Concern is ramping up that some coastal short-term rentals are hosting gatherings and parties without guests wearing masks or social distancing.
"Many short-term rentals operating in our residential areas here at the beach have shown to be consistent hot spots throughout the pandemic for large gatherings and unchecked parties with complete disregard for public health orders and safety precautions,” said Brian White, Pacific Beach Town Council president. “It's inexcusable that our City leadership has allowed this problem to occur."
Venus Molina, chief of staff for District 2 Councilmember Dr. Jennifer Campbell representing the Mission and Pacific beaches, disputed the notion that short-term renters are mostly to blame for not practicing COVID health protocols in beach areas.
“The majority of the people who are not wearing masks and having parties are our own constituents,” Molina said. “The number of vacationers who are there who are bad actors, compared to the number of residents who are actually having parties – it’s very slim.”
Pacific Beach resident Tom Coat emailed City Council members months ago expressing his concern about the COVID threat posed by some short-term vacation renters.
“I requested that the City of San Diego prohibit vacation rentals during the pandemic as other cities had done,” Coat said. “I had just passed by a house on Soledad Mountain where five cars were parked in the driveway and on the street. All had Arizona license plates.”
Added Coat: “Why, I asked, were we allowing visitors from other states to come together to rent homes in the middle of our neighborhoods while, at the same time, the County Health Department was asking residents not to have family or group gatherings in their own homes?”
Pointing out that, “This has been a concern for some time,” Coat argued, “The fact that Pacific and Mission beaches are now considered hot spots for surging numbers of COVID cases certainly reinforces those concerns.”
Added Molina: “It would be great to see the data on testing results. Also, we’ve spoken to the [short-term rental] platforms, and they’ve gotten hit tremendously by COVID. Nobody is really traveling. [Rentals] are not really up and running and renting.”
Molina pointed out virus testing remains a huge problem. “The key factor is testing and getting back the results, which is very slow right now. We really need to work on getting more and faster testing in order to control the spread of the virus.”
Greg Knight was a recent victim of a physical assault by an unidentified short-term renter in his Mission Beach neighborhood. He said there have been huge crowds again this summer in Mission Beach, despite the fact that large gatherings are being discouraged during the COVID resurgence.
“People in Los Angeles and Arizona and other communities are saying, ‘Let’s go to Mission Beach,’ we’re seeing a lot of that,” claimed Knight, who insisted that, on the boardwalk between Mission and Pacific beaches, “It is physically impossible to social distance.”
Knight claims a few summer Mission Beach visitors are observing proper health protocols.
“I’d say, on a good day, only about 20% are wearing masks,” he said, adding, “I can guarantee there are no Airbnb health protocols going on.”
Jonah Mechanic, owner of SeaBreeze Vacation Rentals in La Jolla and president of Share San Diego, disputed the claim that short-term renters are to blame for COVID health protocols not being observed at the beach.
“There’s zero proof, or data, to prove short-term travelers are more responsible (for infractions) than residents,” he said. “That has been a sound bite from anti-short-term rental people trying to demonize responsible tourism from day one.
“There is an anti-tourism group that wants to lift the drawbridge and not allow any tourists in,” continued Mechanic. “They’re looking for anything negative to say about short-term rentals. First, it was that short-term rentals went against affordable housing. Then it was prostitution rings run out of houses. Whatever the hot topic is of the day – they grasp at. Now it’s COVID.”
Knight contends turnover rates are so high that there is insufficient time for rental operators to properly clean in-between clients, and he also claims short-term renters tend to bend the rules more in San Diego because they don’t live here and don’t have to suffer the consequences.
“People traveling down here right now, some of them are saying, ‘We don’t care. We don’t need masks. It’s my right to not do masks.’” Knight said.
Mission Beach resident Gary Wonacott, a critic of the preponderance of short-term rentals there, said the community is fed up.
“Frankly, we feel a little forgotten in Mission Beach, what with the COVID-19 and the saturation of short-term rentals filled with visitors from areas with high rates of coronavirus,” he said. “Community transmission is the latest terminology for the spread of the virus in communities with over-tourism. Our County Public Health administrator, Dr. Wilma Wooten, sidesteps questions regarding short-term rentals in communities with a high density of short-term rentals.”
Mechanic said: “The number one question we used to get from guests was, ‘How close is to the beach, and can I see the ocean?’ Now the most common question is, ‘Do we have to bring our own masks, or do you supply masks, and what is it with restaurants, dine-in or dine out?' Without a doubt, our guests have the same concerns about COVID as the residents.”
Mechanic cited a different reason for the bad and irresponsible behavior by some in beach communities like PB and MB.
“You have three major colleges within a 10-mile radius of PB, in a condensed area with more bars and more liquor licenses than anywhere else in San Diego,” he said. “What’s next? Do short-term rentals cause global warming? It’s absurd. It’s tired rhetoric. Let’s move on.”
Added Wonacott: “Our Council member Campbell is deaf to our pleas for her to do something, anything. For a couple of weeks during the shutdown, police, and lifeguards were everywhere. During this period the rate of coronavirus cases in Mission and Pacific beaches was less than one per day. But once the beach was opened up, and vacationers from Arizona and Nevada began showing up, there was an immediate increase to nine to 11 cases per day in 92109.
“The common thread that runs from e-scooters to short-term rentals adhering to COVID rules is the absence of any enforcement, in large part because this City does not believe in consequences for bad behavior,” Wonacott said.