DEL MAR — The debate over short-term rentals continued, with no decisions made, when council members at the March 20 meeting agreed to consider two appeals of a Planning Commission decision, set the public hearing for April 17 and directed staff to look into refunding the $500 each applicant paid to request the appeal.
City officials for years have been trying to find a way to best deal with rentals of less than 30 days in residential areas. In 2010 they attempted to tax them with an initiative the failed at the polls.
Proponents say short-term rentals, which have increased significantly in recent years as a result of online booking sites, have historically been allowed, cause few problems and provide needed supplemental income for many residents. They say a ban would violate their property rights.
Opponents say they cause an increase in traffic, parking, noise and trash problems and are changing the community character.
Transient housing is referenced in the community plan, a document created in the 1970s, but short-term or vacation rentals are not specifically identified. They are also not addressed in the municipal code.
Opponents say that is another reason they should be prohibited in residential neighborhoods. According to a staff report, Del Mar has a permissive code, which means that unless a use is expressly allowed it is not legally permitted. However, that is not stated anywhere.
While city officials are deciding whether to ban short-term rentals in residential areas or create regulations, they asked the Planning Commission earlier this year to interpret the municipal code to determine if they should be allowed.
At its Feb. 14 meeting the five-member panel, in a 3-2 vote, ruled that an interpretation could not be made because short-term rentals are not defined or listed in the municipal code.
An appeal was filed by a group of residents who support vacation rentals. Headed by Ralph and Laura DeMarco, they claim the commission failed to follow the general rules of statutory construction, abused its discretion and failed to disclose a possible conflict of interest.
The appeal also claims code changes that ban short-term rentals would not be clarifying existing law but writing a new one. They also cited the historical use of property for short-term rentals, primarily during the fair and horse racing seasons, and the allowance of similarly intense uses such as day-care facilities.
Another appeal, submitted by short-term rental opponents, was filed by a group led by Robin Crabtree. It, too, claims the commission failed to apply the rules of statutory construction.
It also states the panel didn’t properly determine whether the community plan and municipal code allow short-term rentals in residential districts and failed to “properly consider the effect of the permissive nature of Del Mar’s zoning code in reaching a correct interpretation of the question before it.”
At the March 20 meeting, council members could not discuss the pros and cons of short-term rentals. They were only being asked if there was enough evidence to hear the appeals at a future public hearing.
Only two votes were needed. At least three supported the staff recommendation to do so. So did the nearly dozen people who addressed council.
“I believe the reason you should set this matter for an appeal is because it has such a large effect on so many of the residents of Del Mar, particularly a financial effect,” Carol Ozaki said.
“The commercial impact, the financial impact of the short-term rental business is massive,” David Doyle said. “You cannot open a paper today … that doesn’t have an article about cities around the globe, big and small, that are facing this impact and having to deal with it to preserve their communities.
“From Barcelona to New York to Big Bear to Mammoth Lakes — whether they’re vacation areas, large cities, small cities, regular little towns — every one of them is facing this exact same problem and it needs to be dealt with,” he added.
“We really need to have clarity on what the current code means, what the community plan means in order to set a baseline for determining what you want to do as a policy matter for short-term rentals,” Betty Wheeler said.
“I certainly applaud the effort to get clarity and a good interpretation,” she added. “I just want to point out that two members of the community … had to pay $500 each in order to get this appeal in front of you. That clearly is a mechanism designed for people handling individual matters. This is a matter of community-wide interest. I would urge you to consider refunding those fees.”
The city received nearly 100 emails in response to the agenda item. They will be added to the April 17 agenda as part of the public record for that meeting.
Meanwhile, staff will look into whether council members have the authority to refund the appeal fees.