Del Mar council majority stands its ground on short-term rentals

Short-term rentals have become controversial in Del Mar and other cities in recent years.
Union-Tribune file photo

Once again, supporters and opponents of allowing short-term vacation rentals in Del Mar's residential neighborhoods sparred at the City Council meeting on Monday, July 16, while the council majority made it clear that it is not willing to go along with a compromise offered by the California Coastal Commission.

At issue was a decision by the coastal panel in June, which loosened restrictions on short-term rentals in residential areas, in what its members said was an attempt to balance the concerns of residents over the impacts of short-term rentals, with beach access for visitors.

The commission voted to amend Del Mar's ordinance on short-term rentals to allow a minimum stay of three days, and a maximum of 100 rental days per year. The city's ordinance, approved by the council on a 4-1 vote in November, allowed a 7-day minimum stay and maximum rental days of 28 per year.

On Monday, the council listened to testimony from members of the public on how they want the city to respond to the Coastal Commission, and council members then deliberated on how to proceed. The speakers had a mix of perspectives, from those who want the city to fight for its more restrictive rules, to those who want no restrictions at all on short-term rentals.

The issue has percolated in the city for several years, pitting the rights of property owners to earn income, against residents who say the proliferation of vacation rentals leads to problems such as noise and trash, and changes the character of their neighborhoods.

In the end on Monday, a majority of council members agreed they do not want to accept the Coastal Commission's decision, and they want to work with the agency to come up with a plan that more closely resembles the ordinance passed by the council.

"We will stand our ground and negotiate for something better," said Mayor Dwight Worden.

"Standing up for what matters... is in our DNA," he said.

Council members Ellie Haviland, Dave Druker and Sherryl Parks agreed with Worden that the city should not accept the Coastal Commission's modifications of Del Mar's ordinance. The lone dissenting voice Monday was Councilman Terry Sinnott, who also voted against the ordinance last fall.

"We should not be tip of the spear and fight whether the Coastal Commission has a right to do what it's doing," said Sinnott. "I think the 3/100 plan is a compromise. From a financial and legal standpoint, it's not appropriate to pick a fight with the Coastal Commission at this time."

The city has until Dec. 7 to formally respond to the Coastal Commission and the council did not take a vote on Monday. Instead, council members provided verbal direction to city staff on how to proceed.

As at previous council discussions of the issue, speakers were split on how they want the city to respond.

Lynn Gaylord said she supports the ordinance approved by the council, with its 7-day minimum and 28-day max. She said businesses such as short-term vacation rentals don't fit with residential neighborhoods. "Don't allow our wonderful residential neighborhoods to be turned into commercial enterprises," she said.

Tony Verano, who said he has rented out his home for more than four years and favors no limitations on rentals, contended that allegations of problems caused by short-term rentals are not borne out by the facts. He said regulations on the operations of short-term rentals, such as enforcement of rules against loud noise and littering, can resolve any issues.

"You get a permit, you can rent, if you have two noise violations, it's over, you can't rent," he said.

Still others said the contentious issue should be settled with a public vote. The council did not embrace the suggestion, saying it is up to the elected body to decide on short-term rentals.

At Monday's meeting the council also directed staff to maintain the "forbearance" period through at least Dec. 7, which allows short-term rentals that were up and running before a council-imposed moratorium on new rentals was enacted in April 2016 to continue to operate.

In addition to the rift with the Coastal Commission, the city also faces three lawsuits filed last year by a group of homeowners opposed to the city's short-term rental policies.