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Short-term vacation rentals have exploded in cities around the world, and San Diego has been particularly hard hit. Our city is now Airbnb’s fourth most profitable market in the country, which is due in large part to San Diego elected officials’ misinterpretation of zoning laws and Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s refusal to enforce the law.
The San Diego City Council long assumed that short-term vacation rentals were permitted. Thankfully, that myth was put to rest in March by City Attorney Mara Elliott, who told Faulconer and the City Council that short-term vacation rentals are prohibited – not just in residential zones, but in all zones, under San Diego’s municipal code.
Clearly, this determination didn’t sit well with Faulconer, who continues to refuse to enforce the law.
Once again, the mayor’s inaction has had huge, negative consequences. The proliferation of short-term vacation rentals across San Diego has consumed housing stock and destroyed entire neighborhoods. Communities once filled with quiet family homes are packed with mini hotels often booked by raucous vacationers.
Unfortunately, Chris Ward’s new proposal, co-written by Councilmen Mark Kersey, Scott Sherman and David Alvarez, will make the problem far worse by legalizing short-term vacation rentals in every neighborhood citywide.
Ward said in his recent commentary for Voice of San Diego that “vacation rentals have been around for decades,” using this as justification for gutting existing zoning laws. This misses the point. While they have been around for decades, there were relatively few short-term vacation rentals before rental broker Airbnb’s website rolled out in 2008. Between 2007 and today, the number of short-term vacation rentals in the city has mushroomed from an estimated 750 to over 14,000.
Ward and his colleagues’ proposal will not fix the problem, it will simply compound it, making the existing mess harder to clean up.
Ward also wrote “it’s clear these rentals are here to stay,” suggesting we have no control over the situation and just have to give in and accept it. That’s absurd, and those of us who love our neighborhoods and care about their character are not going to lie down and take it.
Santa Barbara, Carmel, Santa Monica, Huntington Beach, Hermosa Beach, Laguna Beach, Long Beach, Manhattan Beach and Coronado are just some of the coastal cities that have proactively – and successfully – begun to enforce their zoning laws and have effectively banned short-term vacation rentals in residential neighborhoods. Their decisions were guided by concerns about their city’s housing stock, transportation, infrastructure, climate and residents’ quality of life.
All of these cities – a along with countless others throughout California – found themselves in the same position San Diego finds itself now with residential neighborhoods deluged by short-term vacation rentals.
Unlike San Diego thus far, they did the right thing – they enforced the law – and stopped it.
John Thickstun is a lifelong San Diegan and has been a lawyer for over 30 years.