Vacation rentals ordinance approaches date with Coastal Commission

Following a standard administrative extension, June is shaping up as the likeliest time for the California Coastal Commission to hear Del Mar’s controversial ordinance restricting short-term vacation rentals.

The Del Mar City Council, after years of fervid debate, approved the ordinance in October and adopted it in November. The ordinance requires short-term rentals (STRs) in nearly every residential area of Del Mar to last no fewer than seven days at a time while not totaling more than 28 days per year. Seasonal rentals lasting 30 days or more are not impacted, nor are STRs in commercial zones and along a two-block stretch of Stratford Court.

The ordinance cannot, however, be enforced without the Coastal Commission’s blessing. Coastal Commission review of controversial topics—with the usual back-and-forth modifications—can take more than a year to finalize.

Del Mar in December petitioned the Coastal Commission to add the ordinance to the city’s Local Coastal Program, a state-administered document that dictates land-use policy for each jurisdiction in the state’s Coastal Zone. At its Feb. 8 meeting, the Coastal Commission gave itself a 60-day extension—valid for up to a year—to rule on Del Mar’s ordinance. Because of the intense public interest, the agency is expected to hold its hearing close enough to Del Mar to allow extensive resident input. The closest to Del Mar this year are the Commission’s “San Diego Coast” meeting in June and “South Coast” meetings in April and August.

City officials who have been in contact with Coastal staff believe June is the most likely. The three-day session is scheduled for June 6 through June 8. Its location has not yet been announced.

Del Mar has in the decade since the proliferation of AirBnB, VRBO and other online booking services plunged into a pitched conflict between property rights and the sharing economy on one side and the sanctity of the city’s residential character on the other. Supporters of the ordinance decry the impact of the hundreds of “mini-hotels” that have emerged throughout the city. STR proponents hang their arguments on the Coastal Act’s mandate to guarantee diverse coastal access and refer back to Del Mar’s long history of vacation rentals.

A group of frustrated homeowners created the Del Mar Alliance for the Preservation of Beach Access and Village, which has since filed three lawsuits in state court challenging the city council’s interpretation of Del Mar’s 40-year planning documents, the city’s response to information requests, and the council’s decision not to put the ordinance through environmental review. Those cases are all set for scheduling hearings in June.

Despite ruling on dozens of policies across the state over the past decade, the agency does not have an explicit position on vacation rentals. Coastal Commission staff wrote in a Sept. 12 letter that Del Mar’s ordinance is too restrictive and that the city’s approach has lacked a basis in data. The letter recommended allowing rentals to last fewer than seven days and suggested raising the 28-day annual cap to 60 or 90 days.

In a hearing that paralleled several aspects of Del Mar’s debate, the Coastal Commission in December rejected Laguna Beach’s ordinance that would have banned rentals in residential areas while expanding them in commercial areas.

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