Short-term vacation rentals issue back on Del Mar council’s plate

The hot potato political issue of short-term vacation rentals has landed back on the plate of the Del Mar City Council.

Short-term rentals have become controversial in this coastal city in recent years with the advent of online rental services such as AirBnB. Permanent residents complain about such problems as noise, litter and parking shortages caused by visitors, while property owners say they depend on the rental income.

Former councilman Al Corti pointed to his stance on short-term rentals – he was in favor of stronger regulations to protect residents but against an outright ban – as one of the reasons he lost his bid for re-election in November.

Last month, rather than tackling the issue directly, the council voted 4-1 to send it to the city’s Planning Commission for an interpretation of whether short-term vacation rentals are allowed in Del Mar’s residential zones.

But that move didn’t pan out. Instead of weighing in on the controversy, the Planning Commission on Tuesday, Feb. 14, said that it didn’t have enough information to make a recommendation. So the council now must decide how to proceed.

“They didn’t do what the council asked them to do,” said Mayor Terry Sinnott.

“It’s an extremely difficult and sticky issue,” said Councilman Dave Druker. “It would have been nice to have an interpretation, but I can understand the difficulty they had. They did the best they could.”

The council was to be briefed on the legalities of the issue by the city attorney in a closed session at its meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 21. Council members said they were not sure when short-term rentals would be back on the agenda for a public discussion, but they hoped it would be soon.

Druker said the council just wants to make sure it proceeds in a legal manner – hence the closed session discussion – but that the decision of how to deal with short-term rentals will be made in public.

Just as in the community, opinion is divided among council members on whether short-term rentals –defined as renting a property for less than 30 days – are allowed in residential neighborhoods.

Although the practice is not specifically permitted or prohibited by city regulations, council members Sherryl Parks and Dwight Worden have argued in the past that the practice should not be allowed.

During his election campaign last year, Druker also came out against short-term rentals in residential areas, while Sinnott has said that he believes the problems created by short-term rentals can be addressed with stronger regulations.

Last week, Druker declined to say if he is in favor of a ban on short-term rentals.

“As a person on the council that will have to decide this, I have to have an open viewpoint and be able to listen to all sides of the issue,” Druker said.

Sinnott, who voted against sending the issue back to the Planning Commission, said the problems caused by short-term rentals fall into two categories – behavior by renters, and the frequency of turnover at the rental properties.

“Those kinds of issues change the fabric of the residential community. Those to me are solvable problems,” Sinnott said.

The council must first decide whether Del Mar’s community plan allows short-term rental businesses, said Druker. Once that decision is made, the panel can then figure out how to proceed.

For now, the city has placed a moratorium on new short-term rentals, while allowing those who have an established rental business to continue hosting visitors.