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Council OKs another STR moratorium

DEL MAR — Council members at the Dec. 5 meeting approved another temporary moratorium on any new short-term rentals. It is the fourth time since April that city officials have adopted or extended such an urgency ordinance.

The current ban will expire Jan. 19, and at least one councilman said he will not grant another extension much beyond that time.

“In January, February at the latest, we need to resolve this,” Dwight Worden said. “I will be not in favor of extending the moratorium beyond then.”

In response to resident complaints that rentals of less than 30 days are disrupting neighborhoods and changing the community character, a 45-day emergency ordinance that took effect immediately was initially adopted eight months ago.

In May it was extended for six months, until November. Before that expired, a new 45-day temporary moratorium was approved.

That ordinance expired Dec. 1, so council members approved a new one to maintain the status quo while city staff develops regulations.

Property owners have been renting out their homes in the beachside city for decades, especially during the summer and thoroughbred horse racing season. With websites such Vacation Rental by Owner and Airbnb making bookings easier, the practice has become more frequent.

Zoning districts and the Community Plan, created decades ago, don’t define or list rentals of less than 30 days as an allowed use in residential zones, although they don’t expressly prohibit them either.

Some have said since they aren’t addressed they aren’t permitted.

Residents have complained that the constant turnover causes traffic, noise, parking and trash problems.

Owners support commonsense regulations but say prohibiting them from renting out their homes violates their property rights. Some say they depend on the additional income.

The current council is split on whether to prohibit short-term rentals in residential areas, with Don Mosier and Al Corti somewhat favoring the practice with regulations. But neither one will be on the dais when a decision is made.

Both oppose the purchase of property for the sole purpose of using it as a short-term rental.

Like all previous moratoriums, the new one does not apply to properties that were used as short-term vacation rentals 12 months or more prior to April.

The California Coastal Commission sees short-term rentals as lower-cost alternatives for beach visitors, especially in cities such as Del Mar, where hotel rates are often pricey.

Previous public hearings have been lengthy, with dozens of people on both sides of the issue addressing council members. Laura DeMarco was the only resident to speak Dec. 5.

She said she did not support the moratorium because she saw nothing in the staff report that would “rise to the level of the health, safety and welfare of the community being endangered,” a required finding for an urgency ordinance.

DeMarco also said the beach area, where she owns a vacation rental, is one of the few in Del Mar with safe, easy beach access.

“There’s only one legal crossing to get to the beach in Del Mar,” she said. “That’s on 15th Street. …  (The beach colony) is the only place where there is contiguous, flat access for families and for people with special needs and wheelchairs to get to the beach.”

She said visitors staying at hotels at the south end of town have to cross the railroad tracks illegally or make the trek to 15th Street, also difficult for those with special needs. That, combined with property rights issues, results in “a lot of moving parts legally.”

“You shouldn’t be at the bleeding edge of legal issues,” she said. “If people work together with good will — and there’s a lot of people with good will who want to see good things happen in Del Mar — we don’t have to get lawyers involved.

“I wouldn’t want that to happen,” DeMarco added. “It just sucks up too much money and too much time and causes too much consternation.”

State law limits to two consecutive years the amount of time a moratorium on the same item can remain in effect.

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