Del Mar council to draft regulations for short-term rentals

Del Mar has placed a 45-day moratorium on new short-term vacation rentals.
Del Mar has placed a 45-day moratorium on new short-term vacation rentals.
( / Union-Tribune file photo)

After hearing from residents and other community members during a recent workshop, the City Council decided to begin drafting regulations for short-term residential rentals in Del Mar.

Following dozens of public comments and a lengthy discussion during the June 20 council meeting, Deputy Mayor Terry Sinnott and Councilman Dwight Worden agreed to work together to draft regulations, based off of feedback from the June 13 workshop at the Powerhouse Community Center, as well as comments from community members during the council meeting.

“I think that we should continue to go down the road of looking for some common sense regulations,” Councilman Al Corti said.

Sinnott said the draft would be the city’s first step to try to get everybody involved, from residents to rental operators, in an attempt to “make the problem go away.”

“I’d like to continue to work with everybody to try to come up with a phased approach knowing that ultimately, if we can’t get this problem solved, we’ll go to much more strenuous regulations,” he said.

In an effort to prioritize potential solutions for the regulation of short-term rentals in the city, about 80 people participated in last week’s workshop.

Led by Sinnott and Corti, residents and other community members worked in small groups and discussed how short-term rentals should be regulated by location, occupancy limits, minimum length of stay, frequency and rental operator requirements. Every council member was in attendance and they, along with city staff, helped facilitate discussion at nine different tables.

Although some in the community want an outright ban on short-term rentals and others want rentals to continue operating as they do today, Sinnott reiterated that the recent workshop was intended to explore potential solutions for regulating rentals as an intermediate step.

Though the community failed to reach a consensus on many of the items, council members agreed that the public input was still helpful.

“We certainly, at the table I was at, had some spirited discussion, but got a wide diversity of views,” Councilman Don Mosier said.

“I thought the workshop was productive,” Worden agreed. “I thought it was good for people to be in the same room, exchange ideas and realize that there are people who have heartfelt opinions that don’t agree with them.”

The workshop was mostly attended by residents. The group also included several people who work in the industry as managers but do not necessarily live in Del Mar.

Representatives from each of the nine small groups shared their table’s top priorities for regulating short-term rentals. Although each group was tasked with choosing two top priorities, they were often split and selected multiple options or suggested their own ideas.

In reviewing the results, city staff tallied up the group and individual responses and presented them to the council on June 20.

By the end of the workshop, the majority of the small groups said they would regulate short-term rentals the same citywide. When exploring occupancy limits, the groups clearly wanted occupancy to be limited to the number of people per bedroom.

As for minimum length of stay, the favored limitation was for a longer period of time, with the expressed concern that it be limited to 30-day minimum. The second priority was for a seven-day minimum, which was just slightly ahead of a no minimum stay. According to the staff report, this shows that, while the majority of groups were in favor of a longer minimum stay than seven days, one-third of the groups were in favor of a no minimum stay option.

The majority of groups were in favor of there being no limit to the number of days a rental property could be rented over a given period of time. The second most popular opinion was a tie between short-term rentals being limited to a certain number of rental days per year and being limited to seasonal rentals only.

Finally, when looking at rental operator requirements, most of the groups picked many or all of the listed options, and some even offered their own suggestions.

Some participants said having to rank priorities felt like a poll, causing some people to be frustrated with the process.

“I missed the workshop because we didn’t really understand it was going to be a way to collect a survey,” said property owner Karen Deschaine.

“I think the data is really skewed and flawed,” said resident Laura DeMarco, noting that there were some people from Solana Beach and Encinitas who participated in the process.

Worden acknowledged their frustration.

“The idea was that we were going to go there and work on solutions, not take a poll,” Worden said. “So at least for me, I look at these results and draw no conclusions other than these reflect what those people felt. It’s not really appropriate to extrapolate that as a reflection of the community because it isn’t a properly done poll to do that.”

Short-term rentals are not specifically permitted or prohibited in the city. Still, the practice has been going on for decades in Del Mar.

“I wish I could tell you that it’s really clear, but it’s not,” City Attorney Leslie Devaney said.

Although Del Mar’s community plan serves as a guide, city code “does not contemplate or define short-term rentals,” Devaney said.

“You have operated as a city with a permissive zoning ordinance, which means if it’s not in there and specifically allowed, it’s not allowed. In most aspects of what you do, that is just fine,” she said. “The problem in Del Mar is not only is short-term rental not defined … but you have specifically allowed them, so you operated opposite of what you normally do with a permissive code.

“Depending on what side anybody possibly comes from, you can make the argument it is allowed or it’s not allowed.”

The city received 27 letters form community members, with 20 from people in favor of short-term rentals and seven from people in opposition. Council members also heard from about three dozen people during the meeting.

“We’re a united front saying that we should have regulation, but there has to be enforcement,” said Bruce McDermott, a short-term and full-time rental property owner. “Without it, we’re wasting everybody’s time here.”

Property owners wore orange in solidarity, while property managers wore purple to represent the properties that they serve. Owners who also act as property managers wore both colors.

“If our goal is to preserve and enhance the community character, getting rid of the fabric of our community that has been here for decades and supports our businesses is going to destroy that,” said property manager Kimberly Jackson. “Our town will turn into a ghost town. Businesses will fail. … Owners won’t be able to pay their property taxes; they’ll be selling. House prices will be going down. It just isn’t a good idea.

“Let’s not negatively impact our community character. Let’s work together to preserve and enhance it.”

Resident Robin Crabtree, disagreed, saying that the community plan calls for the preservation and enhancement of Del Mar’s “special residential character and small-town atmosphere.”

“It also calls for the city to adapt strong positive controls to prevent future commercial development, which is incompatible with the residential character of the community,” she added. “Our community plan and zoning calls for residential zones to be single-family dwellings, not businesses. Short-term rentals are businesses that are continuing in a residential community. Protecting our residential neighborhoods for these purposes by not allowing short-term rentals is the only way to maintain our neighborhoods and our community plan values.”

Like the community, the council is also divided on how to regulate short-term rentals in Del Mar.

Needing more time to develop new regulations, the council on May 16 voted unanimously to extend a moratorium on short-term rentals. Under the temporary ban, current short-term rentals can stay in operation, but no new rentals can open. However, the council voted 3-2, with Worden and Mayor Sherryl Parks against, to move forward with amending the city’s municipal code to allow and regulate short-term rentals.

Short-term rentals are inconsistent with Del Mar’s community plan, Worden said.

“I think that means the burden falls to those people who do feel that there is a way to make short-term rentals consistent with our community plan and zoning through regulation,” he said.

“In a sense, I think, jumping to regulation is kind of a relief. It’s doing something and it makes us feel better,” Parks said. “But I think it’s kind of a false sense of relief because in the long run, short-term rentals will increase in numbers. We won’t be able to regulate the number of them in our beautiful town.”

Some members of the public suggested a community vote on the issue, which some council members said they did not oppose.

“I’m not against that,” Worden said. “Where our community is split, as it currently is, sometimes voting is a good thing. But I think the way to get there would be for those advocates … to prepare a set of regulations that they think works and then get that put on the ballot.”

“At the end of the day, if the public doesn’t like them (the regulations) and they want to go to a public vote, that’s their prerogative,” Corti said.