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Vacation Rental Drama Drags On

Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s team is hoping to bring forward proposed vacation rental regulations forward this spring but the long-stalled process could again face snarls.

Nearly three months ago, the City Council failed to pass long-awaited vacation rental regulations after a grueling 10-hour hearing. With another marathon meeting coming up, a process that’s dragged on for three years could face delays yet again.

Mayor Kevin Faulconer, who had for years ducked the divisive vacation rental debate, pledged late last year to broker a deal with City Council members amid allies’ cries that the City Council’s failure proved its inability to govern. In January, Faulconer told Voice of San Diego he’d “get something on the books here within the next two months.”

Faulconer’s team is now hoping for an April City Council vote, but even that isn’t a sure thing.

Before a full Council vote, City Council President Myrtle Cole wants the regulations to clear the City Council’s land use committee.

It’s not clear when that will happen. A spokesman for Councilwoman Georgette Gómez, who chairs the land use committee, confirmed vacation rental regulations will not be discussed at the committee’s next meeting on March 21, though Gómez could call a special meeting.

The mayor’s office has only said it’s working to deliver something to City Council members and stakeholders in the near future.

“I’m trying to move forward as fast as possible, to get a proposal out as soon as I can,” Elyse Lowe, the mayor’s office point person on vacation rental legislation, said last week.

Faulconer also hasn’t broadcast what he’s willing to support. His team has simply said they’ll pitch a permit-based regulatory system that relies on fees for hosts to cover enforcement costs.

“We need to have an enforcement mechanism that is going to work, we have to have very clear rules of the road,” Faulconer said earlier this year.

It’s unclear how closely the measure will match attempted compromises hatched before, including during last year’s City Council debacle. One last-ditch proposal would have permitted home sharing and whole-home vacation rentals but would have only allowed San Diego residents to rent out more than one home to vacationers. Attorneys for both the city and short-term rental companies warned the idea could inspire lawsuits.

A Faulconer spokeswoman said the mayor’s office plans to share draft regulatory language with City Council members and other stakeholders soon. Faulconer’s team has also been meeting with vacation rental operators, namely representatives for Airbnb and HomeAway, to talk through plans and try to hash out agreements to help the city enforce eventual rules.

City Council offices say they’ve heard little about what might come next. They’re eager for updates. As the weeks drag on, they have heard from advocates on all sides of the issue – and even the San Diego Unified school board – on the need for legislative action.

At least one City Council member’s vote is already in limbo.

City Councilman David Alvarez foiled an apparent compromise last year when he refused to sign off on new regulations until the city had the data-sharing agreements that are now being negotiated. He also asked for a housing study related to the issue, which the mayor’s office has not yet sought.

Alvarez and three other city councilmen had in a memo called for a fee on vacation rentals that would go toward low-income housing. City officials said a study would be needed to establish a nexus between low-income housing losses and vacation rentals. Alvarez said he couldn’t support the deal until that study was done.

The mayor’s office confirmed it hasn’t ordered that study.

Alvarez isn’t pleased.

“They said it was within their ability to do it so they should have just done it,” Alvarez said. “But I don’t know. (The mayor’s office) might have figured out they have a different pathway for to get five votes.”

The San Diego Housing Commission had been tasked with completing the study. Debbie Ruane, the commission’s executive vice president, said in a statement that the agency is now working with city officials to settle on the scope of the study. Once that’s done, Ruane estimated it could take eight to 10 weeks to complete.

Christina Di Leva Chadwick, a mayor’s office spokeswoman, said Faulconer’s team is focused on policy-making for now.

“The housing nexus study is still under consideration as we work through all of the City Council requests and prioritize them accordingly,” Chadwick wrote in an email. “We are prioritizing the policy framework and things like this take time.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story said Alvarez and four other councilmen had signed a memo proposing a set of new regulations. It was four councilmen including Alvarez.

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