Councilwoman Campbell Responds to Criticism About Her Plan for Short-Term Vacation Rentals

by on July 10, 2020 · 30 comments

in Ocean Beach, San Diego

The following email newsletter was sent out to constituents by Councilwoman Jen Campbell’s office July 9.

By Councilwoman Jen Campbell

Last week, I announced guidelines to finally make progress on one of San Diego’s most vexing problems – short-term vacation rentals (STRs).

There have been a lot of misconceptions and falsehoods leveled at these guidelines. To cut through the clutter and speculation, here’s what you need to know –

  • These guidelines, once passed, will permanently reduce the number of STRs in San Diego by over 70%.
  • These guidelines create an actual enforcement mechanism to ensure there are repercussions for bad STR owners.
  • Each STR renter may have only one permit for one unit, whether or not it is home sharing or whole home rental.

Since coming into office in 2018, my staff and I have combed through various city regulations, court rulings and ballot measures from here and other cities and counties that have tackled this problem. To get input, we have met with planning group and town council members, community leaders, city staff, Coastal Commissioners, the San Diego County Lodging Association and dozens of other citizens, non-profits, labor groups and business organizations.

All of this was done to put an end to San Diego’s “wild west” STR reality – no enforcement, no regulations, no progress. Despite the increased volume on this issue, we were no closer to a solution than when I decided to run for office after a thirty year career in medicine. That’s why I’ve brokered this compromise – to provide real relief to those looking to put a roof over their head and to have an actual enforcement mechanism to deal with bad actors.

For years, San Diegans have pointed to the impact that STRs have had on our housing crisis. While home sharing represents only about 10% to 20% of the amount of STRs in our city, whole home rentals have taken roughly 16,000 homes off the market, according to a 2019 City Auditor report. These new guidelines limit STR whole home rentals to 0.7% of San Diego’s housing stock, according to SANDAG’s Regional Housing Needs Assessment Plan.

At the end of June, it was determined that San Diego needs to add over 100,000 new homes in the next decade to address our housing crisis. The immediate impact of removing 10,000 living spaces from the STR market indicates that these STR regulations get the city moving in the right direction on housing.

Two diametrically opposed interested parties of the dozens of people and organizations we met with over the past 18 months were Expedia and the hotel & hospitality union Unite Here Local 30, whose membership includes District 2 residents. They have been some of the most fervent opponents during each and every round of this debate. That is what makes these guidelines so different from everything that has come before. The history of local issues and how we’ve reached this point are important and should show the stark contrast of what is accomplished by opposite sides coming to the table.

Furthermore, whatever we decide, it must pass legal muster. The first thing we suggested was a complete ban on STRs. But several City Attorney opinions have made it clear that a ban won’t legally stand in this case because for many years the city has given some permits, collected transient occupation tax without regulation or enforcement.  The new plan provides fees for enforcement, fines and loss of permits for bad actors.

From passing through the City Attorney’s office to being in compliance with our Local Coastal Plan by the Coastal Commission to facing down a possible referenda, any regulation of this industry will face endless scrutiny and we must make allowances for what is unique to San Diego.

These guidelines are not perfect, but they create a starting point where the industry is enforceable, accountable, and limited, which creates the stability that our neighborhoods need.

We welcome positive input as we are trying to help our district and our city.  I look forward to hearing from you, the City Attorney, the IBA, and my Council colleagues on this issue.


{ 30 comments… read them below or add one }

unwashedWalmartThong July 10, 2020 at 1:21 pm

OK, I read it.


Peter from South O July 10, 2020 at 2:18 pm

Based upon the latest census, “0.7% of San Diego’s housing stock” comes out to over 3600 units.


Cathy July 10, 2020 at 2:37 pm

Carved out Mission Beach, which potentially will make it worse than it is now. You did not have approval from the residents of Mission Beach. Instead you bypassed the residents and received a blessing from the President of the Mission Beach Town Council, who does not represent residents ie stakeholders of Mission Beach nor does he live in Mission Beach. In fact, In fact of the 17 members of the Mission beach Town Council, 12 are either STR owners or property managers. 3 do not live in Mission Beach and 3 work for the same STR company. They do not speak for all residents. Tier 1 is a joke, nobody is going to do any of that. The other tiers are rife with inconsistency. Enforcement and how to pay for it, not addressed. Parking, Occupancy not addressed. STR’s not on any platforms not addressed. People and companies renting out for the full year, not addressed. People not paying any TOT, not addressed. The warning is a joke and will never be enforced when you have people in and out every 2-3 days. The dirt and filth generated by STR people, not addressed. Community and neighborhood building not addressed. Need to go back to the drawing board and actually speak and take into consideration people that are adversely effected by STR’s.


Frank Gormlie July 10, 2020 at 2:43 pm

Thank you, Cathy. Please see the latest and I’d be interested in your opinion.


Cathy July 10, 2020 at 3:53 pm

Frank, The latest in what? Will respond, when I know. Thanks


Frank Gormlie July 10, 2020 at 4:17 pm
retired botanist July 11, 2020 at 3:22 pm

Thank you Cathy, for the accurate summary


John Thickstun July 10, 2020 at 2:56 pm

Councilmember Campbell is either lying or woefully ignorant or both when she writes this,
“The first thing we suggested was a complete ban on STRs. But several City Attorney opinions have made it clear that a ban won’t legally stand in this case because for many years the city has given some permits, collected transient occupation tax without regulation or enforcement.”
The following is an excerpt from a published California Court of Appeals decision issued on May 20, 2015.
In this case, the City of Los Angeles had failed to enforce the residential zoning restriction for over 25 years on a parcel that had been used as a parking lot. The property owner argued that because the City had failed to enforce the zoning restrictions it was prevented – estopped – from enforcing it. The Court of Appeals ruled that, despite the passage of decades without enforcement, the City – charged with protecting the interest of the public – was NOT estopped and had the RIGHT TO ENFORCE the residential zoning ordinance.
The Court stated:
“These protectable interests further manifest themselves in the preservation of land values, in esthetic considerations and in the desire to increase safety by lowering traffic volume. To hold that the City can be estopped would not punish the City but it would assuredly injure the area residents, who in no way can be held responsible for the City’s mistake. Thus, permitting the violation to continue gives no consideration to the interest of the public in the area nor to the strong public policy in favor of eliminating nonconforming uses and against expansion of such uses.” Schafer v City of Los Angeles, 237 Cal.App.4th 1250 (2015), p.665
Below is an excerpt from a case titled Feduniak v California Coastal Commission, 148 Cal App 4th 1346. This case is also cited by the Court in Schafer v City of Los Angeles (supra).
As the court in Caminetti v. State Mut. Life Ins. Co., supra, 52 Cal.App.2d 321, explained, “To govern themselves, the people act through their instrumentality which we call the State of California. The State of California functions through persons who are for the time being its officers. The failure of any of these persons to enforce any law may never estop the people to enforce that law either then or at any future time. It would be as logical to argue that the people may not proceed to convict a defendant of burglary because the sheriff perhaps saw him and failed to stop him or arrest him for another burglary committed the night before. [Citations.]” (Id. at p. 326.).
It is a basic standard legal principle – free from doubt – that the length of time a City, either wittingly or unwittingly, fails to enforce a zoning ordinance will not give rise to a successful “estoppel” argument. In other words, the length of time a city fails or refuses to enforce an ordinance does not prevent it from enforcement in the future – even the distant future – as in, decades.
Finally, I challenge Councilmember Campbell to identify the “several City Attorney opinions” she references, who “have made it clear” that enforcing the existing San Diego Municipal Code – which prohibits STVR won’t “legally stand in this case because for many years the city has given permits, collected occupation (sic) tax without regulation or enforcement”.
Please, let’s call this what it is – not just deceptive nonsense, but a bald faced lie.


John L. Floyd July 10, 2020 at 4:34 pm

Why so many homeless? Short Term Rentals became the rage when they became easy to arrange via the internet. Now everyone is on the STR profit-bandwagon, and owners don’t want to hear complaints from neighbors or neighborhoods, especially when the owners don’t live in the area, and own multiple properties, and are either agents for, or executives of expanding real estate investment corporations, many of them owned by foreign investment groups. Rental prices go up and homelessness rises when the marginalized are essentially “kicked to the curb”.

What is the actual vacancy rate of all San Diego area properties? It’s not a low number, but the collecting of these statistics is not being done in an objective way so the truth remains hidden for the sake of the profit-minded. There also is no solid evidence that “demand is rising” due to population growth, but just the opposite. Demand is rising, even during a time when the actual population is declining, because of rising rental rates, which Gov. Newsom has acknowledged and has now put a pathetically weak rental-increase “prevention” measure that only prevents the most extreme cases. Thousands of area homeless were evicted due to their inability to pay these higher rents. Most city leaders are part of the profit-minded, fully invested in the very thing they’re honor-bound to regulate. But … there is no honor in them.

The solution is to regulate the real estate market just as any other investment market would be regulated. Currently, there are many elected officials who are investors controlling political decisions, a clear violation of INSIDER TRADING. Large investment groups are another regulatory violation because they have created a form of TRUST, having so many agents holding properties for just a few powerful investment groups, which is outright fraud and must be stopped. They purchase their own properties through their own informally-employed agents who then raise the price, and then the same corporation purchases the property again a few months later, using different agents, inflating all property values in the area. But it’s difficult to enforce the law when those administrating the enforcement have the exact same interests as these larger investors.

If you’re wondering why city leaders are so slow to side with city property owners rather than STR owners, here is your very obvious answer: they are either investors themselves or they are being paid by these large corporations, either directly or through political maneuvering, to side with them. It’s a matter of many billions, if not trillions of dollars in profit, so there is a very large, very clear motive. This now requires a federal-level investigation of all San Diego real estate and city leaders’ dealings with area real estate investment executives.


Chris July 10, 2020 at 6:45 pm

Here in Hillcrest and also downtown there are quite a few apartment and condo complexes that have gone up a few years ago and barely a quarter of the units are occupied. They are sitting mostly empty. Either there are not enough people who can afford them or there are not enough people willing to pay that high a price for the amount of square footage these units have. Will lack up occupancy drive the prices down. Nope. They will continue to sit empty and more people will get evicted. Wash, rinse and repeat.


John L. Floyd July 13, 2020 at 9:20 am

Chris, I’ve also seen the long-empty, high-priced rental units everywhere in the San Diego region. Also there are large residential lots being purchased then left empty, cleared once a year, then sold again at a healthy profit, and then nothing ever built AGAIN… this goes on for YEARS – and of course area real estate prices steadily rise! Multiply these inflated values by ten thousand similarly undeveloped lots in the area and it becomes obvious that this is an insider-trading scheme using real estate investments. Is it too complex for our politicians and investigators to understand that this is the single largest contributing factor to the homelessness crisis? I doubt it. They must be complicit.

Another problem is that small owners as well as large corporations are being compensated for these “losses” through tax write-offs and low-interest loans. Our legislators are incentivizing the very practices that result in increasing homeless populations, then they scratch their heads like they don’t know what happened or they place blame saying, “increasing population leads to an increase in demand”. HOGWASH! Increasing population only adds to the increasing numbers of homeless who simply cannot afford the apartments they were living in just months earlier due to landlord profit-frenzy and real estate investment corporations practicing inside trading like it’s their religion.


Geoff Page July 10, 2020 at 4:37 pm

“to have an actual enforcement mechanism to deal with bad actors.” Council member Campbell, THERE IS an enforcement mechanism, STVRs are not legal in single family zoned communities. We have a legal opinion from the city attorney about that. We don’t need an enforcement MECHANISM we need ENFORCEMENT! If you really wanted to help, you would have told the mayor and the SDPD to enforce the goddamned law. All you’ve done is propose a way around the law. What a joke.


John Thickstun July 10, 2020 at 5:17 pm

Hear, hear, Geoff Page!


retired botanist July 11, 2020 at 3:25 pm

Yep I ditto that and :
“But several City Attorney opinions have made it clear that a ban won’t legally stand in this case because for many years the city has given some permits, collected transient occupation tax without regulation or enforcement. ”
So frickin’ what? Fix it! STVRs are illegal in residential areas. What is so HARD to fathom about that?
Get out of the room, Campbell.


John Thickstun July 11, 2020 at 9:21 pm

Exactly, retired. Complete and utter hogwash. See my comment above. In particular the last line of this quote.

Caminetti v. State Mut. Life Ins. Co., supra, 52 Cal.App.2d 321, explained, “To govern themselves, the people act through their instrumentality which we call the State of California. The State of California functions through persons who are for the time being its officers. The failure of any of these persons to enforce any law may never estop the people to enforce that law either then or at any future time. It would be as logical to argue that the people may not proceed to convict a defendant of burglary because the sheriff perhaps saw him and failed to stop him or arrest him for another burglary committed the night before. [Citations.]” (Id. at p. 326.)
Now think about this. Taken to it’s illogical end, if every time a municipality wanted to change the zoning or use regulations in a particular area the parcel owner could prevent the change by simply arguing, he/she has been “doing this here for years” the municipality would never be able to change the zoning anywhere.
Not exactly the best and the brightest, holding office in our fair city.


Toby July 17, 2020 at 3:41 pm

Tell it Geoff. Enforce the law. STVR’s are illegal. Period. End of story.


Sam July 10, 2020 at 5:51 pm

Geoff Page for Council District 2!


Paula July 11, 2020 at 6:40 am

I live in Florida, and we are always fighting STRs in neighborhoods zoned residential. I’m always interested in what is happening elsewhere.
I think STRs have a place – in the commercial area, where the hotels are! NOT in neighborhoods zoned single-family.
Residents get out in force, testify in Tallahassee, and send letters to the editors and our elected representatives. I even organized a protest against our local state representative who supports STRs, and invited TV and newspapers – that did get results.
Airbnb and its ilk have very deep pockets and contribute heavily to the legislators. We’ve been fighting this for years.
All for STRs – in commercial areas. They are commercial entities, mostly owned by investors.


Brian J. Curry July 11, 2020 at 12:52 pm

Legalizing illegal activity is your solution?. A compromise promulgated by STR industry giant, with literally no input from residents, community groups, and constituents is not compromise. You are wrong. Cities up and down the coast “have” enforced their permissive zoning codes and confirmed STRs are not legal. No successful challenge from Coastal Commission if you do not change the code. They have already approved our municipal code. Leave it alone and enforce it! Give residential housing, all of those illegal whole unit STRs, not just a portion, back to residents. You are wrong again. Show us case law in which enforcing illegal activity, even it has been unenforced for some time, is not legal. You have ignored your D2 constituents. You have let Expedia dictate our housing inventory and supply going forward? You are wrong on STRs and you are wrong on raising the height limit in Midway/Sports Arena. You seem to be misguided and totally out of touch. Do the right thing and drop all this nonsense. Represent the residents for a change. I guess if you were only one term going in you really don’t have any skin in the game. Perhaps we should shorten up your one term. Recall is now the buzz word for D2 councilmember.


Ken Hall July 12, 2020 at 10:05 pm

What a disappointment Jennifer Campbell has turned out to be. As a candidate, “Dr. Jen” opposed vacation rentals in residential neighborhoods, but has done nothing to address the problem since getting elected. Worse, she’s now pushing a convoluted proposal that serves the interests of the multibillion dollar STR industry with some accommodations to the hospitality industry workers’ union, claiming it will somehow reduce STRs and provide for enforcement. Why was there no engagement with PBTC or Save San Diego Neighborhoods whose members actually live in the affected communities and know the real impacts? Owner-occupied STRs are the only “tier” that makes sense (and have never been the problem anyway.) Why not focus on enforcement of longstanding zoning regulations and making it work like many other municipalities in the state have succeeded in doing?


retired botanist July 13, 2020 at 4:06 pm

Yeah, EVERYONE needs to stick to the knitting: STVRs are currently ILLEGAL in residential neighborhoods. There IS no other discussion. End of story. File the lawsuits, isn’t that how we resolve everything in this country now? Against the City for not enforcing the law, against the STVR owners for violating the law. Done.


Polecat July 14, 2020 at 1:14 pm

Marijuana is ILLEGAL under federal law. There IS no other discussion. End of story.

Driving 66 MPH on the interstate is ILLEGAL under state law. There IS no other discussion. End of story.

These are lot more clear cut than STVR.

The city barring STVR in coastal zones violates the state law that requires coastal areas to have moderate priced visitor accommodations. AirBNB has several OB places in the $75-100 range open for booking this month. Ocean Villa Inn starts at $149, Ocean Beach Hotel at $199. And absent AirBNB competition, they’d likely be even more.


bobo July 14, 2020 at 3:21 pm

Like Geoff stated below, the visitor accommodations are allowed, by zoning, in coastal communities in the COMMERCIAL ZONES. Where full-home STVRs/AirBnBs are appropriate and legal are in places like Newport Ave and Voltaire. Residential zones are not allowed. That zoning is consistent with the Coastal Commissions requirements.


bobo July 14, 2020 at 3:24 pm

I’ll add that home-sharing STVRs in residential zones should be allowed, by permit. As long as the homeowner (not renter, property manager) is on-site.
By home-sharing, I mean this:
If you want to AirBnB a room, your converted garage, or (unsbusidised) granny-flat, go for it! But not your whole house, apartment, condo, etc. Those should only be allowed in the commercial zones.


Paul Webb July 15, 2020 at 10:07 am

This post makes me think about two things. First, “what-about-ism” is not an effective argument in any situation. Yes, there are other things that are illegal that maybe don’t get as much enforcement as may be warranted. That doesn’t excuse failure to enforce other laws. This is about as false an argument as you can make.

The second thought that I have involves the issue of low- to moderate-income serving visitor accommodations in the coastal zone. Yes, everybody wants to find a reasonable place to stay at or near the beach. I would counter that Ocean Villa Inn and Ocean Beach Hotel prices are not that expensive. I have paid that much or more for hotels and motels in places that have absolutely no amenities. Think Ridgecrest, CA, in the high desert at a low-end chain motel, where I have paid the same price as the Ocean Beach Hotel without having the beach directly across the street. I know I’m risking sounding elitist, but vacations cost money. There are some areas in the world where nations and even cities provide lower cost facilities for their inhabitants, e.g., the City of Berkeley owns Camp Mather, just outside Yosemite, for the enjoyment of its citizens.

I’m also reminded that a member of the staff of the Coastal Commission, who I consider a personal friend, was quoted in the UT in the context of whether or not STVRs were okay, as saying that lower cost accommodations were appropriate for places like OB and PB, but not in Solana Beach! I guess if you pay enough for your home you shouldn’t have to put up with the rabble.


Frank Gormlie July 16, 2020 at 1:33 pm

Hey Retired, I sent you a personal email about my book to an old email address. Did you receive it? If not, I’ll try again using the one here.


Geoff Page July 14, 2020 at 2:36 pm

“The city barring STVR in coastal zones violates the state law that requires coastal areas to have moderate priced visitor accommodations.” That statement has nothing to do with STVRs, it says “visitor accommodations.” STVRs are not allowed in single family zoned areas but there are plenty of places where there are legitimate hotels and motels. Look to them to provide the moderate price accommodations. Go here to see what the coastal commission defines as lower cost accommodations, there is no mention of STVRs. And quit advertising for AirBnB.


Geoff Page July 14, 2020 at 2:47 pm
Doug Blackwood July 17, 2020 at 9:53 pm

OB is an activist residential community, who welcome visitors who respect the beach!
Vacation rentals are the opposite.
Lots of great comments. Geoff have you considered political office?


Geoff Page July 19, 2020 at 11:10 am

Doug, I’m no politician but I would love to have a crack at that job if for no other reason than to be able to tell everyone everything that is happening when it is happening.


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