Another lawsuit filed relating to vacation rentals

DEL MAR — Legal issues related to City Council’s determination that short-term rentals are not an allowed use in residential neighborhoods continue, with a second lawsuit filed July 17 claiming the city illegally failed to fulfill in a timely manner a public records request.

The complaint was submitted by a group of property owners, collectively called Del Mar Alliance for the Preservation of Beach Access and Village, who in June filed a lawsuit accusing the city of violating the California Environmental Quality Act, California Coastal Act and their property rights by what they say is essentially a ban on rentals of less than 30 days.

The public records request was submitted on May 4. About 10 days later the city responded, saying it would take at least 45 days to provide all the documents.

Cory Briggs, who is representing the alliance in both lawsuits, sent a follow-up notice saying the law requires that records be provided within 24 days and asked the city to provide documents as they became available.

At the time of the July 17 legal action, Briggs said he hadn’t received anything. Less than 10 days later, Del Mar City Attorney Leslie Devaney said “all documents were produced in a reasonable amount of time and he has all requested documents.”

Briggs and his clients submitted a list of 26 requests for multiple documents related to short-term rental discussions and meetings, including emails to and from all City Council members since January 2010, all interpretation applications filed with the city, California Coastal Commission and California Environmental Quality Act documents, public hearing notices, staff reports and public hearing minutes, to name a few.

“This was not your everyday request,” Ashley Jones, Del Mar’s administrative services director, said. “A significant volume of records had to be collected and then reviewed by the city attorney first. In no way, shape or form did we deliberately try to not get them to them sooner.

“We did our best with our small staff,” she added. “We did not want to submit (the documents) on a rolling basis. We have to make sure we keep track of everything, and submitting them all at once was the easiest way to do that.

“Sending chunks here and there would have been problematic,” Jones said. “We didn’t want to inadvertently overlook a document.”

“Once we sued them, they turned them over,” Briggs said. “I assume they turned over everything.”

He said his clients were requesting so much documentation because city officials have presented only half of the story in their justification for determining in a 4-1 vote in April that short-term rentals aren’t allowed.

“The public is entitled to see everything, not just the city’s lopsided version,” Briggs said. “The city is saying they were always banned. We want to see if the city’s version of that story jibes with public records.

“We want to see what’s in the city’s files to justify the city’s position,” he added. “The city plays fast and loose with the facts.”

Briggs said it will take at least a month for him to review the documents to ensure everything requested was submitted. He said he has no current plans to drop the second lawsuit.

“A judge will decide if the city was tardy in fulfilling the request,” he said.

If that happens, Briggs said it will be a “black eye” for Del Mar, which will be required to pay attorney fees.

Renting out homes, especially during the peak summer season in a beach community, is not new in Del Mar, nor is the discussion to ban or regulate the practice. The city has addressed it several times since at least 2010.

Some say short-term rental websites such as Vacation Rental by Owner and Airbnb have increased the number of vacation rentals, which in turn are negatively impacting residential areas with more noise and traffic and affecting community character.

Short-term rental proponents say they depend on the additional income to maintain their homes and their renters contribute to Del Mar businesses and restaurants. They also say the complaints have been minimal and there is no data to support those claims.

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