San Diego’s recurring debate over Airbnb rentals resumes

The heated debate over short-term rentals returned to City Hall Thursday after a two-year hiatus as San Diego planning commissioners considered a proposal that could potentially reduce the volume of homes rented by 60%. for short stays.

Although no vote was taken on the merits of the proposed ordinance, the Planning Commission agreed at the end of the more than three-hour hearing to return the matter to city staff for response. concerns related primarily to technical questions about how the regulations would be administered and enforced. A hearing date has been set for December 3 to review the proposal.

Where there seems to be consensus is on the need to finally resolve a problem that has long plagued city leaders. The order proposed to the commission came from City Councilor Jennifer Campbell, who represents many seaside communities and was able to garner support from Expedia, the parent company of home-sharing platforms HomeAway and VRBO, and Unite Here Local 30, the union that represents hotel workers. Airbnb, the leading home-sharing platform in San Diego, believes the proposal is too restrictive and has called for a higher annual cap.

“It’s a sticky wicket if there is one,” said Commissioner Douglas Austin. “I hear arguments from both sides, but one of the things that needs to be done is that I believe we cannot continue to sweep this under the rug. We need a legal way to enforce what we have, so I think our city councilor has a good idea to move this forward… I think that’s probably the best compromise we’re going to find.

Thursday’s renewed debate comes two years after an Airbnb-led referendum forced elected San Diego executives to remove tough new restrictions they adopted months earlier in hopes of curbing short-term rentals .
While the city has struggled with how to regulate vacation rentals for at least five years, it has so far been unable to put in place rules that would apply.

Under the plan advocated by Campbell, the number of homes that could be fully let for short stays in the absence of the owner or resident would be capped at around 5,130 city-wide, including an exclusion for nearly of 1,100 of these rentals. at Mission Beach.

For the purpose of calculating the annual short-term rental allowance, the number of licenses allowed in the city, excluding Mission Beach, would be limited to 0.75% of the city’s over 500,000 housing units. . For Mission Beach, long a magnet for vacation rentals, the prorated allocation would be much larger, accounting for 30 percent of the community’s total housing units.

The effect of the proposed restrictions would be to reduce by 60% the number of short-term rentals of whole homes, which the city said totaled nearly 13,000 as of last summer. Individuals would be limited to one short-term rental permit each, and a minimum of two nights would be required of all guests for the rental of entire accommodations. The licenses would be granted via a lottery, but there are few details on how that would work, which was among the concerns cited by town planning commissioners on Thursday.

The city had proposed to postpone the implementation of the regulation until January 1, 2022

While the Campbell proposal is not as restrictive as the one adopted by council in August 2018, which would have banned the short-term rental of second homes, it has proven to be no less confrontational. Longtime residents of many communities have opposed any regulations that would legalize what they say is the proliferation of mini-hotels in quiet neighborhoods. Meanwhile, vacation rental hosts insist the proposal is so restrictive it would rob many of them of the income they depend on to supplement their income.

Airbnb has recommended capping the number of short-term rentals at 1.2% of the city’s housing stock. Anything less, says John Choi, senior public policy officer at Airbnb, “will put many of our guests out of business at a time when they need the income more than ever.” He noted that last year Airbnb hosts were responsible for generating $ 21 million in tax revenue for the city.

The company’s goal, Choi insisted in an interview, is “to have a regulatory framework that addresses this problem.” It is not our intention to continue fighting here, and it is certainly not in the interest of our hosts to have this volatile environment.

Expedia, however, argued that the time has come for clear rules governing home sharing and that the Campbell Compromise is the best option to do so.

“For over 1,825 days, the city itself has been crippled over how to accommodate the very real benefits of vacation rentals in a way that addresses all of our concerns about housing and bad actors,” he said. said Amanda Pedigo, vice president of government and corporate affairs. . “Expedia Group supports this compromise because we understand that enough is enough.”

Michael Bunyard, who describes himself as a beach resident, said Thursday he stood to lose most of his income if Campbell’s proposal was approved.

“I have worked my fingers to the bone all my life to afford rental properties. If you ban STRs or for some reason I don’t get a permit, you will effectively take two-thirds of my total income. I will lose everything, including my 18 year old son’s school fees. Do you really want this? “

Longtime vacation rental critics say the regulations are unnecessary, citing a previous opinion by San Diego City Attorney Mara Elliott that rentals for periods of less than 30 days are illegal under the code municipal council of the city. The city, however, never chose to enforce this, opting instead for a set of rules to regulate them.

“We urge you to reject this misguided ordinance. Our Pacific Beach City Council was not consulted for comment, ”said Brian White, President of City Council. “We remain opposed to this. It simply serves the interests of short-term rental platforms like Expedia and Airbnb. .. by legalizing their hotel operations in our residential communities.

The proposal submitted to the Planning Commission structures the regulation of short-term rentals as a tiered system, with no limits imposed on hosts who rent a house for no more than 20 days per year. Likewise, there would be no limit for those who rent a room or two in their house while they reside there. The proposal also allows these owners or permanent residents to be away from their homes for up to 90 days per year.

The measure, in general terms, describes the steps that would be taken to enforce the new regulations, including the hiring of new code enforcement officers, but does not specify the amount of license fees to cover additional costs. The lack of such details, as well as some confusion over how the lottery would work, were among the concerns that prompted a majority of Commissioners to support returning the measure to development service staff.

“I know we will never make everyone happy,” said Commissioner Matthew Boomhower. “But a lot of the public comment emails we’ve received and a number of people who have spoken here today, it’s mainly because there is a fear of the unknown. When the government officials say don’t worry it will work out, I think it’s too big a problem for us to just believe we’re going to fix it in the regulations.

Before new regulations can be enacted, they would still have to go to city council, as well as the California Coastal Commission, which would weigh in on the part of the proposal that affects the city’s coastal area.

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