Tensions mount as Del Mar wrestles with short-term rentals

Stratford Court is the only residential section of the city where short-term rentals are allowed.
(Sebastian Montes)

The divide in Del Mar over short-term rentals grew even deeper on Monday night, May 1, as the city council ratified its decision from two weeks ago that homeowners are forbidden to rent out their home for less than 30 days.

That decision came over the entreaty of residents pleading the council to reconsider. Some called on Del Mar to take the same steps Solana Beach and Encinitas have recently taken to allow short-term rentals (STRs). Others blasted the council for acting without significant data on the number of STRs and their impact. One resident called for a referendum, and several took objection with the council’s insistence that their ruling is not an outright ban because it allows rentals in the city’s commercial zones. Those zones include only eight residences, none of which are rented out.

“The process and outcome of this has always been, in my opinion, a foregone conclusion,” said resident Don Instone. “It is a ban, come on. Call it what you want, but you are shutting down short-term rentals throughout the city.”

And, more than at any of the council’s recent hearings on the issue, the specter of litigation hung over the evening’s discussion.

“To pit neighbor against neighbor in a lawsuit is not the Del Mar that I know and love,” said Abby Margalith, who has rented out her home during racing season since 1996 to help put her daughter through college. She asked the city to grandfather in existing STRs, then narrow the pool over time by issuing permits that are not transferable after the home is sold.

“If there were any issue ripe for a compromise and a better way, without litigation, then this is it,” she said.

Laura DeMarco, a vocal STR proponent, said she and her like-minded neighbors will seek recourse in California Coastal Commission guidelines.

“The great thing about the courts is that they protect us from the whims of the powerful who ignore the rights of due process,” she said. “The rights of due process require that you pass an ordinance. You do not create new law by simply waving a wand.”

As the council moved to ratify the resolution, Mayor Terry Sinnott interjected. He cast the sole dissenting vote two weeks ago. On Monday night, he asked the resolution be changed to specify that it was only a majority of the council, not the full council.

“This resolution is wrong. It is wrong,” he said. “First of all, I don’t think we have any data to make an interpretation of what’s happening — the magnitude, location, seasonal patterns and specific impacts on neighborhoods’ fabric, we don’t really know.”

He went on to explain his difficulty in embracing the notion that rentals less than 30 days have been deemed a commercial use while anything longer is considered a valid residential use. He also worried that the California Coastal Commission will step in. The commission in December cautioned jurisdictions across the state that outright bans in coastal zones are not legally defensible.

A round of applause went up.

Councilman Dwight Worden cut in, citing a 100-resident petition imploring the council to move forward with the rental crackdown.

“I wish all of you could sit up here and experience how difficult this is. This community really is divided,” he said. “If you think we don’t feel compassion, you’re not reading us right. We’re struggling to try to do the best we can.”

The council passed the resolution 4-1, with Sinnott opposed.

They then went into a staff report that categorized short-term rentals into six different types. City staff wanted the council to give their preferences on each type — which kinds might be allowed in certain places, which kinds definitely ought not to be.

Several residents — part of the group that petitioned the city for restrictions — came to the podium to explain their position on each of the six rental types. While they expressed an openness to a limited number of “home exchanges” — in which two families swap homes — they drew a hard line on the kind of rental seen through AirBnB and property management companies.

“This is purely commercial use,” said resident David Doyle. “The use of whole homes as short-term rentals for extended periods of time … would spell the end of Del Mar’s special residential character.”

The group is asking the council to require STRs to stop operating by the end of the year, with those homeowners signing an agreement not to sue the city.

As the clock crawled past 11 p.m., the council had settled only on asking staff to come up with ways to allow rentals for between 14 and 29 days. They then rescheduled the discussion to pick back up after their budget workshop on Saturday morning.


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