Short-term rentals in Del Mar discussed

With a moratorium on short-term vacation rentals still in place, the Del Mar City Council plans to explore a full enforcement program, as well as a phased regulatory program and other potential measures to address what many community members have called a problem.

“I want to see a ‘stand our ground’ option and the best regulatory option we can craft,” said Councilman Dwight Worden, adding that he will judge both approaches on whether they are consistent with the city’s Community Plan and zoning rules, if they are enforceable, and how implementation would impact the city’s budget and staff.

As a subcommittee, Worden and Deputy Mayor Terry Sinnott have worked since the June 20 council meeting to draft a set of regulations. The pair presented their proposal to the full council on Aug. 1.

“All we’ve been doing is working on a conceptual idea as to how an incremental regulation might look,” Sinnott said. “Numbers, specifics are just ideas. We anticipate a lot more work to even finalize it, if that is the community’s desire.”

Considering four groups of stakeholders, including landlords, rental agents, tenants and neighbors, the subcommittee crafted a four-phased regulatory program that increases restrictions on short-term rentals if complaints continue every quarter.

“The idea is start slow, start with some minimum requirements,” Sinnott explained. “Then if the problem does not get better, you tighten up or increase the amount of regulation as you go forward.”

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

“We have not been enforcing it since 1959 when we became a city, and we’re not enforcing it today,” Councilman Al Corti said.

The city does not collect data or currently require permits for short-term rentals. However, in the spring, the council approved and later extended a temporary moratorium on short-term rentals. Under the temporary ban, current short-term rentals can stay in operation, but no new rentals can open.

Despite the unanimous vote on the moratorium, the council has been divided on the issue of short-term rentals in the community.

In the past, Mayor Sherryl Parks and Worden have said that the temporary ban should be permanent. Although Worden, a former attorney, worked on the proposal, he reiterated that he believes short-term rentals are not allowed under the Community Plan and zoning in the city’s residential zones.

“Our primary goal in the plan about preserving Del Mar’s special residents and character really hasn’t changed, and if we took a look at those goals, I don’t think we would, as a community, say they need to be changed,” Worden said.

Sinnott, Corti and Councilman Don Mosier, however, previously voted to move forward with amending the city’s municipal code to allow and regulate short-term rentals.

“My real concern is if we don’t do it gradually, we push people underground, the economy goes underground, the city doesn’t know what really goes on … and the enforcement becomes a nightmare,” Sinnott said.

Mosier added that while he supports the Community Plan and agrees that the proliferation of short-term rentals is a problem, he has also listened to the city’s legal team and to what other cities have done to address the problem. Furthermore, if the council had decided to permanently ban short-term rentals that night, he argued it would take at least two years to implement the program.

“So my position is that we should try something as an interim pilot basis while we have this moratorium,” he said.

Although Worden disagreed that it would take two years for the city to “stand its ground” and enforce the city’s Community Plan and zoning rules, he called for two detailed plans for an enforcement program, as well as a stricter phased regulatory program. The rest of the council agreed, directing the subcommittee, with assistance from the city attorney and city staff, to develop both approaches.

The subcommittee also plans to meet with a firm that neighboring city Solana Beach is looking to hire to analyze short-term rental activity in the community. Solana Beach City Manager Greg Wade clarified in an email that the city currently has 205 permitted short-term rentals, but the company iCompass indicated there may be more than 300 in the city during a presentation. The number has not yet been confirmed.

The council also said they want to eventually survey the public on the issue.

In addition, Parks requested that the subcommittee and staff come back with a report on how cities with similar zoning rules to Del Mar have addressed the issue of short-term rentals. And with support from her council colleagues, she also requested that the city eventually establish a hotline and email address so residents can register complaints about rentals.

“Right now you have nothing between sitting at home and stewing and either calling the sheriff or starting a formal complaint process,” Worden agreed.

Council members heard from about 20 people during the meeting. Many residents spoke against short-term rentals, while other property owners and people in the industry spoke in support.

Considering Corti a swing vote on the issue, one resident urged him to side with the neighbors.

“Whatever the positions are, I try to make the right decision for the community,” Corti said.

When discussions started about two years ago, Corti said he held the position that short-term rentals are not allowed and should be enforced.

“I haven’t really changed my position in that regard other than I’ve been advised that enforcing it is problematic,” he said.

Although he sides with a “strict ban” on rentals, Corti said taking that course could be problematic for the city and lead to lawsuits. Therefore, he called for “common sense regulations.”

“We’ve had elephants in our backyard for 50 years and the problem is they’ve been proliferating like bunnies,” he said. “We all recognize that. We all knew that there were these elephants and they were OK from time to time under certain circumstances and certain areas. But they are a problem and I think that we need to do something about it. I don’t know what the right answer is.”