Mission Beach residents concerned if short-term rentals ramp up for summer
by DAVE SCHWAB
Published - 05/20/20 - 10:00 AM | 3815 views | 20 20 comments | 49 49 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Gary Wonacott
Gary Wonacott
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With short-term rentals presently hobbled by a lack of tourism during the pandemic, the question of whether or not they’re over saturating the beachfront is resurfacing.

With the Covid-19 lock down two months old, and Gov. Gavin Newsom’s decree that STRs cannot be rented to non-essential tenants, STR operators admit rentals are way down. They’re also noting the market’s demographics have changed. With airport traffic cratering, San Diego, at least temporarily, has become a drive-to destination.

The Beach & Bay Press and La Jolla Village News spoke with two residents – Greg Knight and Gary Wonacott of Mission Beach, the coastal community acknowledged as having the largest proportion of STRs – to get their take on what the present short-term rental situation may bode for the future.

“We are seeing a decline in the amount of STRs that are being rented and many of the responsible owners and property managers have stopped renting all together with the stay-at-home order in place,” said Knight, a small-business owner and member of Mission Beach Town Council. “However, many property managers are seeing their businesses losing money, which means they are doing anything and everything to get a unit rented.”

Added Knight: “This means lowering the prices and going after the people that are not taking this situation as serious. An STR on my court actually rented to a group recently that were just here for the (lockdown) protest in PB.”

“Grocery stores limit the number of shoppers, but we do not put a limit on the number of visitors coming into our residential areas. This seems insane,” said Gary Wonacott, a former MBTC member who resigned recently, and has advocated for stricter STR regulations.

Meanwhile, Wonacott said the pandemic has brought some changes to MB, that some residents are not displeased with.

“Mission Beach last summer was inundated by STRs, scooters, and airport noise,” he said. “It was horrendous … Since the coronavirus showed up, virtually all of the scooters have disappeared. STRs, until recently, have been very quiet. And airplane noise is almost non-existent over MB.”  

Nearly a year ago in June, MBTC sought to “broker” a compromise over STRs in the community. The MBTC room vote then was 94-34 in favor of an MBTC committee’s recommendations, with at least one critic arguing it was a largely pro-rental partisan crowd, not the sentiment of long-term residents.

No action was subsequently taken by the City over MBTC’s short-term rental recommendations.

Those recommendations included non-transferable rental permits; annual per-unit $950 permit fee; primary rental occupant must be age 25-plus with the three-night minimum; two-person per bedroom occupancy; required “good neighbor policy” posting; prompt nuisance complaint response; complaint log required showing responses; escalating fines from $1,000 to $4,500 with permit revocation, and an appeals process, for repeat offenders; and an ultimate goal of limiting short-term rentals in MB to 30 percent of total units.

Since then, the STR issue has since largely been back-burnered with the upcoming mayoral election and the ongoing pandemic.

There is now a new concern over short-term rentals besides lack of enforcement.

“Many people are coming in and do not know what the rules and regulations are during this virus,” Knight said. “Many aren't wearing masks. When you just show up in town and find that you are limited to no boardwalk, no restaurants, very limited supplies, and not knowing where to find sources of information, it makes it next to impossible for renters to figure out what to do and where they can go.”

Added Knight, “MB is a very tight community geographically with a lot of units right on top of each other and many doors that open within six feet of one another. MB also has a lot of senior citizens living in close proximity to college-age and mid-20s people, many of whom don't take this situation very seriously. We are concerned that if the virus were to come to MB, it has the potential to spread like a wildfire with severe consequences for some. If vacation rentals are allowed to come back in with no consequences, our population in Mission Beach could increase by 400-plus percent, which could be deadly.”

Wonacott’s longstanding view that MB is oversaturated with short-term rentals remains unchanged. And he doubts the present “pandemic pause” will have much long-term effect.

“The percent of STRs in PB has been around 7 percent of total dwellings compared to over 50 percent in MB,” he said. “I doubt there are many communities in California that compare with MB, which is why we are so concerned about a sudden increase in coronavirus here brought in from STR visitors. … I do expect the percent of STRs in MB to drop substantially this summer in MB, although it appears that most STR owners/investors are staying the course for now. I don’t see a dramatic decrease in STRs in the long term due to the virus.”

Reacting to the contention that short-term tenants aren’t aware of local pandemic restrictions, rental industry spokesperson Jonah Mechanic said: “From direct interaction with our guests, that is simply not true. Virtually every guest that calls or emails our office looking to come to San Diego always asks what the rules are so that they are prepared. They ask about the beach closures, restaurant availability (dine-in versus take-out), masks, and social distancing. These are responsible people who are in need of accommodations so that they too can responsibly shelter-in-place.”

Added Mechanic: “The notion that all residents and long-term renters are all responsible, polite, and ‘good’ neighbors, while all tourists and visitors are irresponsible, rude, and ‘bad’ neighbors, is simply anti-short term rental propaganda that has no basis in fact nor reality. It is disappointing to see that even during a worldwide health pandemic, the anti-STR groups continue to push their agenda.”

“We need to put our differences aside and stop bickering over this issue,” continued Mechanic. “We need to put our swords down and work together as a community, and as a City, to beat this terrible pandemic. No matter what side of the long-standing STR debate you are on, what should be most important is that we all stay safe and healthy, and hopefully return to a sense of normalcy sooner than later.”

 

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May 24, 2020
There are certainly some vacation rental management companies that are ethical and have acted in accordance with the States rules and regulations. Unfortunately Mr. Mechanic is not one of these. There is a whole group on Face Book working together to share ideas on how to get their deposits back from SeaBreeze, Mr. Mechanics vacation rental company. If Mr. Mechanic was all about lets work together, he would be returning the deposits, but no, this is all about money. The hotels are hurting and since we get 100 percent of tot from hotels and about 40 percent from STRs, they should be the first priority. And if approached regarding the requirement for essential workers only to be accommodated at empty STRs, The visitors have been told to say that they are on an extended stay. I am tracking coronavirus cases in the beach communities, which have been relatively flat, and in fact flat in MB/PB. If we see a sudden spike, we will know that it is not the behavior of residents.
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