Stricter rules coming for short-term vacation rentals
by DAVE SCHWAB
Published - 06/03/15 - 06:03 PM | 0 0 comments | 22 22 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The City Council’s Smart Growth and Land Use (SGLU) Committee directed staff to return with a new draft ordinance on short-term vacation rentals (STVRs) better defining and more strictly controlling them, while also seeking funding in current city budget deliberations for better enforcement of existing rules governing their operation.

That was the end result of deliberations May 29 among SGLU’s four committee members – Lorie Zapf, David Alvarez, Scott Sherman and Todd Gloria — following hours of public testimony for and against the polarizing STVR issue.

Coastal residents have increasingly come forward complaining that noise, partying, traffic, trash and other problems caused by some troublesome STVRs have become an intolerable disruption that is eroding neighborhood character. Many residents are calling for stricter rules, tighter enforcement and greater accountability over rentals. Some are advocating entirely barring STVRs from single-family neighborhoods.

STVR reps and proponents have countered that a few bad operators are giving the entire rental industry a bad name. They insist the answer is to better enforce existing regulations, not make wholesale changes with them.

SGLU chair and District 2 Councilwoman Lorie Zapf, who represents Ocean, Mission and Pacific beaches, called the committee’s action an “important first step,” adding “this is going to be a long process.”

Alvarez, on behalf of the city, took blame for the escalating STVR situation.

“We need to apologize to everybody because the city has not been doing our job, we have been failing by not enforcing some of our laws that exist today,” Alvarez said.

Two members of Pacific Beach Planning Group, chair Brian Curry and Chris Olson, speaking on their own behalf and not the group’s, reacted to the May 29 Council committee hearing.

Curry contended changes need to be made in both policy and procedures governing STVRs.

“The city's position on the municipal code is flawed,” Curry said. “Development Services suggests STVRs are not visitor accommodations, a commercial use prohibited in residential zones. Hence, STVRs are allowed in all residential zones.”

But Curry pointed out that the city treasurer includes STVRs with other visitor accommodations and insists STVRs are subject to a transient-occupancy tax (TOT).

“Hence, the city acknowledges STVRs as transient-occupancy use when it comes to taxes but ignores them when it comes to zoning,” he said. “San Diegans should be concerned that every residentially zoned neighborhood is a commercial-use hospitality zone. Neighborhoods are no longer for neighbors but (for) more taxation and social disruption.”    

Olson gave kudos to Zapf for confronting the STVR issue.

“We have to give a big hurrah to Councilmember Zapf for being the first person in our city government to have the leadership to bring this issue forward,” Olson said. “She also shows courage to stand up for our residential neighborhoods rather than joining the ‘it’s all about the money’ parade.”

“She understands that whole-house; non-owner occupied short-term rentals displace long-term residents, tearing the fabric of the community. It also diminishes housing supply, contributing to higher housing costs.  Most others keep focusing on short-term public nuisance issues, which are important but easy to kick down the road with promises for more enforcement,” Olson said.

Olson however called out former-councilmen now-mayor Kevin Faulconer on the issue. 

“Where is Mayor Faulconer?” he asked. “He has the power to direct city staff with a click on the ‘send’ button.  The mayor should lead us, collaborating with City Council to develop a clear enforceable plan to collect TOT and protect our neighborhoods. Let's get to work and resolve this divisive issue now.”

At the May 29 committee hearing, Gloria acknowledged concern about the need for greater code enforcement of STVRs while noting money needs to be included in the current city budget to accomplish that.

Council colleague Scott Sherman, said, “We need to have clear-cut rules” when it comes to STVRs and their enforcement.

All four council/committee members agreed that any changes to STVR policy in a new city ordinance need to be vetted with the public via the community planning group process, before ultimately coming back to SGLU committee for review and action before they are passed along to the full City Council for final action.

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