Above: Assembly Bill 1731, authored by Asm. Tasha Boerner Horvath (D-Encinitas), aims to cap short-term rentals in residential zones at 30-days per year. Courtesy photo
DEL MAR — Short-term rentals have created controversy in Del Mar for years, with residents and officials weighing how to balance the city’s small-town charm with the rights of local property owners.
On May 20, Del Mar’s City Council revived the debate by drafting a letter of support for an assembly bill authored by Assemblywoman Tasha Boerner-Horvath, D-Encinitas, which would set a 30-day per year, per platform limit on short-term rentals in residential zones in San Diego’s coastal communities.
However, the bill stipulates that short-term rentals would be unlimited if the primary resident of the property lives on site full time.
Just days after the city’s action, AB 1731 passed through the assembly — it is now making its way through the senate. The bill is a five-year pilot program meant to test the efficacy of the restrictions.
The bill is in line with Del Mar’s past efforts to curtail short-term rentals — though said efforts have drawn widespread criticism among residents who use platforms like Airbnb or VRBO.com (Vacation Rentals by Owner) as a form of supplementary income, and have done so for decades.
In 2017, Del Mar adopted an ordinance aimed to limit short-term rentals in the city’s residential zones to 28 days per year, with seven-day-stay minimums.
The California Coastal Commission — which has ultimate say over short-term rental regulations in the state’s coastal zones — rejected the city’s plan and proposed an alternative: a limit of 90 days of short-term rentals per year, with a three-day minimum stay.
In response city officials took the Coastal Commission to court in order to clarify Del Mar’s control over local land use issues. But the outcome of the writ of mandate is still up in the air, with a forbearance period currently stalling enforcement action against non-conforming short-term rentals.
Council members Dwight Worden and Ellie Haviland brought the letter forward to council for consideration, with Worden saying the bill could “move the ball forward.”
“It has the potential to provide a new pathway for us in the sense that it could resolve our litigation if these restrictions become state law,” said Worden.
Worden said that codifying such regulations would “take the Coastal Commission out of the business of making those decisions,” while still allowing Del Mar to maintain local control within the bill’s limits.
The bill stipulates that within the 30-day restriction, cities have the power to define terms that are more stringent.
The city’s letter also included suggested revisions to the bill, particularly that homeowners be barred from renting out their properties for more than 30 days outright, not just per platform.
Residents sent in red dots and spoke during public comment to weigh in on the issue as they have for years, with most of the residents who submitted red dot letters speaking out against council’s support of the bill.
The division represents a growing divide in Del Mar — with the same speakers and red dot writers often splitting along the same lines when it comes to major local topics.
Resident Joel Holliday supported the bill, arguing that residents often suffer the negative consequences of short-term rentals while landlords and the short-term rental industry come out as “winners.”
“The residents are losing the residential nature of their community, particularly those of us in a small town like Del Mar — really that’s why we’re here,” he said.
Several argued that supporting state legislation would nullify the outlined purpose of the writ of mandate, which was to augment Del Mar’s local control, particularly over the California Coastal Commission.
“I think it’s ironic that this bill in particular is basically saying that you’re going to give up our local control and give it to the state by endorsing AB 1731,” said resident Debbie Church. “You’re giving up our local control mantra … was it just a means to an end to restrict (short-term rentals)?”
Others took issue with the letter’s assertion that short-term rental units take away from regional housing stock. In particular, Mayor Dave Druker said attributing the loss of affordable housing to short-term rentals is “bogus.”
“If we look at affordable housing here, and where our affordable housing is and has been, it has been in the apartment buildings,” Druker said. “It is not in the houses.”
Councilwoman Sherryl Parks said short-term rentals are “contributing and exacerbating our ability to provide affordable housing,” with Worden and Haviland coming out on the same side of the issue.
Councilwoman Terry Gaasterland wondered if the council should “step back” from supporting the bill.
“The reason is, it’s highly likely to change. It’s highly likely to have pushback,” she said. “I think we’d be in a position to listen and help craft this. If we endorse it in its current form, we lose that possibility.”
Ultimately Parks, Worden and Haviland voted in support of sending the letter, with Druker voting absent and Gaasterland voting in opposition.
Lexy Brodt covers all things Del Mar and Solana Beach for The Coast News, with a primary interest in coastal development. A North County native turned UW-Madison alumna, she has produced for Wisconsin Public Radio and reported for The San Diego Union-Tribune and Wisconsin State Journal.