Del Mar City Council short-term rentals hearing set for April 17

The controversial question of whether short-term vacation rentals such as those offered on AirBnB and other websites are allowed in Del Mar’s residential neighborhoods is set to get a full airing before the City Council on April 17.

At issue is whether Del Mar’s land-use rules, including its zoning ordinances and community plan, allow property owners to rent their homes for daily or weekly use to visitors. On one side are those who earn income from the rentals, and on the other side are residents who contend that vacationers cause problems such as noise, litter and parking shortages.

The council decided at its meeting on Monday, March 21, to set the hearing in April in response to a pair of appeals from residents, resulting from a Planning Commission hearing on Feb. 14. At that earlier meeting, the commission decided, on a 3-2 vote, that it did not have enough information to interpret city laws regarding whether short-term rentals are allowed in residential zones. The council had requested the interpretation in January.

At the Monday, March 21 council meeting, residents who filed the two appeals - both requesting a council ruling on the short-term rental issue - spoke, along with eight members of the public. The speakers were reminded that the council would not be deciding on the legality of short-term rentals, but only whether to grant the appeals and set the public hearing.

Under the city’s rules, council members were not allowed to discuss the issue, but only vote on whether to grant the appeals. Three council members - Dwight Worden, Sherryl Parks and Ellie Haviland - raised their hands to signal their approval, although only two votes were needed.

The decision sets the stage for what is sure to be a contentious hearing on April 17. One factor that the council will have to wrangle with is that city codes don’t specifically permit or prohibit short-term rentals. This discrepancy has allowed proponents on both sides of the issue to contend that city rules support their cause.

At Monday’s meeting, Ralph DeMarco, who signed an appeal along with more than 20 other people, argued that city regulations have for decades allowed transient or short-term vacation rentals.

“There is no evidence that zoning codes have ever prohibited STRs (short-term rentals) in the city’s residential zones. There are no restrictions in the (Municipal) Code on length of time of a rental nor on the definition of a dwelling unit and there has never been any action taken by the city to enforce, stop or prevent STRs,” said the written appeal filed by DeMarco and his group.

“It is clear by the plain language of the Code that STRs are permitted,” said the appeal.

On the other side of the issue were two residents, Robin Crabtree and Ed Yuskiewicz, representing a group called Save Our Neighborhood Del Mar, which also appealed the Planning Commission’s decision.

“Our intention in this appeal is preserving and restoring the special character of our residential neighborhoods, as the Community Plan and Municipal Code were intentionally written to protect, from the commercial uses that are adversely affecting our neighborhoods due to short-term rental businesses,” Crabtree told the council.

“We urge you to acknowledge the Planning Commission failed to properly render an interpretation as requested and to grant the appeal and set this matter for de novo (new) hearing,” she said.

Nine members of the public also addressed the council and although they differed on the issue of short-term rentals, they all urged the council to grant the appeals and hold a new hearing.

Carol Ozaki said the issue will affect the finances of many Del Mar residents such as herself, and asked the council to set a public hearing. “It really is a huge financial impact for all of us,” she said, and the hearing offers, “a chance to have our voices heard.”

David Doyle said many cities around the world, from Barcelona to New York, are grappling with similar issues regarding short-term rentals. “Every one of them is facing this exact same problem. It has to be dealt with if we’re going to have residential areas in our community,” he said.

Among cities dealing with the issue is San Diego. Earlier this week, San Diego City Attorney Mara Elliott issued an opinion that short-term rentals are prohibited within city limits, and next week, a City Council committee is scheduled to discuss the topic.