Vacation rental rules move forward in Del Mar

DEL MAR — Short-term rental regulations deemed too restrictive by many cleared another hurdle Oct. 16, when council members introduced an ordinance with a 4-1 vote that would limit the use to seven-day minimum stays for no more than 28 days a year in nearly all residential zones.

“This proposal is not a compromise,” said Mayor Terry Sinnott, who supports the one-week minimum but not the 28-day maximum. “We can’t be doing something that is just going to split the community and I’m afraid this proposal is.

“I’m willing to support regulation but I just think we’re going at it in a too harsh way and it’s going to cause too many problems,” he added.

Several of the 35 speakers who addressed council in two hours of public testimony during the nearly three-hour public hearing disagreed.

“I believe the proposed ordinance strikes a careful, thoughtful balance between the basic purpose of residential zoning and the interests of what is a minority of residents interested in using their property as a short-term rental,” David Doyle said.

Judith Schuckit said she would prefer an all-out ban on rentals of less than 30 days but described the ordinance as “livable.”

Bud Emerson called it “an overly generous compromise.”

“I think we’re at a strategic crossroads … between whether we’re going to be hotel Del Mar or we’re going to be community Del Mar,” he added.

Emerson went on to say the “secret sauce” that helps make Del Mar “one of the best communities in Southern California” is “human talent … the people who live here all the time and take responsibility for us making good decisions.

“We’re going to lose that talent if all we do is monetize this wonderful community we’ve created for profit,” he said.

Attorney Cory Briggs, representing a group of homeowners called Del Mar Alliance for the Preservation of Beach Access and Village, said the ordinance has a number of legal problems.

They include excessive restrictions on coastal accommodations and access that are generally not favored by the California Coastal Commission, which must approve the proposed ordinance as an amendment to the city’s local coastal program.

Briggs noted that in the 1980s, when approving the Wave Crest Resort on Ocean Avenue, council members determined the timeshare project would create more recreational opportunities than long-term rental use.

“This, you concluded in your findings, would provide access to affordable accommodations along the coast, and thereby promote the policies of the Coastal Act,” he said, adding that the proposed regulations are contrary to those findings.

Additionally, Briggs said, it is “very Orwellian” of the current council to say vacation rentals have been prohibited, even though they have occurred for decades, and the new rules would allow them.

If that’s true, he added, a review by the California Environmental Quality Act would be required.

He said his response to the ordinance was “W-O-W” and it wasn’t wow.

“It was well-off and white,” Briggs said. “What you’re really trying to do is protect Del Mar from people of lesser financial means who don’t look like you, who aren’t part of your clique, who aren’t part of your crowd.

“You might think that’ll fly tonight but when you get to the Coastal Commission you’ve got another thing coming,” he added.

Briggs, who has already taken legal action against the city in response to short-term rentals, said another lawsuit will be filed in the next couple weeks.

“I would be happy to see you spend whatever money is necessary on litigation,” resident Joel Holliday told council members. “I wouldn’t shy away from that at all.”

“I will be brave and stand up to these threatening, ominous lawsuits,” Councilwoman Sherryl Parks said.

Many Del Mar property owners say short-term rentals help them afford their homes and provide business for local shops and restaurants. Most have said they support “commonsense” regulations but severe restrictions such as the ones proposed violate their property rights.

Opponents say more frequent turnover rates, which have increased due to online booking sites such as Airbnb, are changing the “essential character of the residential neighborhoods” and causing increased traffic, parking and noise problems.

City officials have worked for years to find a balanced solution. While doing so they adopted a moratorium in April 2016 that prohibits any new units from entering the market. State law limits to two consecutive years the amount of time a moratorium on the same item can remain in effect.

Since the moratorium took effect, the city received 34 complaints about short-term rentals. About 20 percent, or seven, were for noise, trash and parking violations. The other 80 percent were for rentals people thought came on the market after the moratorium, but 17 qualified as existing.

Councilman Dwight Worden said the proposed regulations are within reason because they match a one-day analysis of vacation rentals in the city submitted by Airbnb.

According to the booking website analysis, the average stay in Del Mar is five days and 24 nights per year per unit is typical.

Worden also said none of the short-term rental and hotel room rates in the city meet the Coastal Commission’s affordability standards of $80 to $120 per night.

Amanda Lee, the city’s senior planner, said Del Mar protects public access and low-cost visitor and recreation facilities.

“We do accommodate visitors of all income levels,” she said, citing the free trails, beaches, parks and open space viewpoints, as well as public facilities.

Council members were asked at the meeting to decide how long existing short-term rental owners should have to come into compliance with the new rules. They opted to address that issue at a future meeting.

Worden suggested they should have at least until the Coastal Commission renders its decision.


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