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Hearing on short-term rentals in Del Mar nears

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

Del Mar is set for its first public hearing on the package of ordinances and code amendments that the city hopes to enact for regulating short-term rentals, the first in a handful of city and state proceedings that will come as Del Mar moves to put its rental regime in place by next summer.

The Sept. 12 hearing before the city’s planning commission will look at a package of proposed changes to the city’s municipal code that, taken together, would institute sweeping reforms arrived at this spring and summer that aim to allow casual rental activity but prevent residents from using their home as their livelihood. The commission is expected to issue a recommendation that the city council would take up as early as October.

The last time the planning commission took on short-term rentals (STRs) was in February, when it narrowly ruled that Del Mar’s planning documents do not provide enough information to determine whether STRs are an allowed use. That sent the issue back to the city council, clearing the way for the April ruling that set the restrictive course the city is now trying to implement.

That regime defines STRs as rentals that last less than 30 days, including whole-home rentals, home exchanges — in which families “swap” homes — and home sharing, in which an owner rents out a room or portion of their home. In follow-up meetings this summer, the council and city staff wrestled with the finer points of zoning language and enforcement in a piecemeal fashion, culminating in the draft amendments unveiled last week.

The draft amendments can be found at www.delmar.ca.us/563/Short-Term-Rentals.

The crux of the proposed framework is that STRs will be capped at 28 days per year, with no individual rental allowed to last fewer than seven days. Business licenses will not be needed, but the city will require registration into a database of all STR activity. Advertising short-term rentals without registering would be prohibited.

The draft amendments also include a stipulation that rooms can be rented out short-term only if the home is the owner’s primary residence. Occupancy in STRs would generally be limited to two people per bedroom. The number of cars brought by STR guests would not be allowed to exceed the home’s number of off-street parking spaces.

Seasonal rentals — defined as a single rental lasting more than 30 days — will not be affected in any way.

Vacation rentals date back to Del Mar’s origins, but the issue has flared over the past decade as websites such as AirBnB and VRBO brought vacationers to Del Mar neighborhoods with unprecedented frequency.

STR owners have bitterly contested the city’s measures, and one group of residents filed suit in state court on the grounds that the city cannot restrict access to coastal areas. The group, known as the Del Mar Alliance for the Preservation of Beach Access and Village, wants the city to impose a transient tax and to not limit the number of days a home can be rented.

“Del Mar’s draft ordinances clearly violate the Coastal Act and deprive access to the beach and village that vacationing families have enjoyed for decades,” Cory Briggs, the Alliance’s attorney, wrote in an email. “This is the same city that used to barricade the streets leading to the beach and post sentries so that only drivers with restricted resident passes could pass through during the July 4th holiday. Now they are trying to effectively barricade vacationing families from the entire city for almost the entire year since Del Mar’s six hotels with only 355 rooms are sold out for most weekends and nightly rates skyrocket to an average of over $350 during the summer.”

The city’s timeline expects the California Coastal Commission to review its STR policy by the end of this year. The city council would take a few months to incorporate the Coastal Commission’s comments, then enact the STR policy.

Until the new framework is enacted, the terms of a city’s moratorium remain in place: only STRs that can prove they were active prior to April 2016 can continue to book guests.


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