Citizens group fights city’s new short-term vacation rentals proposal
Published - 09/12/15 - 06:41 AM | 14303 views | 1 1 comments | 34 34 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Signs like this one are all over Crown Point neighborhoods. / Photo by Thomas Melville
Signs like this one are all over Crown Point neighborhoods. / Photo by Thomas Melville
The City of San Diego has been put on notice by citizens group Save San Diego Neighborhoods that if the mayor and City Council intend to change the city’s municipal code to allow short-term vacation rentals in residential neighborhoods, it must comply with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

On Tuesday, Sept. 8, Save San Diego Neighborhoods’ attorneys delivered a letter with the notice and request for a formal reply from Robert Vacchi, director of the San Diego Development Services Department.

The letter advises city officials that changing the city’s municipal code to allow short-term vacation rentals (STVR) to operate in San Diego’s residential zones represents a “fundamental change” to the municipal code. Save San Diego neighborhoods also asserts that to allow STVR into residential zones violates the city’s general plan and adversely effects all ten elements of the plan, in particular, noise, housing and services and safety.

“The eventual adoption of an ordinance expressly allowing STVRs in single family residential zones will have multiple, foreseeable, direct and indirect physical impacts upon the environment and constitutes a non-exempt ‘project’ under CEQA,” the letter states.

Save San Diego Neighborhoods further contends that complying with CEQA and working through the environmental impact report (EIR) process will inform the discussion regarding the appropriateness of allowing STVR to operate in San Diego residential neighborhoods.

Save San Diego Neighborhoods believes that the results of an EIR will not support the imposition of a new ordinance permitting STVR in residential zones in San Diego. On the contrary, the EIR will identify significant impacts that the city will be unable to mitigate, including depleting housing stock, noise pollution, air pollution, traffic congestion, and additional and unmanageable stress on City services, in particular first responders – fire and law enforcement – water, trash, and parks and recreation personnel and facilities.

The Save San Diego Neighborhoods CEQA letter was served this week because the city is moving forward on a draft ordinance that would make short-term vacation rentals in residential zones lawful. Although the proposed draft ordinance may be modified in the coming weeks, the existing draft permits absentee-owned, commercial, mini-hotels to operate in San Diego residential neighborhoods.

Residents of San Diego and members of the San Diego community planning groups have voiced strong opposition to STVR, demanding the city enforce the municipal code and remove these mini-hotels from neighborhoods.

Earlier this year, the Pacific Beach Planning Group unanimously passed and sent to the City Council a resolution asking the City Council to enforce the municipal code and reiterate that STVR mini-hotels are unlawful in single-family zones.

The problem of STVR in residential zones continues unabated. Airbnb, one of dozens of online vacation rental companies, has more than 3,500 vacation rentals in the city. Of those, 65 percent – 2,283 rentals – are whole-house, absentee-owner mini-hotels located throughout San Diego’s residential neighborhoods.

Hundreds of San Diego residents packed two City Council meetings this spring to complain about the proliferation of vacation rentals and the negative impacts they create, saying, “We are the neighbors, and we’re telling you there is a problem.”

Save San Diego Neighborhoods was formed in the wake of STVR. Hundreds of citizens have joined the group via Save San Diego Neighborhoods is now conducting an online petition whose early results show citizens unanimously support enforcing the city’s current municipal code to ban STVR mini-hotels and taking legal action against the city, if needed.

More information is available at, or by emailing
Comments-icon Post a Comment
September 14, 2015
For those with questions regarding the legal aspects of the problems and how the city seems to be letting them get around the law, (whether conveniently misinterpreting it or feigning ignorance to fit an agenda that remains unclear), here is an overview that was previously submitted elsewhere but it is a good summary of what the legal situation is regarding STVRs.

Why are our elected officials insisting we need a new ordinance? Vacation rentals aren’t new. The SDMC is clear. Vacation rentals are not a listed use in the SDMC and therefore they are not permitted in residential zones. Why are our elected officials misleading us?

It’s surprising the City Attorney’s Office asserts in its 2007 memorandum that STVRs don’t fall under the definition of “Visitor Accommodations – Uses that provide lodging . . .” in SDMC section 131.0112(a)(6)(K). But the most surprising thing about the memorandum is it’s erroneous conclusion that, “There are currently neither regulations nor prohibitions on short-term vacation rentals in single-family residential zones.”, while at the same time referring to SDMC section 131.0420(b) which states, “It is unlawful to establish, maintain or use any premises for any purpose or activity not listed in 131.0422.” and then acknowledging STVRs are NOT listed.

The SDMC is quite clear to me and should be to our elected officials. I fail to see what is “gray” about it. And apparently the San Diego Superior Court agrees.

In 2011, San Diego Superior Court Judge John S. Meyer sided with the City Attorney’s Office when it argued that marijuana dispensaries were not a listed use in the SDMC and therefore were not permitted and unlawful.In the matter of City of San Diego v. Brutus Collective Inc.,citing SDMC section 131.0520(a), Judge Meyer ruled that marijuana dispensaries are not a permitted use within commercial zones because they are not listed in the SDMC. The language of SDMC section 131.0522(b) governing uses in Commercial Zones, mirrors the language of SDMC section 131.0420(b) which governs uses in Residential Zones. Both of these Municipal Code sections state, “It is unlawful to establish, maintain, or use any premises for any purpose or activity not listed in this section . . .”. Marijuana dispensaries were not listed in the commercial zoning section just as STVRs are not listed in the residential zoning section.

What I see – what we all see - is a double standard. In the case of STVRs, the City Attorney concludes, “There is no evidence that the past zoning codes prohibited short-term vacation rentals in the single-family zone, nor do the current regulations prohibit such use…” and therefore STVRs are lawful and permitted. But when it comes to marijuana dispensaries, City Attorney Jan Goldsmith’s Office argues to the Court that because marijuana dispensaries are not a listed use, they are not permitted and unlawful.Gray? Sounds more like inconsistent application of the law.

Another statement that we have heard coming from the city is that we will have a tough time arguing that the City was wrong because the City’s interpretation of its own codes has allowed the rentals to stick around for such a long time now. “A longstanding interpretation of an ordinance by a city will be given great weight by the courts.”

This statement ignores the fact that San Diego residents have been trying for more than eight years to get City elected officials to address this issue and enforce the law. The City has done nothing, so now we have reached “critical mass”. What was once a couple hundred short-term vacation rentals in 2007, have now grown to 12,000 according to the industry.

That statement, in addition to simply ignoring the fact that this problem was created by our elected officials failure to act and enforce the law, conveniently forgets that numerous actions have been suggested by concerned residents over the last several years, including an analysis of short-term rentals currently available; whether the short-term rentals by their nature are seasonal or not; where other short-term lodging is located in relation to the coastal area; how much lodging in general is available; the historical availability of short-term rentals and how short term rentals adversely affect the San Diego housing market.

The San Diego Municipal Code contains a definition for “visitor accommodations” (131.0112, K) that is clearly intended to cover this type of usage and is clear that it is not allowed in residential zoned areas.

No, there is no confusion in the law. The San Diego Municipal Code is not confusing or difficult to interpret or ambiguous. Short Term Vacation Rentals are either “visitor accommodations” or not listed in the SDMC.Either way, they are not permitted in residential zones. They have a deleterious effect on the very purpose of these zones which is; to promote neighborhood, quality, character, and livability. (SDMC section 131.0403(a))

If you truly want to “create strong and safe neighborhoods and improve the quality of life for San Diego residents” then start enforcing the Municipal Code. STVR’s in San Diego residential zones are unlawful!

Comments are back! Simply post the comment (it'll complain about you failing the human test) then simply click on the captcha and then click "Post Comment" again. Comments are also welcome on our Facebook page.