Groups work to challenge new vacation rental ordinance by forcing referendum
Published - 09/06/18 - 02:44 PM | 1659 views | 0 0 comments | 29 29 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Councilmember Scott Sherman with boxes of signatures that were turned in to try to force a referendum.
Councilmember Scott Sherman with boxes of signatures that were turned in to try to force a referendum.
Now that a residence-only requirement for short-term vacation rentals has been passed, the battle has shifted from City Hall to the ballot box.

On Aug. 30, vacation rental coalition Share San Diego, along with Councilman Scott Sherman, HomeAway, Airbnb vacation-rental platforms and numerous other stakeholders announced they have collected more than 62,000 signatures.

The San Diego County Registrar now has until Sept. 29 to review those signatures to determine their validity. Some 36,000 valid signatures – 5 percent of registered voters – are needed to qualify the referendum for a future election ballot. 

The coalition said it’s advocating for reasonable regulations that respect private property, establish an enforcement structure, create an affordable housing fund and protect neighborhoods.

The rental referendum seeks to overturn a 6-3 City Council vote in July for an ordinance limiting short-term rental hosts to primary residences only, with one additional dwelling unit on the same parcel. That ordinance is scheduled to take effect in July 2019.

Meanwhile, City Council members Barbara Bry and Lorie Zapf, along with supporters of the new tougher vacation-rental regulations, have attacked the opposition’s referendum drive alleging it employed “deceptive tactics.” 

Short-Term Vacation Rental Working Group, an umbrella organization including La Jolla, Mission Beach, and Ocean Beach town councils and Pacific Beach Planning Group, sent a letter to Secretary of State Alex Padilla requesting the state’s Election Fraud Investigation Unit probe allegedly fraudulent marketing used in the short-term rental referendum.

“We are asking you to launch an investigation into the recent reports of petition signature gatherers lying or misleading San Diego voters to gain their signatures to oppose a short-term rental ordinance passed by San Diego City Council,” wrote STVR Working Group chair Ann Kerr Bache in the group’s letter.

“Multiple reports have come out recently about signature gatherers throughout San Diego using false statements to convince local voters to add their name to the petition. Several voters reported that one of the false claims used by signature gatherers was that the petition was in favor of building additional affordable housing, which is a completely false and fraudulent statement,” the letter read.

The letter claims petition gatherers used other false marketing tactics, including “telling voters the recently passed bill completely outlawed Airbnb and would infringe upon ordinary citizens’ property rights. This is untrue and misleading, if allowed to continue unchecked, it could help overturn an ordinance intended to help the very people being tricked into opposing it by signature gatherers hired by Airbnb,” wrote Kerr Bache in the letter.

State law holds petition circulators can be fined or put in jail for misrepresenting the contents and purpose of a petition. “It is imperative that these underhanded petition signature gathering tactics be shut down and all illegally obtained signatures be thrown out,” concluded the STVR Working Group. 

“This is nothing more than a desperate, last-minute attempt by hotel-funded opposition to derail signature gathering,” said Share San Diego spokesman Noah Mechanic. “San Diegans want a reasonable policy – not something that destroys a decades-long tradition, violates private property rights, hurts the local economy and puts tourism in San Diego at risk.”

Mechanic characterized the “broad coalition” of short-term vacation rental opponents as being comprised instead of “paid special interests with hotel ties, unlike the tens of thousands of voters, small businesses and local representatives who have stood up to the de facto ban passed last month.”

It is unfortunate to see elected officials standing up for out-of-town hotel interests over local homeowners.”

Mechanic added the possibility of a future lawsuit to block the new City ordinance from going into effect “remains on the table.”  

Pointing out such litigation can be more time consuming than the ballot-initiative process, Mechanic said: “The vacation rental industry remains open to meeting with the other side to craft an ordinance that is fair allowing everyone to take part in the sharing economy. We’re wide open for that.”

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