Can Faulconer broker a compromise on vacation rental debate?

Three months after pledging to finally resolve the long-running debate over how to regulate short-term rentals, Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s office says it is working on a proposal that could reach the City Council by April.

Whether Faulconer can craft a deal, though, that will win majority support after three years of failed efforts by the council remains uncertain.

The community debate over the proliferation of short-term rentals advertised on platforms like Airbnb and HomeAway is no less divisive than it was when the public hearing process began three years ago.

While some some council members have shown a greater willingness to back away from initial hard-line positions, consensus has been elusive.

The council, in a day-long public hearing in December, appeared close to reaching a compromise on permitting short-term rentals while limiting the rise of commercial operators. But ultimately that consensus fell apart when a majority of council members could not agree on who could and could not rent out entire homes on a short-term basis.

The city attorney’s office has concluded that rentals for periods of less than 30 days are illegal under the city’s municipal code, but it is an opinion that is not being enforced.

Faulconer’s office confirmed that it is at work on drafting a proposal following meetings with more than two dozen stakeholders, including short-term rental platforms, as well as with various council members. But representatives said they were not ready yet to divulge details of what that proposal will say nor the outcome of their many meetings over the last few months.

Elyse Lowe, Faulconer’s staffer who is working on the short-term rental issue, said she is hopeful a plan can be crafted that will be supported by a majority of the council. A proposal could be completed as early as this month.

The plan is to first send the draft legislation to the council’s Smart Growth and Land Use Committee for consideration before moving it to the full council.

One possible proposal that some believe may emerge from Faulconer’s office would allow San Diego residents to rent out their primary residence on a short-term basis plus one other home they own. It is unclear whether a mayoral proposal would allow for the operation of vacation rentals by non-residents.

Whatever proposal is advanced it will include a permit-based system, along with fees to cover administration and enforcement costs, said Christina Di Leva Chadwick, a spokesman for the mayor's office.

“We plan to add additional staff positions to handle enforcement so that the city can increase its responsiveness to calls on nuisance properties,” she said in an email.

Councilwoman Barbara Bry, whose district includes coastal communities that have attracted a large number of vacation rentals, said she is standing firm on her original proposal that would allow individuals to rent out only their primary residences and for no more than 90 days a year. She does support unlimited home-sharing where residents rent out a room in their home.

Bry had shown a willingness to compromise further in the December council meeting, partly in response to warnings from the California Coastal Commission that cities not overly restrict what it says is a form of affordable lodging on the coast.

But in an interview Wednesday, Bry said she is heartened by a California appellate court decision in January that effectively upheld a ban on short-term rentals in the city of Hermosa Beach. She pointed out that the ruling concluded that the city’s ordinance did not violate the California Coastal Act, which governs new development projects, but not cities’ zoning rules.

“I’m still optimistic we can reach a compromise,” said Bry, who met Wednesday with the mayor’s office about proposed short-term rental legislation. “I'm optimistic they're putting together a proposal that protects our precious housing stock and has an effective enforcement method.”

Councilman David Alvarez says he would support regulations that would allow San Diego homeowners to rent out their primary residence on a short-term basis, plus one other unit. He is insistent, though, on securing an agreement with home sharing platforms to provide data on who their hosts are and how often they are renting out their units so that regulations can be better enforced.

“You should be able to do whatever you want to do with your house,” Alvarez said, “but I think a second unit should be allowed because we have duplexes and triplexes in my community and people use that to help with their ever increasing cost of living.”

Pressure is building to put in place regulations to tame the growth of such rentals. Last month the San Diego Unified School District board weighed in, passing a resolution urging the city to pass “appropriate” regulations.

And on Thursday, a coalition of town councils, largely representing the beach communities, is holding an evening forum to discuss ideas for regulating vacation rentals. The group supports rules customized for different communities in the city, some affected more than others by home sharing.

“Our message is that town councils are joining together and we are going to make our voices heard and if not now, then in the (council) elections,” said Ann Kerr Bache, who is chairing a recently formed vacation rental working group.

Councilman Chris Cate, who has been pushing for a more permissive approach to regulating vacation rentals for the last several years, says he is willing to compromise but has grown weary of the failed efforts to do anything.

“I’m still skeptical but trying to remain optimistic,” Cate said of a compromise. “We want to end this but there's only so far I'm willing to go to impede on someone's rights to take part in this activity.”

lori.weisberg@sduniontribune.com

(619) 293-2251

Twitter: @loriweisberg

Copyright © 2018, Pacific San Diego
64°