City Council resumes meeting on vacation rentals

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SAN DIEGO — A City Council committee meeting on possible new rules for short-term vacation rental properties in San Diego that began last month resumed Friday afternoon.

The first meeting on April 22 attracted so many members of the public who wanted to comment that the Smart Growth and Land Use Committee couldn’t hear from all of them and make a decision in the allotted time.

The issue over vacation rentals in San Diego has developed in recent years as more property owners offer to rent their residences for periods of a few days to one month.

Many residents, especially in the beach areas, contend their quality of life is suffering because of increased noise from heavy partying and overcrowding.

“Our peace and quiet are shattered by vacation rentals — they do not belong in any residential neighborhood,” said a North Park resident.

Owners, however, said they’ve had few problems with their guests, and need extra income to keep up with high housing costs.

“That income was enough to keep me alive when the San Diego economy was down – selling my house at that time would have been a disaster,” said a homeowner.

Public testimony lasted more than two hours. Committee members commented and provided direction to staff.

Marcie Beckett, who belongs to a grassroots group called Save San Diego Neighborhoods, said the city’s Municipal Code prohibits “visitor accommodations” in residential neighborhoods.

While she and some others want to prohibit short-term vacation rentals in housing areas, other opponents said enough regulations are on the books, but the city needs to enforce them.

On the other side of the issue, Tony Griffin, who lives in the Windansea area of La Jolla, said he rents his house when he goes away on vacation.

“In two years, I’ve had one problem,” Griffin said, adding that his loud renters quieted down immediately after being warned of neighbors’ complaints.

Other owners who rent their properties said more problems are caused by full-time residents than vacationers.

Many who defended the practice said they rent out rooms in their own homes to offset the high cost of living. Those who asked for tighter regulations conceded that the problem properties usually are owned by investors who don’t live on site.

Currently, the city’s regulations on vacation rentals are few, according to a report by the city’s Independent Budget Analyst’s Office. All property owners have to do is obtain a registration certificate to pay a room tax monthly and a rental unit business fee annually.

Earlier this year, the city treasurer’s website was updated with information for owners who rent out their homes. More than 2,700 owners of vacation rentals are registered with the city, but the IBA estimated around 3,100 properties were available to vacationers.

Other regulations fall under the city’s general guidelines for using residential properties. The IBA said there is no specific category for vacation rentals.

While city officials and property owners are seeking clarification of the rules, neighbors of vacation homes — especially longtime residents who have sunk hefty amounts of money into homes in pricey beach neighborhoods — are concerned about various nuisances.

Beckett said short-term rentals have “proliferated” in San Diego and expanded beyond the beach areas. A map provided by the organization showed clusters of such properties in trendy areas like the East Village, Little Italy and South Park.

Beckett’s group pointed to an ad for a Pacific Beach residence on the popular rental website VRBO.com, which highlighted its nine queen beds and ability to sleep 20 people in the 3,500-square-foot unit. While the home is comparatively large, it comes with only one parking space.

Vacation rentals have become more popular in recent years in the face of sky-high hotel room rates, and they provide extra amenities like full-service kitchens that can come in handy for families or travelers who plan to stay for more than a couple of days. They are also part of what some experts call the “sharing economy,” which also features easy, Internet-based bicycle and electric vehicle rentals.

City staff will take the committee’s direction and create proposed code amendments, which will need to be vetted and approved by the full City Council.

Regulations that apply to the beach areas will also need to go before the California Coastal Commission.

The overall process could take two years, according to staff.

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