or just under $10 a month per residence. Based on that calculation, servicing 16,000 short-term rentals costs the city $1.8 million a year.

Garrick at the U-T writes:

The city has also agreed to study the possibility of charging short-term vacation rentals for trash pick-up, which could be easier and more efficient than providing trash truck drivers a map of which homes to avoid because they are short-term rentals.

Alan Spencer, a member of the City Council’s Audit Committee, suggested Wednesday that the fee could be $20 a month, which would generate about $3.8 million a year based on the estimate of 16,000 short-term rentals.

But state law requires the city to base such a charge on how much it actually costs the city to perform the pick-ups, which might be significantly lower.

City Attorney Mara Elliott addressed this issue two years ago, and called trash pickup for STVRs “very likely” illegal. According to Garrick:

The audit comes two years after City Attorney Mara Elliott raised concerns about improper trash service for short-term rentals when the city was considering whether to provide a second weekly trash pick-up in Mission Beach. That neighborhood, a popular tourist destination with a high concentration of vacation rentals, wanted the extra weekly pick-up during summer months to help alleviate a problem with flies that community leaders blamed on excessive trash from vacation rentals.

In a June 2017 memo, Elliott said the second weekly pick-up would “very likely” be illegal because the People’s Ordinance applies only to homes in which residents stay for at least one month at a time. Elliott wrote that it is legally risky to double the amount of service to an area where the city is already aware it’s collecting trash from homes that are ineligible. She said that’s especially problematic when community leaders say the presence of those vacation rentals is the root of the problem.

But the City Council ignored Elliott and approved the second weekly trash pick-up.

Let’s see, what else could the city spend that $2 million on?

Jeez! Hate to say it, but this fits into a pattern we’ve seen in San Diego for quite some time now. City government allowing private enterprise to determine policy or at least forcing the city to bend over backwards to accommodate these neo-capitalists – like scooter companies and Airbnb o- with residents and taxpayer picking up the tab and literally cleaning up their mess.

This has got to stop.


{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

GingerComposter October 8, 2019 at 3:28 pm

Hi! This is an interesting perspective! Let me tell you my story. We have a granny flat on our property. We rented it out full time for some time. When the last tenant moved out, we decided to rent it out on airbnb instead of a long term rental for a variety of reasons (one of which was so a family member could stay there when they needed).
In any case, we made our STR a eco- retreat doing a bunch of things to it, one of which was putting a compost in there for all the residents to use. Since doing so the trash on our property has halved! The long term renters we had didn’t want to compost despite our efforts to try to get them to and we couldn’t legally make them do it. I think the efforts should be to get ALL SD residents to reduce their waste and when they have waste to appropriately dispose of it (assuming they can’t reuse it).
My goal here is not to state the the STR’s shouldn’t be charged a surcharge but to say that in the end it’s all people causing this whether the people are staying for 2 nights in SD or for years. In the end this problem needs to be fixed and this is how I try to do it on my own property.


SDTRASHWOMAN October 9, 2019 at 11:37 am

This is a great move. cutting down the cost of waste by differing the organic waste out of the trash stream completely solves a few problems at once. our landfills are filling up so rapidly that they are due to shut down fairly soon. The best option for all of us in the city or county is to make an effort to compost what we can, recycle, reuse, and buy used. If our local small businesses want to get on board they can start using products that compost instead of plastics or items that are one time use. i work in the waste and recycle industry locally and i am fully in support of composting. also, we are requiring businesses to meet requirements for organic waste and we are not setting them up for success. We need an anaerobic digester so that the business in the city of San Diego can dispose of their organic waste property.


ZZ October 8, 2019 at 3:35 pm

1. AirBnB collects hotel tax while long term rentals don’t. This more than pays for trash collection. Anti-AirBNB people NEVER say what city services they want to cut when they advocate replacing hotel tax generators like AirBNB. In 2018 San Diego collected $20 million in TOT (hotel tax) from short term vacation rentals.

2. How exactly is the city supposed to know if a rental is for a week, a month, three months? When does it become “commercial?” How is the city going to keep records and enforce? How many people will have to be hired to keep those records up to date?

3. Are we ready to have additional dumpsters and garbage truck routes?

4. How about someone renting short term rooms out in the house the live in? Do their guests need to use a separate garbage can in the kitchen? How about an attached granny flat?

5. How much will it cost for the city to keep records and communicate with the trashmen which houses on a street to skip?

This type of pettiness from reactionary boomers is such a bad look. Makes me more and more sympathetic with the bay area progressive members of the state legislature that are passing laws to preempt local laws like this.


Frank Gormlie October 8, 2019 at 5:29 pm

zz – you’re way off here. (Did you read the original article at the U-T? Some of your questions are therein answered.) The city council tried to regulate STVRs but your friends forced city government to retreat. And now we continue to have what some have called “the wild west” with the current law making STVRs in residential areas illegal, according to the city attorney, but the mayor doesn’t enforce it.

Some of your questions are petty themselves and don’t deserve response.

Your attitude of “build-build-build” at any cost without any gov’t regs – oh wait, you want those Sacto regs – now, there’s a contradiction my friend; on one hand, you denounce laws like the 30 ft height limit but now you await those regs from on high.


Catsmom October 8, 2019 at 8:13 pm

Thank you!!! This makes so much sense!! Plus, whoever owns the property pays the property taxes. Trash will be the same no matter how long each tenant is staying there.


Rick October 8, 2019 at 9:59 pm

The Rag has in interesting way of looking at trash collection and disposal in our city run waste facility. We are choosing to spend our tax money to collect our trash to put into our cities dump. We also choose to spend money on fire stations. They are both professionally managed and run to protect us all. The fire department does not make or lose money, just as the environmental waste department. They both simply provide us with a level of safety and service with OUR tax dollars.


Frank Gormlie October 8, 2019 at 10:33 pm

rick – yeah, but we’re wasting $2Mil on picking up STVRs’ trash for free, which is not allowed under the long-time city ordinance which governs city trash pickup. I get your point, and the larger one is government is not a business. But gov’t runs on $$ and if we’re wasting it on commercial enterprises like STVR, then that’s a waste and meanwhile parks and libraries see cut-backs.


Rick October 9, 2019 at 8:22 am

Frank-Thank you for the article and comment. I do see your point, however like another reader mentioned above, the waste created from a short term or long term rental is probably very similar. Additionally they pay the TOT tax. Although the property owner is potentially monetarily benefiting differently, I’m not sure the overall waste or trash is substantially different. For the record I’m a homeowner here in Ocean Beach and I’m not in favor of short term rentals in my community.


Richard October 9, 2019 at 7:52 am

Here is an idea.. why don’t we enforce the city code. STVR’s are illegal in the city of San Diego. problem solved.


Toby October 10, 2019 at 5:47 pm

What a novel idea; enforce the code. The same code we thought was going to be enforced when we purchased our homes in these residential areas.


marc johnson October 9, 2019 at 3:22 pm

Most STR eat out in restaurants. Leave little trash if any.


Eric October 9, 2019 at 11:04 pm

Needing an extra weekly pickup during the summer is indicative of STVR’s creating more trash. Cases of beer, wine bottles, pizza boxes, throw away styrofoam coolers, sponge boards etc etc etc. Yeah, it’s a business and the STVR owners should pay for commercial service.


Gene Polley October 10, 2019 at 4:56 pm

I own small apartments complexes. One of them is 7 units and we have chosen to use a commercial service that picks up trash twice/week (recyclables once). It costs us $30/tenant/month for this service. At $20 for two pickups the STVRs would still be getting a great deal. Flies are a huge issue even in North Park.


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