Airbnb backs referendum effort to overturn San Diego’s new short-term rental rules

Furious at San Diego’s strict new short-term rental regulations, Airbnb and HomeAway launched a referendum in hopes of overturning legislation it called a ban.

Signature collectors have already started circulating petitions, asking San Diego City Council to either repeal the new regulations, which will not come into effect until next July, or bring the issue to voters. The referendum effort is funded by the Committee to Expand the Middle Class, supported by Airbnb, which has so far contributed $ 100,000 to the campaign group.

The referendum is a joint effort of online home sharing platforms Airbnb, HomeAway and Share San Diego, a coalition of short-term rental hosts and vacation rental management companies. In a Tuesday call with members of the press, the coalition discussed its plan to fight back against last Wednesday’s council action to significantly curb the proliferation of short-term rentals across the city.

That fight could also include court challenges, although representatives have said they are currently focusing on the referendum effort.

“We stand up for the thousands of middle class San Diego’s who welcome tens of thousands of visitors each year,” said Laura Spanjian, Airbnb director of public policy for San Diego. “Together we must find a better way to regulate short-term rentals other than a ban.”

However, the “explanatory memorandum” of the referendum petition is signed by Councilor Scott Sherman, who voted against the new bylaw last week and has been particularly opposed to his opposition, going so far as to call the hosts of Mission Beach to sue the city. .

“The main reason I wanted to sign this is that I think the city has a terrible legal connection to the decision we made,” Sherman said. “The city has been allowing short-term rentals for quite a long time and has a transitional occupancy fee, and with a stroke of the pen we say they are no longer allowed. If it were to go to court, we might end up having to shell out a lot of money to take property from people, so it’s all about property rights.

The rules issued by the council, which govern short stays of less than 30 days, will limit these rentals to his main residence for up to six months per year. The effect of the action, which came after three years of unsuccessful efforts by the city to regulate these rentals, is to ban short stays in second homes and investor properties throughout the city, including including Mission Beach, long a magnet for vacation rentals.

If supporters of the referendum effort manage to collect 35,823 valid signatures (5% of registered voters in San Diego) within the next 30 days, city council would be required to withdraw its action or vote on rental legislation. short term. of the electorate.

Even if funders are successful in collecting signatures, there would not be enough time to place anything on the November ballot, as the deadline to do so is this Friday. The next regular municipal elections would not take place before 2020.

Yet the effect of a successful effort to certify a referendum would be to suspend council action until the issue is decided by voters.

City Councilor Barbara Bry, who has led the council’s efforts to put restrictive regulations in place, said on Tuesday the referendum did nothing to change her position.

“I will continue to stand up for the residents and neighborhoods of San Diego and fight to preserve our housing stock,” she said. “Our residents expect their elected officials to create policies that protect our sharing economy and our residential zoning, while increasing our housing stock, without depleting it.”

Sherman said he hopes if the referendum is ultimately certified, the council will reverse its action and possibly consider legislation that is not as restrictive.

“But at the end of the day, it will have to go to the voters in one form or another and let them decide because the politicians keep messing it up,” he said.

The short-term rental coalition points out that it had supported a more permissive plan put forward by Mayor Kevin Faulconer that would have allowed San Diego residents to rent up to two short-term homes, including their primary residents. Outsiders could have applied for a vacation rental permit, and the majority of existing rentals in Mission Beach would have been exempt.

Instead, supporters of the referendum say, “through behind-the-scenes deals, hastily crafted amendments, lawlessness and blatant disregard by voters, a law passed that will cost San Diego dozens. millions of dollars in economic activity and tax revenues. “

According to the office of San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, the city council’s crackdown on rentals popularized by roommate sites like Airbnb could affect up to 80% of the city’s more than 11,000 vacation rentals.

The council has faced tremendous pressure in recent years to take regulatory action in the face of growing complaints from residents that holidaymaker rotation cycles are disrupting their quiet neighborhoods and depleting the supply of long-term housing.

While it is unclear whether San Diego voters would support strict limitations on short-term rentals, the coalition supporting the referendum says they are encouraged by Palm Springs voters’ rejection in June of a measure that would have banned vacation rentals in residential areas.

The group is also counting on the California Coastal Commission to ease restrictions on properties in the coastal area. The committee has long supported short-term rentals as an affordable alternative to hotel stays. The city’s new ordinance cannot come into effect in coastal communities until the commission has had the opportunity to comment.

Opponents are also still weighing a potential litigation based on legal concerns that a lawyer representing Airbnb and HomeAway raised this month in letters sent to city council.

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