San Diego rolls back strict Airbnb regulations, reopens debate over how to curb short-term rentals

Faced with a referendum to repeal San Diego’s new restrictions on short-term rentals, city council did just that on Monday, but left open the question of how it will regulate home sharing in the future.

Council on Monday afternoon had only two choices before it: repeal the bylaws it originally approved in July and reaffirmed in August, or put the question to voters in a future election. The effect of the council’s action is to once again leave San Diego in limbo over the long debated question of who can rent homes for periods of less than 30 days, an increasingly common practice popularized by online platforms like Airbnb and HomeAway.

The council vote to repeal the short-term rental legislation was 8 to 1, with City Councilor Lorie Zapf dissenting. Zapf had supported bringing the matter to the voters.

“I was not elected to represent the interests of out-of-town investors and I will not let the interests of companies with a lot of money intimidate me into rescinding this order,” said Zapf, who represents the seaside communities most affected by the proliferation of vacation rentals. “I just think we’ve worked too hard on this issue. There is no guarantee that a compromise will be reached anytime soon. “

Other board members, however, expressed some optimism that a compromise could be reached on new regulations, despite years of debate and struggle to reach consensus.

“What I’ve always said is a good compromise, this is where you find yourself where neither side is totally happy,” said Councilor Scott Sherman, who was one of the official support for the referendum effort. “We ended up, though, where one part was very happy and the other very unhappy, but I think there is room to find a real compromise. rhetoric We can get to a point where I think a compromise can happen.

The repealed regulation, which was due to come into force next July, would have prohibited the short-term rental of second homes but would have allowed the use of primary residences for short stays while the owner was away for up to six months on the year. The intention was to reduce the use of investor-owned properties for short-term stays, which critics say has exacerbated the city’s supply of long-term affordable housing.

The council’s actions followed more than three years of often emotional debates that polarized the city. Short-term rental hosts have long argued that they should be allowed to use their properties as a means to supplement their income while residents have complained about the emergence of “mini hotels” disrupting their once quiet neighborhoods.

While council members were limited in the actions they could take on Monday, many who spoke called for swift action on the replacement regulations. The city has the legal option to pass a new set of rules over the next year, but they are expected to be significantly different from those that were repealed.

It is still unclear what kind of alternative regulation would go through the law as being essentially different, although there is likely a new push to allow short-term rental of second homes.

“Our communities cannot wait indefinitely to resolve this urgent problem,” said La Jolla City Council President Ann Kerr-Bache, who also heads a short-term vacation rental task force representing some 20 people. community groups. “We are ready to work immediately with the city and all stakeholders to create legal, reasonable and improved ordinances that protect our communities.”

Others urged the council to take immediate action to enforce the city’s municipal code, which they say prohibits short-term rentals.

Last year, city attorney Mara Elliott issued a memo saying such rentals are not permitted in any area of ​​the city, a view not shared by former City of San Diego attorneys. The mayor’s office has so far chosen not to declare such rentals illegal and instead awaits the adoption of specific regulations.

City Councilor Barbara Bry, who has been pushing for primary residence only regulations, has asked Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s office to enforce the city code and ban short-term rentals for now.

“It really is a sad day for our city,” she said. “After a process of several years and many compromises, the council adopted a legally sound ordinance. It was not a de facto ban. I’m disappointed that a company valued at $ 31 billion has taken over our city and used deceptive tactics to force us to where we are today. If it went to the ballot, this big corporation would likely spend millions of dollars, and since the next regular election won’t take place until 2020, our city would face a two-year freeze on any progress on this issue. “

In a statement released after the vote, Faulconer’s office said it has already started working with various stakeholders on a new compromise plan.

“Today’s action may bring us back to the drawing board, but the good news is we haven’t come back to square one,” Faulconer spokesperson Christina Di Leva Chadwick said. “Mayor Faulconer will continue to advocate for a system that protects neighborhoods through increased surveillance and enforcement, and in the meantime, staff will continue to enforce existing laws against noise and other traffic related offenses. quality of life. “

Prior to council votes in July and August this year, Faulconer’s office presented a compromise proposal that would have allowed vacation rental hosts to rent out their primary residence while they were away, as well as an additional home. Faulconer had also proposed a steep license fee of $ 949 per year to help fund the hiring of 16 people to enforce the regulations, which the board supported at the time.

Home-sharing platforms Airbnb and HomeAway said Monday they were eager to work with the city on a “better way to regulate short-term rentals.” Airbnb and HomeAway’s parent company, Expedia, together contributed more than $ 1 million to the referendum effort.

In a statement they released, with a coalition of short-term rental hosts and management companies, they added: “This cancellation was passed because voters want regulations that protect private property rights. , encourage tourism, eliminate bad actors and create an enforceable regulatory structure. . “

During the council hearing, Bry specifically asked a representative of the mayor’s office for a list of about 10 “problem” short-term vacation rental properties that had been sent to him. She requested a status update and was told she could get one within five working days.

City Councilor Chris Ward said time is running out for local neighborhoods and vacation rental operators to work out a viable solution.

“I am ready and available for all parties,” said Ward, “so that I can continue the conversation to get something good that will get through and be able to satisfy the interests of our neighborhoods by reducing nuisance and being able to mitigate and repel the impacts on our housing supply.

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