Council members approve an emergency ordinance that places a 45-day moratorium on new short-term rentals. Photo by Bianca Kaplanek
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New vacation rentals get temporary ban

DEL MAR — With support from only about 20 percent of the more than 50 people who weighed in via email or during the public comment periods on short-term rentals at the April 4 meeting, council voted 4-0, with Al Corti absent, to adopt a 45-day moratorium to temporarily halt the practice.

Anyone who has rented out their property for 30 days or less in the past 12 months may continue to do so. But no new short-term rentals can come on the market.

City officials will use the time to collect data, such the number of properties in the city that are used as vacation rentals, the negative impacts they have on the neighbors specifically and the community as a whole and the financial benefits they provide.

The moratorium can be extended for a maximum of six months.

Barbara McRoskey, who owns rental units on 26th Street, said she had concerns about the language, which required council members to find short-term rentals posed a threat to public health, safety or welfare.

“Is there an imminent threat to our health, safety or welfare?” McRoskey asked. “If there is I haven’t seen any sign of it. I don’t think the fact that one or two new short-term rentals might come on the market in next 45 days gives rise to that kind of imminent threat.

“We’re throwing this huge regulatory net over a situation we kind of don’t have a handle on,” she added.

The practice of renting one’s home, especially during the peak summer season in a beach community, is not new in Del Mar, nor is the discussion to ban or regulate it. The city has addressed it several times since at least 2010.

Many say the proliferation of short-term rental websites such as Vacation Rental by Owner, or VRBO, and Airbnb has exacerbated the number of short-term rentals and the associated negative impacts such as traffic, noise, parking and general loss of community character.

According to the staff report about 142 properties in Del Mar are listed on VRBO and Airbnb.

Zoning districts don’t currently define or list short-term rentals as an allowed use in Del Mar, although residential zones don’t expressly prohibit them either. In some cases, such as code sections related to the housing element, the rental of a dwelling is permitted.

Last year council directed staff to begin working on code amendments that would allow short-term rentals. A proposal was presented that listed several requirements, including the posting of emergency 24-hour contact information and the adoption of a good-neighbor policy.

Parking, noise and trash requirements were also included. But as the process moved forward there were more questions than answers and action was never taken.

Many people who rent out their homes say they depend on the extra income. They also said they support some type of sensible regulation. Most said they already follow similar guidelines and have had few if any complaints or problems.

“Many of us … offer short-term rentals with several conditions to ensure that they are truly good neighbors,” Laura DeMarco wrote. “These are enforced through the terms and forfeiture of large deposits in the rental agreement.

“The fact that there have been relatively few complaints throughout our community is a testament to the quality of renters and Del Mar homeowners,” she added. “We do not need the City of Del Mar’s regulation.”

“The world is not as it was,” Bruce McDermott stated. “That’s a good thing. Yes, change is not without its bumps.

“Del Mar is a leading destination for many travelers and it’s a wonderful place to live and raise a family,” he added. “Many residents today first came here or invested after visiting Del Mar — likely in a short-term rental or hotel.”

McRoskey said some people view vacation rentals as an “invasive cancer … causing all these terrible problems.”

“In some instances it truly is,” she said. “But I think it’s a tiny majority. …  It really isn’t that awful.

“There’s wonderful people coming to our town,” she added. “And they do add a lot to our community.”

About a dozen residents had a different opinion.

“It is beyond comprehension that council would consider allowing residential zoning changes that would allow commercial uses inside of our residential zones,” Edward Yuskiewicz wrote. “This is in direct opposition to our Community Plan and runs contrary to everything Del Mar has done to preserve our residential community and way of life for the permanent residents.”

“Loud noise, trash, overcrowding etc are just a few of the negatives that the short term rental problem brings and I have experienced all those,” Rick Harris wrote. “It would be sad to see Del Mar degenerate into just another loud, dirty, party beach town all for the sake of a little added income that comes from the rentals.”

“Residents, whether owners or renters, should not be forced to live alongside mini hotels carved out from our tranquil neighborhood settings,” stated an email from Lisa, Scott and Carole Renner.

“I’d rather not live in a hotel zone,” Bill Michalsky said. “Most of the time it’s OK but all you need is one family that brings a couple of dogs and they leave them home all day. … You don’t know what you’re going to get. It’s 31 flavors and not all of us like all of those.”

The California Coastal Commission also weighed in on the situation. While recognizing vacation rentals are not without problems, the panel noted that they generally support the practice as it provides a lower-cost alternative for beach visitors.

Council members were also split on how to address the issue. Councilmen Don Mosier and Terry Sinnott said they support allowing short-term rentals citywide but with uniform regulations.

Mosier described the current code as “permissive.” He said the fact that the city tried — but failed — to subject them to the transient occupancy tax says there is recognition they exist, which doesn’t suggest they are illegal.

Dwight Worden said he is not in favor of allowing vacation rentals in residential zones.

Mayor Sherryl Parks said she feels strongly that community character is being eroded and she apologized to beach area residents for taking so long to address the problems.

In addition to collecting data, city officials plan to hold workshops in an effort to craft code amendments.