Del Mar anguishes over short-term rentals

Racing season visitors are a tradition

Del Mar Airbnb page. Jackson suggested permits and regulations, as Solana Beach has. “If say, quiet hours are broken, they get a ding on their permit.”
  • Del Mar Airbnb page. Jackson suggested permits and regulations, as Solana Beach has. “If say, quiet hours are broken, they get a ding on their permit.”

As high tourist season approaches, Del Mar is on edge. What will happen with vacation rentals?

Last month, the city council drew a line in the sidewalk, separating homes and commerce. Interpreting the zoning code, they decided that rentals of less than 30 days are illegal in residential neighborhoods.

Now a ban on new vacation rentals is in force until Feb. 2; existing ones operate under a temporary reprieve; and new rules that might change everything are nowhere in sight

Figuring it out could take to the end of the year “or considerably longer,” said Councilman Dwight Worden at a special meeting on May 6, where the council began hashing it out.

The situation angers those who want to take advantage of racing season and beach crowds, as many have for years. At a public hearing on May 1, residents, who appealed the decision, spoke out.

“I am just begging you to please protect my property rights,” said Debbie Church. “Please stop and rethink this decision to ban vacation rentals in all residential zones.”

The council had found five zones where short term rentals are allowed, in commercial and mixed zones where homes and businesses overlap. But that’s not where the rentals have sprouted, Church argued. “There are eight properties within your residential-commercial zone; there are zero vacation rentals there, so now this is a complete ban.”

Kimberly Jackson, a vacation rental property manager, said the city will lose visitors. “We’ve had the same people here for five years. They’re not gonna stay in hotels. It’s a different profile type,” she argued. “We kinda feel like maybe you guys don’t want visitors…”

Jackson suggested permits and regulations, as Solana Beach has. “If say, quiet hours are broken, they get a ding on their permit.” She supports “giving back to the city” through the transient occupancy tax, which she doesn’t currently pay – and says she got kicked out of the Del Mar Village Association for not paying. “Hundreds of thousands go into Solana Beach every year.”

Others agreed on regulating problems such as occupancy, parking and noise – but how will it be enforced? “Please do not rely on neighbors enforcing the rules,” urged Clare McGrill, a member of a neighborhood group fighting the rentals. She asked that the city consider how, and if, rules could be enforced. Don’t “allow but regulate” unless the city can keep up.

She wants them to plan for ways people might cheat. She warned that rentals may go underground, and some have said they’d enter into 30-day agreements, then into a separate agreement with another party, to get around a ban. But the “ban” some call the city’s code interpretation was unclear.

“We’ve already said short-term rentals aren’t allowed,” said city manager Scott Huth. “If we’re coming back to say they’re allowed, there will be code changes, going through the planning commission – a well-vetted process.”

Meanwhile, residents threaten lawsuits, while the Coastal Commission has said regulations must go through a city’s Local Coastal Program and obtain a development permit — “perhaps the only legal way to pass a ban.” An outright ban through other local processes is unlikely to be legally enforceable in the coastal zone.

As the Coastal Commission sees it, vacation rentals provide beach access to people of all economic means.

Church, one of the critics, has her house listed on VRBO for a not-so-affordable $550 per night.

Then there are the property owners who call themselves Del Mar’s new low-income group, offering their homes as short-term lodging because they can’t afford to live there otherwise. Others argued that transient rentals take away affordable housing for residents, including students, against the community plan.

But there is more than one type of vacation rental, as the council discussed on May 6, looking for ways to allow some uses. The death of Del Mar, some say, is a year-round whole home rental without the owner onsite. That was easy: no.

Year-round vacation rentals of multifamily homes, like condos, were also turned down; the 30-day window should apply to everybody. Plus, a zoning revision would be needed.

Home shares with the owner present, and limited home exchanges or rentals, like a vacation swap, were easier to agree on. "One of the major problems we have been trying to solve,” said Councilman Dave Druker, “is not having people living next to a short-term rental that is 365 days a year."

They stalled on enforcement, which shouldn’t just be the word of a cranky neighbor, Worden said. That argued for a permit, rather than simple notification process, as councilmember Ellie Haviland wanted. But a conditional use permit, as with seasonal rentals, would change the zoning, and probably require environmental review, he added.

Still, in the current code, Worden noted, you can’t even hire a part-time secretary without getting a special permit. So, it wouldn’t make sense to say you can have a short-term rental, and don’t even have to register. “I don’t think we need to go into those weeds right now,” said Druker.

While no vote was taken, they settled on a limited home swap option; a short-term rental in seven-day increments for up to 21-30 days per year; some procedure to allow someone to prove non-conforming rights (e.g., they predate the community plan); and revisiting a permit for seasonal rentals.

Still to come: parameters, public input, code changes, an ordinance, possible environmental review, and “likely the Coastal Commission for a local coastal program amendment,” Worden said. (Which the council deemed unnecessary in their resolution).

“We’re kinda re-doing things,” said mayor Terry Sinnott of the changes. He was the only one to vote against last month’s resolution. “We’re architects here.”

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