Ocean Beach Lets Councilwoman Campbell Know How They Feel About 30-Foot Height Limit and Vacation Rentals

by on July 24, 2020 · 18 comments

in Ocean Beach

By Geoff Page

It would not be a stretch to say that our District 2 city council member Dr. Jennifer Campbell would have preferred to be almost anywhere other than where she was Wednesday evening.  She was sitting in front of a computer having a meeting arranged by the Ocean Beach Town Council in front of the council and audience members, on-line.

These Obceans all did Ocean Beach proud.  They asked tough questions and refused to let Campbell slide away with political answers.  It was not an easy hour-long session and when Campbell signed off at the end, she was clearly irritated.

Campbell came into the meeting smiling and happy and the reaction seemed to surprise her.  It was like the almost confused, angry disappointment you see when someone thinks they are being benevolent and, instead of love and respect, they are scorned and do not understand why.

Sort of like an autocrat that restores a freedom he took away and wonders why the people don’t appreciate him. The point is important because it was starkly demonstrated how out of touch Campbell is with her district.

Short Term Vacation Rentals

Campbell ran into her first buzz saw when she talked about short term vacation rentals.  She was very proud of a “compromise” that she helped broker between the vacation rental industry, represented by the huge international travel company Expedia, and Unite Here Local 30, the San Diego County Hotel and Food Service Worker’s Union.  The union is trying to protect jobs that are endangered by STVRs and compromised, according to Campbell, agreeing to allow 3,750 STVRs and no more.  The current estimates say there are about 16,000 of these now.

Campbell touted this as a big win by reducing the existing stock of STVRs.  That’s where the disappointment began to creep in when she was reminded that the existing STVRs are illegal and should not be operating and just enforcement alone would reduce that number to zero.

Why Campbell felt she had the expertise to negotiate with an entity the size of Expedia, that had a net worth, as of July 22, 2020, of $12.36 billion dollars is a question she should have been asked. And, the giant Expedia up against a local union of 6,000 service industry workers does not seem like a fair fight.

What came out of this, according to Campbell, was a Memorandum of Understanding, or MOU, between these two entities. Campbell said the agreement would guarantee enforcement and regulation and “bad actors,” a term she used frequently, would be gone.  But, she also said, this was a “private MOU not a city MOU.”  This immediately raised the question of how a private agreement guarantees enforcement and regulation – there would need to be laws created by the city or county before enforcement could happen.  This was where it got really weird, and testy.

Campbell was peppered with questions about how this law would be enforced, especially since the current law is not being enforced. Her explanation astonished the audience judging by the reactions. All night, the reactions to what she had to say were readily apparent because the video was on Facebook and the comments could be read as they were written.  Some were a bit unkind but were obviously born of frustration and anger.

Campbell said they would collect fees on licenses that would be granted to permitted STVR owners.  These fees on 3,750 STVRs would amount to “three to four million dollars a year.”  The money would be used to “hopefully” create a 24/7 dedicated, fast response “Enforcement Team” that would deal with “bad actors” immediately and forcefully – and they would be “out.”  Campbell was asked with some incredulity what she meant by enforcement, was this going to be police force or what.  She said they would not be police but would have authority and would bring in the police if necessary.

As if all of this was not surreal enough, Campbell’s answer to who would be managing this enforcement team tied a lead anchor around the whole thing. She replied the Development Services Department, the DSD.  No one who has every had any experience with the DSD would have any faith in that arrangement. The DSD has been openly flouting the municipal code for years and suffocating code enforcement. This is a department that has been cozy with big money forever and the idea that they would properly enforce this new agreement is laughable.

It was another display of Campbell’s lack of knowledge about the history of the DSD in her district that she was placing her faith in them.

Campbell was asked repeatedly if there was a city that was doing this elsewhere, a model of this system. She responded with political answers and despite being pulled back to the question three times, she never was able to answer it. It was clear that it has never been done before.

Campbell was questioned on how the MOU came about-  as it was just sprung on the public this week. She was asked about the process and went into lengthy explanation of everyone involved including planning boards. But, when asked to give details of who she spoke with, she could only answer in generalities.  The Obceans insisted her group did not talk to anyone in OB because it came as such a surprise.

Her eventual explanation sounded like it really only included the industry and city officials probably because it was a private agreement. Campbell stressed what a wonderful compromise this was, a bipartisan compromise.  That, apparently, did not include the public. For obvious reasons.

The pressure stayed on from all sides repeatedly reminding her that the real solution was to enforce the current law, get rid of them, then see if the industry can get the laws changed in San Diego, not reward illegal STVRS by allowing any to remain.  Campbell got frustrated and finally the truth came out.  She believed this was the only choice because if San Diego bans STVRs, the industry will sue and we will be in court for “10 or 20” years and in the meantime the industry will buy up half of San Diego.

So, the lawyers scared them – this was not a deal, it was legal extortion.  Cory Briggs, who is running against Mara Elliott for City Attorney, spoke up on this fear and said it was false. The argument is that, since the city has been allowing, even licensing and taxing illegal STVRs, they could not now ban them because of precedence. This is indeed a big deal in the law. Basically, if a person does not enforce a contract provision, they have set a precedence that said it was not actually a contract condition and cannot later try to enforce it.

Briggs said this was “Flatly incorrect.  Arguments are made to that effect in court and the ones who make that argument are the ones who are laughed at most.”  This was in response to Campbell’s argument that the city would be laughed out of court if they now tried to enforce the law.

Briggs went further and quickly paraphrased Supreme Court Neil Gorsuch in the recent McGirt versus the State of Oklahoma case where Oklahoma learned that half the state belonged to native Americans.  The quote was appropriate.  Gorsuch wrote:

“Unlawful acts, performed long enough and with sufficient vigor, are never enough to amend the law. To hold otherwise would be to elevate the most brazen and longstanding injustices over the law, both rewarding the wrong and failing those in the right.’

This agreement does exactly what Gorsuch said – by allowing illegal STVRs to have a foothold just because they are already here.  It is clear that Campbell was convinced there was no need to fight or enforce the law because she believed this precedence argument, she believed the city had no choice but to bargain with lawbreakers. This is what happens to a naïve person.

The last question of the evening came from Brian White of the Pacific Beach Planning Board.  He read Campbell’s campaign words back to her when she said STVRs were illegal, period, and need to go.  He then pointedly asked her, “Who is falsely advising you that the city cannot enforce the law?”  It appeared that Campbell was familiar with White and she began by explaining he had missed the earlier part of the meeting when she “explained” the legal issues.

White was not to be deterred and asked his question again two more times.  Campbell got frustrated and testy and ended the discussion abruptly and signed off with a tight smile and a cheery good-bye.

As for the facts. Campbell said they want to get this passed by the city by the end of the year.  What would be passed would be an MOU agreement between private parties that the city will use to enter into the Municipal Code that will become law. If it passes this year, it will become effective next year.  Interesting choice of words “effective.”

Campbell was asked repeatedly if she wanted this passed by council before the November election and she said yes. A legacy for an out-going mayor who has never lifted a finger to solve this problem. Campbell related that she had talked to the mayor and he was supportive and asked that something finally be accomplished.  Pretty damn disingenuous for a do-nothing mayor who watched the STVRs explode during his tenure and would not even enforce the law.

Many parts of Campbell’s agreement are not worked out. For example, she was asked how the 3,750 licenses would be issued. She replied that maybe 2,500 of the current “good actors” would get licenses or they would hold a lottery.  So, reward 2,500 law breakers or hold a lottery?  Not very comforting, how about qualifications of some kind?

Complete Communities Plan

Eventually, Campbell touched on the Complete Communities plan.  When asked, her response was that it was probably going nowhere – a kind of a last-minute Hail Mary for the mayor, and it wasn’t worth worrying about.  Considering Campbell’s track record, this assessment should be taken with a salt mine.

30-Foot Height Limit and Midway

The 30-foot height limit was last.  Campbell went into the argument that the boundary of the height limit was “arbitrarily” drawn years ago and never should have included the Midway area.  This claim trashes the integrity of the group of people who valiantly got the height measure passed, as if they were idiots who had no idea what they were doing.  Once again, Campbell showed a complete lack of understanding of the issue, the struggle it took to get into law, the tremendous benefit to all San Diegans for what it protected, and the feeling the community has about the issue.

Campbell said during her campaign that she would fight to protect the height limit.  Had she ever said she planned to propose this change, she would be tending her garden now and Lori Zapf would still be in office. The community considers this a complete betrayal. The community makes a point of asking every politician what their position is on the height limit and would never elect someone who would try to change it.  So, she lied to get elected.

Suffice to say that no one was supportive of Campbell on this.  She emphasized that it was just the 960 acres of the Midway-Pacific Planning Group boundary and no more because it was far from the ocean and would not block anyone’s ocean views. The naivete was amazing.  The very same argument could be made, and probably will be made, from Midway all the way to Nimitz.

Campbell left the meeting having definitely heard the voice of the community – there was not a single voice in support of her positions on the STVRs and the height limit.  As said earlier in this article, the Obceans on the OB Town Council and others clearly let Campbell know how Ocean Beach felt.  One person asked Campbell “Why do you think people are mad at you?” All Campbell could say was because they didn’t know the facts. But, when asked specifically what facts, the answer devolved into a political answer, not an answer.

There was other stuff…

Denny Knox of the Merchants Association talked about the challenges for the merchants, and it was sad although she tried to be upbeat. She described the things businesses were doing to stay afloat such as restaurants setting up tables in parking areas. The COVID restrictions were very difficult to deal with.

Knox also complained about a lack of enforcement over street vendors selling food and merchandise. She was clearly upset when she said the street vendors were not following any of the COVID guidelines that legitimate licensed businesses have to follow and no one was doing anything about it.  This kind of thing undercuts the businesses unfairly. For a person who is not usually downbeat by nature, Knox sounded concerned.  She basically appealed to the community to support the businesses as much as they could.

OB Elementary will be on-line although there may be some possibilities of a hybrid with some in-person time mixed in according to principal Marco Drapeau.  Obviously, everyone in all levels of education are struggling with this. Parents with elementary school children will need to contact the school to see what options are available.

Andrea Schlageter of the OB Planning Board spoke up about the Midway height limit ballot measure saying there had been no Environmental Impact Report since 2018.  This was added to by Briggs who said the plan and the EIR relied on the 30-foot height limit. Briggs said what should be obvious, but happens all the time, you can’t rely on an analysis for one thing and propose another. What a concept.

But to end on a light note, there was a moment when we were all transported to Mayberry, RFD where Opie grew up.  Matt Beatty, the OB Library branch manager, announced some upcoming events, presumably on-line also.  One was “All About Seeds” and the other was about worm composting in the backyard.  This brought a chuckle and the thought that if we all just concentrated on basic things like worm composting, we’d all get along better.





{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

Paul Webb July 24, 2020 at 12:03 pm

Geoff, again the community owes you a great deal of thanks for your persistence in reporting on planning issues.


GML July 24, 2020 at 12:44 pm

Completely agree, thanks Geoff!


Frank Gormlie July 24, 2020 at 4:08 pm

Geoff is the OB Rag’s reporter par excellence.


Toby July 24, 2020 at 1:41 pm

Geoff & those attending,

Saying “thank you” doesn’t begin to express my gratitude (and the community’s) for your input and report of this meeting. Campbell’s responses and “surprise” that people in the community are upset with her are validation of her incompetence, deceit and failure to listen to the community she’s supposed to represent. She can’t be trusted and should be ashamed of herself.


Geoff Page July 24, 2020 at 1:54 pm

Thank you all for the nice words, but hell, how are we gonna get these comments to light up if we all agree? Thanks again.


retired botanist July 24, 2020 at 4:24 pm

OMG, I am totally gobsmacked by this meeting! 1st, thank you Geoff for always-great reporting on these events. 2nd, thank you OBceans who attended and spoke up and spoke out- so apprciative you let your voices be heard.
As for Campbell, who knows where to even start?! If I hear the frickin phrase “bad actors” one more time I’m going to punch someone in the throat! Who coined this? Its dumb, its stupidly generic, and if I were a theater actor I’d be pissed.

So glad for the parallel to Oklahoma! That’s exactly right! Just b/c the City has negligently not enforced the hundreds of existing zoning violations re the STVRs over the past, what? 7 years? Does NOT now make that ok, and somehow the “new law”. I’m shocked at Campbell’s lack of understanding on this issue. While SCOTUS may have made it crystal clear in the opinion, its been common sense to most who even have a modicum of understanding of municipal codes and zoning laws.
“Enforcement Team?” What planet is this woman living on?! We can’t even get parking enforcement, or scooter enforcement in the district!
I’d better stop while I’m ahead of the expletives. Get this woman out of the mix. She’s ill-informed and clearly doesn’t have the skill set to represent a community that cares and pays attention to its issues, its Community Plan and its representatives.
Like Ivanka says, go try a new career, Jen! :(


Debbie July 24, 2020 at 5:43 pm

Thank you for the report!

Whoever is organizing Campbell’s recall should add the Mayor onto the list even though his term is expiring. It will send a message to other elected politicians to work for the people of San Diego and do their homework like Donna Frye used to do and not be so concerned about the funding of campaigns by special interests and their future employment opportunities.


unwashedWalmartThong July 24, 2020 at 9:28 pm

Geoff, thanks a billion. Whatever it is, I’m against it! Keep the height limit and reduce, reduce, reduce the STVRs.
Worm castings! Hell Yes! Big tomatoes.


Ed Harris July 25, 2020 at 9:29 am

Time to recall Campbell.


Paul Webb July 26, 2020 at 4:06 pm

I seem to recall that you were an intelligent and level headed citizen who once ran for council. Please try again!


Lin Manning July 25, 2020 at 1:05 pm

Not too long ago we were the SERVED, now we are the SERVANTS!


John Thickstun July 25, 2020 at 1:42 pm

“Why Campbell felt she had the expertise to negotiate . . .”
Apparently she didn’t think she did.
Public Records Request unearthed email dated July 1st – the day of the Expedia/UniteHere MOU roll-out presser – from Campbell’s COS, Venus Molina to her girlfriends bragging to her friends, “Here it is ladies!! I was able to get an agreement between the hotel union and Expedia on short term vacation rentals.”
See the email on save San Diego Neighborhoods Facebook page. https://www.facebook.com/SaveSanDiegoNeighborhoods


Gary Wonacott July 25, 2020 at 2:48 pm

I have a couple of points to add. Elyse Lowe, head of DSD, also lead the development of the mayor’s short term rental plan, which also carved out Mission Beach. Her parents live five doors from me own and operate a vacation rental here in South Mission Beach. Also, Brigette Browning who represented Unite Here in the negotiations, is currently in a fight to the death litigation against Evans Hotels, Bill Evans. Evans Hotels include two very close to Mission Beach, the Catamaran and the Bahia. As a minimum, Unite Here should never have been representing us in Mission Beach. The more STRs here, the more it hurts Evans. There is more, but the point is that this was a corrupt deal from the get go.


Geoff Page July 26, 2020 at 7:21 pm

Thanks for adding some good information to the discussion, Gary.


John Thickstun July 25, 2020 at 5:51 pm

The one honest thing Councilmember Jennifer Campbell said was “I’m not a lawyer.”
What follows are a few words about what the law actually is in California, as it relates to a municipality, like San Diego, failing to enforce.
This, in addition to the fact that cities throughout California, from Santa Barbara to Santa Monica and Hermosa Beach to Coronado – which collected taxes (TOT) from illegal STR for years, have only relatively recently started actively enforcing their municipal code ordinances which also prohibit STR.
The following is an excerpt from a California Court of Appeals ruling issued on May 20, 2015. In this matter, 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’s estoppel argument failed and 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.

“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 (emphasis added)

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.).

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.

Over the course of the last four years, I and other SSDN board members have spoken to numerous land use lawyers and California City Attorneys who, without exception, have said the same thing. The “estoppel argument” or “grandfathering” assertion is legally wrong – in fact “absurd”.
That the City would be prevented from enforcing its ordinances prohibiting STVR in residential zones, because the City’s elected officials failed and refused to enforce the law – simply put, does not change the law.
It’s my belief that this effort to force a new STR ordinance now, is to provide cover for Mayor Faulconer, City Attorney Elliott and Todd Gloria, who have asserted/argued falsely, for literally years, that nothing could be done without the Council passing a new ordinance.
They all knew years ago this was a bald faced lie. Faulconer and Elliott knew, at least since Elliott’s election that STR were/are prohibited -and that the SDMC has a specific enforcement mechanism/process for prosecuting prohibited uses.
Why? We’re not certain. But both money and reputation, I believe play a role.
Here’s a clue. Jan Goldsmith lobbied the City on behalf of Airbnb after he left office.


Geoff Page July 26, 2020 at 7:34 pm

John, thanks for bringing in that legal information because it is always great to be able to support a position with some solid background, which you did. The shame of it was that Campbell didn’t sound to me as if she was regurgitating talking points to convince the public, she sounded like she was completely convinced that getting rid of the STVRs was a legal loser from the start. But, one has to wonder based on what John exposed above, how much Campbell really participated in the “deal” and how much she left to staff. This “deal” has to be killed.


Deb porter July 25, 2020 at 6:32 pm

Geoff…you are a godsend…thank you for all the work you are doing for the neighborhood ?


Doug Blackwood July 28, 2020 at 7:47 pm

STOP Jen Again: Keep the 30ft height limit!


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