Planning Commission Sends Campbell’s Short-Term Rental Proposal Back to Staff for Details

by on October 9, 2020 · 1 comment

in Ocean Beach, San Diego

After more than a 3 hour hearing on Jen Campbell’s proposal for short-term vacation rentals, the San Diego Planning Commission Thursday, Oct. 8, decided to send it back to city staff to address mostly technical issues of how the regulations would be administered and enforced. Another hearing date before the Commission has been set for Thursday, Dec. 3.

But from the comments of the Commissioners, once tweaked, they very well could approve the proposal that Campbell engineered with the billionaire-dollar rental platform, Expedia, along with Unite HERE Local 30, the union that represents hotel workers.

The proposal could very well be approved despite the criticism from community groups in the coastal areas of District 2 – Jen Campbell’s district – that they were not genuinely consulted. Interest in the half-decade old controversy was clearly shown to the Planning Commission, as they had received nearly 500 letters from the public ahead of the online meeting, and hundreds of people tried to give comments by phone during the meeting.

Members of the Ocean Beach Town Council and the OB Planning Board have complained they were not adequately consulted on the final version of the so-called MOU, or Memorandum of Understanding, between Campbell’s office, Expedia and the union. La Jolla Community Planning Association President Diane Kane said her group was not given enough time to formally weigh in and told the La Jolla Light, “Community planning groups have been once again omitted from the political process and are being presented with last-minute fait accomplis. I see room for improvement in the city’s public involvement efforts.”

Brian White, president of the Pacific Beach Town Council, told the Commission, “We urge you to reject this ill-advised ordinance. Our Pacific Beach Town Council was not consulted for feedback. We remain opposed to this. It merely serves the interests of short-term rental platforms like Expedia and Airbnb. .. by legalizing their hotel operations in our residentially zoned communities.”

Airbnb, the primary home-sharing platform in the San Diego area, is also opposed to the proposal, as it believes it’s overly restrictive and wants a higher annual cap.

During the hearing, apparently, people on both sides of the issue wanted the Commission to not advance the proposal for lack of public input.

Commissioner Matthew Boomhower had concerns that the proposal puts the responsibility of being the first level of enforcement on neighbors. He also questioned its enforcement mechanism, how other city departments – like code enforcement and the city treasurer’s office – could handle increased tax collection. He wanted to know how granny units – or accessory dwelling units – would factor in, and how the lottery system would work. “It’s a great idea,” he said, “there is just a lot to be worked out.”

Commissioner Vicki Granowitz was pleased that the proposal on STVRs had “gotten further than anyone else has” and commended District 2. “But residential zoning is residential zoning, and whole-house rentals is inconsistent use of a residential zone,” she said. “What those that are [listing their houses for STVRs] have done is enter into a business rather than just have a home where they are going to raise their children. When you enter into a business, you take a risk … people who have decided to become short-term renters of this nature need to understand they are inviting risk. You are not entitled to always make money. … Having said that, I am willing to find compromise. But I need to see the beginnings of administrative guidelines before I consider approving a council policy.”

And Commissioner Douglas Austin chimed in, “This is a sticky wicket if there ever was one. I’m hearing arguments from both sides, but one of the things that does need to be done is I do believe we can’t continue sweeping this under the rug. We need a legal way to enforce what we have so I believe our councilwoman has the right idea bringing this forward … I do believe this probably as good a compromise as we’re going to find.”

The true architect of the controversial proposal, Venus Molina, Campbell’s chief of staff, told the Commission this was a “complex” issue in her original presentation. Without describing their content, she claimed Campbell’s office had received ““hundreds of emails, phone calls and photos of bad operators.”

Molina said, “We needed enforcement and … something on the books that could be regulated.” She also tried to reassure the Commissioners that “a lot of these logistics” they had concerns about would be working out later. She pushed, “I think it’s important we have something on the books that creates some sort of structure and framework. We feel strongly that the small details will be fleshed out with the administrative regulations … and that city staff will bring about good processes to make these work.” She stated it had a planned implementation date of Jan. 1, 2022.

San Diego Development Services Department Director Elyse Lowe backed Molina up, and stated the proposal was a “policy framework” that “gives guidance” and that “it doesn’t do us any good to figure out every little detail, have enforcement lined up … prior to a controversial policy decision being made. We are prepared to come up with administrative guidance [in the coming year].”

Yet, Commissioner Boomhower came back with, “I know that we’re never going to make everyone happy. But many of the public comment emails we’ve gotten and a number of the people who have spoken here today, it’s mostly because there is a fear of the unknown. When government officials say don’t worry, it’ll work out, I think this is too important of an issue for us to just trust that we’re going to get this worked out in the regs.”

The Commission approved a motion to have the ordinance return passed 4-3. Why the close vote? Any new regulations still have to go before the City Council, and the California Coastal Commission, before being enacted.

Lori Weisberg at the U-T reported:

The proposal before the Planning Commission structures the regulation of short-term rentals as a tiered system, with no limits imposed on those hosts who rent out a home for no more than 20 days out of the year. Similarly, there would be no limits for those who rent out a room or two in their home while they are residing there. The proposal also allows those owners or permanent residents to be absent from their units for up to 90 days in a year.

The measure, in general terms, outlines steps that would be taken for enforcing the new regulations, including the hiring of new code enforcement officers, but does not state how much license fees would be to cover the added costs. The absence of such details, along with some confusion over how the lottery would work, were among the concerns that prompted a majority of commissioners to support returning the measure to Development Services staff.

Ashley Mackin-Solomon, at the La Jolla Light, described the proposal:

According to a city report, the ordinance proposes to define short-term rental occupancy as a stay of less than a month. The regulations would require a license to operate a short-term rental unit, put limits on the number of licenses a host may obtain, create caps on the total number of whole-house short-term rental units and create a process to track, manage and enforce such rentals.

The regulations also would establish a mechanism to cite hosts or suspend or revoke the licenses of those who don’t follow the rules.

The ordinance groups short-term vacation rentals into a four-tier licensing system:

• Tier 1: Home-share or whole-home short-term residential occupancy for an aggregate total of 20 days or less per calendar year

• Tier 2: Home-share short-term residential occupancy for more than 20 days per calendar year

• Tier 3: Whole-home short-term residential occupancy for more than 20 days per calendar year

• Tier 4: Special tier for Mission Beach, which allows for whole-home short-term rental in a manner consistent with recommendations from the Mission Beach Town Council

Under the plan, the number of homes that could be fully rented out for short-term stays while the owner or resident is not present would be capped at about 5,130 citywide, including a carve-out for close to 1,100 such rentals in Mission Beach.

The number of allowed licenses in the city, exclusive of Mission Beach, would be limited to 0.75 percent of the city’s more than 500,000 housing units. For Mission Beach, long a magnet for vacation rentals, the proportionate allowance would be much larger, representing 30 percent of the community’s total dwelling units.

Proponents of the measure get giddy when they talk that the proposal will “slash the number of whole-home short-term rentals.” The figure of San Diego’s total STVRs was 16,000, but at the Commission hearing and in related news reports, the figure of 13,000 is used.

Here is Weisberg from the U-T:

Under the plan being advocated by Campbell, the number of homes that could be fully rented out for short-term stays while the owner or resident is not present would be capped at about 5,130 citywide, including a carve-out for close to 1,100 such rentals in Mission Beach.

For purposes of calculating the yearly allocation of short-term rentals, the number of allowed licenses within the city, exclusive of Mission Beach, would be limited to 0.75 percent of the city’s more than 500,000 housing units. For Mission Beach, long a magnet for vacation rentals, the proportionate allowance would be much larger, representing 30 percent of the community’s total dwelling units.

The effect of the proposed restrictions would be to slash the number of whole-home short-term rentals, which the city believes totaled close to 13,000 as of last summer, by 60 percent. Individuals would be limited to just one short-term rental license each, and a two-night minimum would be required of all guests for the rental of entire dwellings. Licenses would be granted via a lottery, but there are few details on how that would work, which was among the concerns cited Thursday by planning commissioners.

Stay tuned for the next sub-chapter in this half-decade saga, probably when the Planning Commission meets again on Dec. 3.

News Sources:

La Jolla Light

San Diego Union-Tribune

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Avatar kh October 9, 2020 at 3:22 pm

This is an opportunity for Campbell’s office to make an honest effort at soliciting input from the community stakeholders. Wally Wulfeck is chairman of the Community Planners Committee and invited Venus to present it there. I don’t think any community group expects a perfect proposal, they just want to be given the same consideration and access as the special interest groups have.

Some of the commissioners raised questions about the seemingly arbitrary numbers being used to determine the number of licenses. In order to understand of how this would impact hosts and neighborhoods, Campbell’s office need to show us how many current short term rentals fit their Tier 3 and Tier 4 definitions.

Questions were also raised about the 1 permit limit, being ineffective and allowing an owner of many vacation rentals to still obtain multiple permits.

I am happy to see this get sent back as it also increases the likelihood that a new mayor or city attorney can finally address the root of the issue: Is enforcing the existing code is an option? I don’t think we can negotiate a compromise in good faith without a clear answer to that.

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