California Coastal Commission Approves Jen Campbell’s Vacation Rental Ordinance for San Diego

by on March 11, 2022 · 8 comments

in Ocean Beach, San Diego

by Kevin Hastings

Yesterday, March 10, the California Coastal Commission voted in favor of Councilmember Jen Campbell’s short-term vacation rental (STVR) ordinance.  This is a key approval before it can go into effect in the “Coastal Zone” which generally covers everything west of the I-5 freeway.

This was largely a foregone conclusion, because the Commission’s mission statement is to protect public access to the coast, which generally places the interests of tourists over residents.  Coastal access is a noble endeavor and can mean many things, but increasingly over the past 10 years they’ve interpreted it to mean that existing residential neighborhoods should accommodate tourist lodging.

Jen Campbell’s ordinance in a nutshell (if you’ve been living under a rock), officially legalizes short-term vacation rentals in residential zones.  It creates 4 Tiers of licenses to and accommodate everything from part time home shares to full-time vacation rentals.

It allows unlimited home-shares and full time STVRs with host on site.  For full-time STVRs without host on site, there is a license allotment of up to 30% of housing units in Mission Beach, and up to 1% of total housing units outside of Mission Beach.  More details on the ordinance can be found here

Two years ago, Campbell ironed out this ordinance behind closed doors with VRBO and a prominent labor union lobbyist who is also the spouse of her campaign consultant.

The framework, called a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), was signed and kept concealed while Campbell’s team engaged in a token public outreach effort with community representatives.  We were told our feedback was being taken seriously and that there was nothing on paper yet.  But the already signed MOU was made public a few days later.  Little has changed since.

Campbell sold it as a great compromise that would cut the number of vacation rentals by 50% or more using a lottery system, and restore long-term housing.

An in-depth review of available booking data and TOT revenue indicates her claims are without merit, and that the ordinance could provide enough licenses for all the existing STVRs and more.

When confronted with this glaring discrepancy, Campbell’s chief of staff Venus Molina admitted, “we don’t have the data… we have to pass the ordinance to find out how many there are.”

Their claimed reductions in STVRs were also disputed by the city’s own Independent Budget Analyst.

But back to yesterday’s Coastal Commission meeting… The docket included a staff report and documentation on the number of existing STVR listings in the city and in Mission Beach. The material was very sparse compared to the research done by other cities with a far smaller footprint in the STVR industry.

It also didn’t address how many of these are full time STVRs and likely subject to the license caps.  Coastal Commission staff recommended supporting the ordinance as long as the lottery ensured licenses in any given community were proportional to the number of applicants.

Staff also dismissed the concerns that coastal STVRs displace long-term housing, saying that coastal housing is generally not affordable to begin with.  (OBceans pre-Airbnb might take exception to this statement.)

Most of the public comments were from STVR hosts in Mission Beach (several of who were on their Town Council).  The hosts, some of which rely on property managers, professed that they are responsible and that their STVRs fit in with the surrounding neighborhood.

Questions arose about the licenses and ways to get around any caps.  At one point, a Coastal staffer advocated for building an ADU to move into, then listing the main residence on Airbnb.  This would allow for a full-time STVR and be exempt from any license cap.

I was alarmed they would promote taking advantage of ADU housing subsidies without actually creating any new housing.  San Diego city staff also advised hosts on how to dodge the 1-license-per-host limitation and obtain licenses for a multi-unit STVR using a “proxy host” for each unit.  (Myself and other community members tried early on to get Campbell to close these loopholes but were ignored.)

A long-time community advocate and former OB Town Council president, Gretchen Newsom, changed the tone with a passionate plea to consider the interests of long-term residents, and her personal struggle to find affordable rental housing in Ocean Beach.

I tried to appeal to the Commission’s mission statement by asking for STVRs to be brought into compliance with current parking requirements.  Most coastal homes, particularly in Mission Beach, were built when 1 or even zero parking spots were required.

When enough of these are converted to mini-hotels allowing 10 or more guests, it’s clear the impact it has on others who rely on street parking, including day-visitors who can’t afford the average STVR, which is $700 per night after fees for a summer weekend in Mission Beach.  These comments did elicit some discussion among the Commissioners, but ultimately did not sway their decision to approve the ordinance.

At least the Coastal Commission’s vote will force the city to finally quantify how many STVRs exist on a per-community basis.

While Jen Campbell is likely preparing her victory lap and doubling down on her baseless claims of preserving long-term housing inventory —  some formalities are in order before you’ll see those STVRs on your block made official.  City Council still needs to sign off on the Coastal Commission’s minor amendment, and licenses will be issued around the end of the year.

Kevin Hastings is an OB resident of 8 years and current Vice-Chair of the Ocean Beach Planning Board.

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Anth March 11, 2022 at 12:36 pm

Absurd, ridiculous and immoral. I can think of many more words not fit to print to say about this.
But one thing really pisses me off is that the giant loopholes they are allowing are not only known, but are actually advocated by the same people writing this ordinance. Effectively making this whole process an exercise in futility. Why even do this if they KNOW and are encouraging the loopholes? Why waste the time & money? Just admit they want super gentrification and unaffordable housing.


Tessa March 11, 2022 at 3:13 pm

As a longterm renter – of over twelve years – In OB, it is discouraging and dishearteninng to read this news.
Will I even be able to afford to stay in this place I call home?


Chris March 11, 2022 at 6:17 pm

Bottom line is there is there’s not much we can do. I’ve made some tongue in cheek suggestions in a past article but maybe it’s time to do this for real. If some vacationers stay at an Airbnb on your block, do what you can to make their stay memorable but in a bad way so they won’t come back, at least to that unit. As I say this, I’ve stay in Airbnbs myself so I know it’s hypocritical but oh well shoulder shrug.


Richard March 12, 2022 at 8:20 am

R.I.P. OB. This town has been dying at the hands of Ocean Beach Main street Association (OBMA) since inception. Remember it’s the OBMA that supported every single Republican council representative and mayor elected in our city over the last 40 years. Now the chickens come home to roost. I’m sure the business interests in OB are ecstatic with joy.


kh March 13, 2022 at 3:27 pm

I don’t see the relevance of your comment, but I’ll mention that our previous councilmember was registered republican and supported strict regulations on vacation rentals. She worked in unison with Barbara Bry to help pass the first law on this which was overturned by a well-funded Airbnb signature referendum.
Vote for your representative based on the issues, not labels.


sealintheselkirks March 12, 2022 at 12:32 pm

Tessa: Probably not unless your income continues to surpasses inflation and rising property values.

Chris: Yeah, ain’t it a bitch?

Richard: This has all the earmarks of a coup but it’s being done on the sly with ballpoint pens and campaign bribes and promises (like the MOU) hidden in the shadows from very unsavory but probably prominent wealthy ‘movers & shakers’ that have always infested San Diego like head lice on a preschooler…
From 1960-1980 I lived in MB as parents moved from OB to Verona and Venice Ct which put me at Farnum Elementary, then Manhattan Ct. for 3 yrs at MB School and another 3 at PBJr High to MBHS summer 1970. The next ten years were in various low-rent locations between El Carmel Pl and Ventura when I wasn’t surf traveling out of San Diego… The last being in the very old studio apartments above Harry’s Market with my ding shop in garages down the alley behind the Jack in the Box across the street. There was nowhere left to move to in MB that I could afford.

All of us teens saw this coming when Mr. Pick tore down the beach-funky wooden 2-story 4-plex apartments on the s/w corner of Liverpool Ct and the Boardwalk to build a big ugly 3 story cube with an elevator. That would have been sometime at the end of the 60s/1970? It was awful and the neighborhood was up in arms over it. A lot of late-night monkeywrenching was done during construction I do believe. Wasn’t going to stop it of course but Pick was a very disliked individual who exemplified those kind of property owners who’d bought into the beach ghettos like MB and OB…

Then the 30 foot height limit went in but by 1980 when I moved back to OB it was obvious that vaca rentals were taking over (already were since everybody got evicted in June for the ‘Zonies’ invasion anyway) and Yuppie-level rents had just skyrocketed to the point where people that worked the low-paying tourist jobs could no longer live in the neighborhoods they worked in.

By 2001, the last time I was in San Diego, I skated the Boardwalk spending a couple of days knocking on doors and there wasn’t anybody left that I grew up with except a couple in the wealthier family homes of my childhood like Fed Judge Rhoades on Bayside Walk and the Strongs on the Boardwalk. All the lower income families (teachers like my parents etc) were completely gone. Even the SDSU student ghettos were priced out. And none of the kids I went to school with were anywhere, not a single one. Nobody had tried to stay.

Much less the lower income groups of friends both local and new that I’d surfed and hung out with in the 70s. And many/the majority of the people I knew in ’80s OB were gone, too, in the 15 years since I’d closed Seal’s Ding Repair and headed for the mountains…

Big sigh. This has always been coming but now it looks like the neighborhood destroyers have really gained the upper hand with the gutting of the 30 foot height limit and this ruling. OB & MB may never look exactly like Miami Beach or Waikik’i but…the mindset will be there. That, after all, has always been the plan.

As for business interests loving this awful change from neighborhood to Yuppie YIMBYism, not having low-wage employees to make money for the owners because they cannot afford to live close enough might cause them some distress I would think. Won’t that be sad?



ACE March 12, 2022 at 5:22 pm

The thing has been crooked from the beginning. I remember the bus full of people with their color-full shirts and clipboards being droped off at the foot of Newport. “You against vacation rentals?”. “You want to save OB” “sign this petition”. Unsuspecting people were signing without reading the PRO vacation rental side of it. Totally deceitful from the beginning. Nothing has changed. I remember when families actually lived in Mission Beach, my grandmother had a house in Mission Beach, now that is completely sold out. OB is the next chicken to pluck. There won’t be any of the beach town soul left. Just sold out to the highest payer. Until it all comes crashing down…Hopefully we do not follow Mission Beach and lose our school to developers. Sad to see so many people who really care for this community being forced to have to leave.


Chris March 12, 2022 at 11:50 pm

Though I made some cracks about taking things out on visitors themselves who rent these STVR spaces, the simple fact is that beach neighborhoods that are populated predominately by full time year round residents are a thing of the past. We are past the point of no return.


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