Del Mar takes first steps toward a new rental regime

After shutting the door on short-term rentals last month, Del Mar is starting to figure out how much to open it back up.

Last month, the council issued a hotly disputed ruling that interpreted residential rentals of less than 30 days — the kind popularized by websites such as AirBnb and VRBO — as a violation in all of Del Mar’s residential zones. The council made that move in order to establish a baseline from whence to enact further reforms, including potential changes to city code and creation of processes for rentals in certain areas and certain lengths of time.

Saturday, May 6, marked the council’s first substantive discussion of rental varieties, approaches to enforcement and processes needed to enact reform, a continuation of a hearing held five days earlier.

The city has not started enforcing the April “baseline” ruling. The moratorium put in place last year continues to be the law of the land: homeowners who can prove they started renting out their home prior to April 2016 can continue to do so.

Saturday’s discussion yielded several key developments:

The council wants to explore allowing rentals for between 21 and 29 days, with a minimum increment of seven days

Home exchanges — in which two families swap homes — have been met with favor

So far, any mention of enacting a Transient Occupancy Tax — as has been done in Solana Beach — has been promptly dismissed

The city will analyze the economic impact of short-term rentals

Specifics on a “soft landing” for homeowners who have come to depend on STR income have not yet taken shape

Councilwoman Ellie Haviland stressed the need to protect a homeowner’s ability to engage in small amounts of rental, but “in a way that’s consistent with a neighborhood.”

“As a resident I want to go away on vacation and make some income off my home when I’m gone,” she said. “That’s the type of thing that would only happen once or twice a year, and that seems to me like something we should be pursuing.”

The council is also asking city staff to provide research on seasonal rentals, and to look into the possibility that medium-density residential zones vary enough in their language that different approaches might apply from neighborhood to neighborhood.

Mayor Terry Sinnott, who has been the sole dissenter, asked for projections on how much it might cost to enforce the forthcoming rental regime and what metrics will be used to measure its success.

“How are we going to look back on a year’s worth of this, two years’ worth of this and say ‘Did this really do the job or not?’” he said.

One sticking point on Saturday was how or whether to require homeowners to notify the city of rental activity.

City staff are expected to present the package to the city council in the next two months. From there, the city will take public input, the issue will then go through the city planning commission, then state environmental review, then back to the city council, and — depending on the extent of reform — to the California Coastal Commission for changes to Del Mar’s Local Coastal Program (LCP).

“Depending upon how dramatically we open doors, this may take anywhere from now to the end of the year if it’s fairly narrow,” said Councilman Dwight Worden. “Or it may take considerably longer if we’re talking about doing an Environmental Impact Report or an LCP amendment or some major changes.”