City votes to rescind short-term rental regulations

SAN DIEGO -- The San Diego City Council voted 8-1 Monday to rescind an ordinance that placed regulations on short-term rental companies like AirBNB.

City Councilwoman Lorie Zapf, who represents the beach and bay communities in District 2, voted against the repeal, suggesting there's no guarantee that a compromise on a new set of regulations will ever be reached again.

The City Council originally passed the ordinance, 6-3, in July. Short- term rental operators would have been limited to renting primary residences a maximum of 180 days per year and would have had to pay transient occupancy taxes to fund the construction of affordable housing projects. The ordinance also mandated that vacationers stay in short-term rentals for a minimum of three days in coastal areas of the county and downtown San Diego. The regulations would have gone into effect in July 2019.

City Council members have said they plan to craft a new ordinance for short-term rental owners and companies, but no timetable for that has been agreed upon.

District 1 Councilwoman and Council Pro Tem Barbara Bry was the primary author of the measure and yet still voted to rescind it. Bry called it "a sad day for our city," supporting the repeal only because not doing so would tie the city up in two years of litigation until the next election, she said. Bry also chastised Airbnb, which faced accusations of funding signature gatherers who allegedly used manipulative tactics to fill out petitions.

"I'm disappointed that a corporation reportedly valued at $31 billion descended upon our city with its unlimited millions of dollars and used deceptive tactics to force us to where we are today," Bry said. "If this goes to the ballot, this large corporation would largely spend millions of dollars."

“I did it because I believe that waiting two years puts us in a state of limbo and nothing happens,” Bry said.  “AirBNB would again use deceptive tactics and spend millions of dollars if this goes on the 2020 ballot."

District 7 City Councilman Scott Sherman spearheaded an effort to qualify a referendum on the ordinance shortly after the Council passed it. In late August, Sherman and a group of short-term rental advocates announced they had collected roughly 62,000 signatures, enough to trigger the referendum. The Council then had the option to repeal the regulations or put them to a public vote, likely in 2020 unless the city called for a special election.

"That's what the referendum process is for," Sherman said. "If a majority of citizens who sign a petition believe that their government passed something that went too far, they have a right to come up and say `we want to vote on this or you guys need to rescind it."'

Susan Adams supported the the council's decision.  She said the current regulations are unreasonable and violate her homeowner rights.

“Yeah, this is a relief. Essentially, they banned my ability to either rent my home as a whole home or as individual rooms and takes away from my income,” said Adams. “I do this not as a profit but to be able to keep my home."

However, Gary Wonacott, President of the Mission Beach Town Council, argued that the original regulations were fair.

“I thought what was passed (in July) was a fair compromise. It was not a ban. We had hundreds of vacation rentals that still would’ve been active in Mission Beach with the new rules," Wonacott said.

As a result of Monday's vote, it is back to the drawing board on an issue that has pitted San Diego homeowners against each other for years.

“It’s now a matter of trying to find a new, different set of regulations that AirBNB will accept, but still protects property rights,” said Wonacott.

Repealing the regulations puts the city council back to square one as any future ordinance has to be significantly different in order to be considered.