San Diego won’t get a vacation from the debate over short-term rentals in 2016.

A proposed ordinance that aims to both regulate and formally open the door to home-sharing and full-home rentals was unanimously shot down by the city planning commission this month.

Commissioners said they’d like to see significant changes, and City Councilwoman Lorie Zapf’s office, which has been leading the charge for new rules, has gotten back to work on the draft. A staffer says he expects to bring it to City Council by March.

Here’s a look at the foremost issues that’ll be up for debate early next year.

Full Home Rentals vs. Home Sharing: The current ordinance distinguishes between home sharing – where a host rents out a room or two to guests and remains in the home during their stay – and whole-home rentals, the category that’s drawn most complaints from residents in beach communities.

Zapf’s office hasn’t suggested a limit on home-sharing stays but has proposed visitors only be allowed to rent homes in single-family zones for at least 21 nights.

We Stand Up for You. Will You Stand Up for Us?

Which gets us to a big disagreement between those arguing for stricter enforcement and those who want the city to back down …

The 21-Day Rule: Zapf’s office is convinced the 21-day requirement strikes a balance between rental bans in other cities and the peace and quiet neighbors expect. The state Coastal Commission and city planning commissioners disagree.

The proposal calls for rental operators who want to host guests for shorter stays more frequently to apply for a neighborhood-use permit, a process that typically takes about a year and can cost thousands of dollars.

Short-term rental advocates say this amounts to a ban on short-term rentals and could push landlords to try to stay under the radar.

The Coastal Commission, which will need to sign off on the final ordinance, had another beef.

In a letter sent before the planning commission vote, District Manager Deborah Lee declared the rule too restrictive and said it didn’t jibe with the commission’s interest in coastal-area accommodations that are affordable for families.

Ryan Purdy, the Zapf staffer working on the ordinance, said he plans to consult with the Coastal Commission in coming weeks to get a better sense of their concerns, and whether they’d be open to compromise. He’s optimistic.

Zapf’s office is open to the idea of a grace period, which Purdy said could shield homeowners who only rent out their home during their annual vacation or for tourist-heavy events like Comic-Con from a crackdown.

Permit and Enforce: Planning commissioners wanted to see a greater focus on enforcement to crack down on loud or unruly visitors and proposed making permits cheaper and quicker to obtain to help cover the bill.

A few also suggested a sliding-scale approach where homeowners who host more guests pay steeper permit fees.

Zapf’s office has since penned a memo that raises the idea of separate over-the-counter permits for whole-home rentals and home-sharing operators. Purdy tentatively penciled in $100 to $200 in annual fees based on research on other cities that have added yearly permits.

The idea is those charges would cover expenses associated with hiring code enforcement and police staffers who would enforce the rules.

It’d be difficult to bypass those fees, Purdy said, because the permits would be a requirement when rentals register to pay city hotel taxes. (Airbnb now facilitates those collections in San Diego.)

The Sharing Space Requirements: The draft ordinance bars using more than 25 percent of a home for home sharing and requires one extra parking spot for every two people. (The current home-sharing rules only allow for two adult visitors.)

Attorney Omar Passons, who’s been a vocal opponent of the city’s current approach to vacation rentals, has criticized these limits.

Those rules penalize San Diegans with smaller homes and less parking, he said.

Room for Clarity: The discussion about vacation rental regulations has been marked by confusion and disagreement over what the city’s current rules even allow.

Save San Diego Neighborhoods, a group that’s argued vacation rentals shouldn’t be allowed in residential areas, maintain the current rules support their position. The group would prefer the city simply enforce what it interprets as a current ban on whole-home rentals in residential zones rather than create new rules. Groups that back home sharing and vacation rentals, however, say current city regulations don’t address newer business models or realities, or clearly explain the rules.

City Attorney Jan Goldsmith emphasized the need for greater clarity in a memo released last week. He acknowledged that the current rules open the door to subjective enforcement and confusion.

Any updates to the city’s current regulations should more clearly define who’s considered a visitor and include objective standards on when rentals would be considered a primary use of a property, a practice Goldsmith concluded current city rules technically bar.

“Rather than have a broad, vague and unenforceable regulation, the mayor and City Council should clearly identify what is and what is not allowed in terms that people of common intelligence do not need to guess at its meaning, or differ as to its application,” Goldsmith wrote. “A clear policy would ensure that enforcement is equal under the law and not on a subjective, ad-hoc basis.”

Goldsmith didn’t say whether the ordinance Zapf’s office has proposed addresses those concerns.

    This article relates to: Government, Must Reads, Tourism Economy

    Written by Lisa Halverstadt

    Lisa writes about San Diego city and county governments. She welcomes story tips and questions. Contact her directly at or 619.325.0528.

    Daniel Smiechowski
    Daniel Smiechowski subscriber

    Tension Over Vacation Rentals Spills into Clairemont

    Many local residents are upset at the prospect of strangers living in their communities on a short term basis. It remains to be seen what outcome city players will produce in alleviating stress caused by short term rentals in many residential neighborhoods in San Diego, primarily in Council District two which includes the communities of Clairemont, Pacific Beach, Mission Beach, Ocean Beach, the Midway area and Point Loma.

    Any area near the tourist attractions of Sea World, Mission Bay, Belmont Park, Liberty Station, Sunset Cliffs and the fabulous stretch of beaches from Tourmaline south to Point Loma is a natural invitation to open private homes in the quest for profit. A quick glance of the internet shows literally thousands of vacation sites in San Diego being offered to eager tourists. On the surface, this issue appears quite simple but in reality it is far from black and white. According to Dr. Joe Klatt of Joseph Dean Klatt Realty, Inc. in La Jolla, landlords renting for fewer than thirty days are required to pay a room tax. It’s safe to say that nobody likes a tax except the government. Vacation renters bring along untold millions of tourist dollars’ which flow into Council District two as the ocean current flows into Mission Bay. These monies support local business and circulate in our economy. This is good.

    Outside of the tax issue, there are a host of philosophical questions we need to address. Why exactly are some folks opposed to vacation rentals? Is their opposition predicated on subjective personal evaluations of perceived noise, traffic, litter and other disruptions to our quality of life? What about a hypothetical neighbor with a barking dog that drives people to insanity who may oppose these types of rentals? Why has the City of San Diego noise abatement department through neighborhood code compliance not changed their protocol in investigating citizen complaints for nearly fifty years?Why not simply cooperate with the landlords and set the ground rules? Are we so lost that we need big brother to draft a plan to save us from ourselves? There are good landlords and there are bad landlords. Civic responsibility begins with the self not government mandates. Having said that, I need to be clear that I oppose renting to tenants for less than thirty days in a single family neighborhood. However, we would be psychologically dishonest in opposing some vacation rentals in high density areas of Pacific and Mission Beach without giving the benefit of the doubt to landlords in mitigating all necessary concerns.

    There ought to be a vacation rental summit held in District two of the San Diego City Council with participation by the gang of five being Clairemont, Pacific Beach, Mission Beach, Ocean Beach and Point Loma. Concerned residents, city officials, the tourism industry, the San Diego Association of Realtors and anyone else should attend this important meeting. We need and desire public input on how best to draft a viable plan for America’s finest City.

    Daniel J. Smiechowski---Bay Ho858 220 4613

    barb graham
    barb graham subscriber

    If you look at San Francisco, with its limited real estate and rental availability, you'll see that the city has pretty much thrown renters under the bus by refusing to deal with airBNB rentals. It is making the city a very hard place to live unless you're a dot com millionaire!

    San Diego should keep an eye on how this plays out in San Francisco. 

    Derek Hofmann
    Derek Hofmann subscribermember

    @Frank Michell Not even little neighborhood corner stores?

    Does your neighborhood pass the "popsicle test"? Can a child safely walk from home to buy a popsicle, and return home before it melts? This used to be possible in most cities in the USA, now it's rare.

    Richard Gardiol
    Richard Gardiol

    @Derek Hofmann @Frank Michell  That little neighborhood corner store is most likely in a pocket commercial zone, and may well be replaced with a microbrewery by unscrupulous city officials just like the Thorn Street Brewery in North Park; a favored venue for VOSD Pod Casts. At that point you may want to ask  whether a child is safe in a neighborhood forced to play host to unruly drunks on a daily basis. I know that I don't feel safe walking out on the sidewalk  when the microbrewery next door to my home is open for business.

    Richard Gardiol
    Richard Gardiol

    @Derek Hofmann @Richard Gardiol  There are no commercial zones in San Diego that allow microbreweries. Microbreweries are an industrial use and are permitted by right in industrial zones only. You should look it up in the San Diego Municipal Code.

    Derek Hofmann
    Derek Hofmann subscribermember

    @Richard Gardiol Oh I see, the problem is that "unscrupulous city officials" might change the zoning.

    Then the problem isn't little neighborhood corner stores, it's those unscrupulous city officials who could just as easily rezone an old historic home into a microbrewery.

    Richard Gardiol
    Richard Gardiol

    @Derek Hofmann @Richard Gardiol Listen Derek, I have no problem with neighborhood corner stores. I do have a problem with city officials who are ignoring zoning laws in order to sanction illegal uses such as commercial uses illegally permitted in residential zones like short term vacation rentals, or industrial uses illegally permitted in commercial zones like microbreweries.

    What is happening here is that San Diego citizens are being denied the due process of law by San Diego officials abusing their power in clear violation of the Municipal Code and the Constitution of the United States of America.

    Richard Gardiol
    Richard Gardiol

    Residents adversely affected by short term rentals have my sympathy. There is little that is more frustrating then being the victim of a city government that is willfully ignoring it's own regulations and permitting illegal activities in your neighborhood. Especially when those activities diminish your quality of life to the point where you need to move to preserve your sanity.

    The illegal permitting of microbreweries is another case in point. The law is perfectly clear in regard to the legal placement of microbreweries in our city; they are restricted to industrial areas because of air and noise pollution. Yet we see them permitted in commercial zones literally next door to residences. How can this be ?  Simply put, San Diego's elected officials do not give a fig about the law or its' citizens when it comes to catering to special interests, especially when those citizens don't have the means to bring their grievance to court.

    The microbrewery next door to my home is next door to 12 other homes. We are subjected to what San Diego's Air Pollution Control District characterizes as strong odors during the brewing process, and loud  machinery ( compressors and blowers) cycling on and off 24 hours a day; to say nothing of the inherent nuisance of having a rowdy open air beer bar virtually on your doorstep, and a parade of food trucks dumping garbage and debris in your yard.

    One might think that VOSD would take an interest in this development, but they have avoided making any mention of it. Now why would a news organization that prides itself on fact checking and investigative reporting refuse to run this story ?

    Barbara Stevens
    Barbara Stevens subscriber

    We already have laws that deal with the reasonable problems any rental situation brings. too much noise? We have laws and regulations about that. What other "problems" are there? 

    Chris Brewster
    Chris Brewster subscribermember

    What I have noticed about this debate is that people who don't have the "benefit" of living next door to a vacation rental tend to see this as a minor issue. However, once they do "benefit" by this long-term change in their quality of life and property value, they tend to stridently oppose vacation rentals. My block of known neighbors and friends is gradually being hollowed out by investors.

    Bill Bradshaw
    Bill Bradshaw subscribermember

    It’s always a good strategy to “follow the money” when contentious issues like this one arise.  The city wants to maximize it’s T.O.T. take, owners want to maximize their returns and property managers their fees.  Residents should be aware of this, particularly the city’s motivation, as they plan their strategy; i.e., you have no real friends here you can trust, not even your elected representatives.

    There are a lot of absentee landlords in beach communities, and as long as the property is not destroyed by tenants most don’t care what grief their rental practices create for local residents.  Renting by the week is more profitable than renting by the month, and daily rentals are the most profitable of all because beach area hotels have very high prices and a whole house always has a kitchen and usually has other amenities hard to find in hotel rooms.  A place near the sand is an ideal “party house”, with no hotel manager to throw you out when you get rowdy.

    All these profits are dependent on continued scarcity, which is currently no problem, so the unit can be rented virtually every day at prices perhaps twice the weekly rental divided by 7, or more.  Pretty hard to ignore this kind of income, so owners of multiple properties, particularly if they live outside the community so they are insulated from outraged neighbors by distance and most often a property manager of some kind, are highly motivated to do daily rentals. 

    Of course, the “solution” to the vastly increased noise, trash, parking problems, crime and general confusion of people coming and going almost daily that’s proposed by the people who stand to profit the most (owners and property managers) is the old standby, “stricter enforcement of existing laws”.  This translates to “Send us more cops”, which is simply not in the cards.  

    Beach residents have very little luck getting a timely response to calls involving wild parties.  They simply aren’t very high on the priority list of a chronically undermanned police force.  This will not change if the council passes an ordinance codifying what is already happening sub-rosa in some places.There is no way daily rentals won’t decimate beach neighborhoods.  Weekly rentals cause enough problems.