Ordinance on short-term vacation rentals in Del Mar formally adopted


Del Mar has adopted its controversial ordinance on short-term vacation rentals, clearing the way for the regulations to go to the California Coastal Commission next year for possible approval.

After settling on the specifics last month, the city council formally approved the ordinance on Nov. 6 in a 4-1 vote, with Mayor Terry Sinnott holding out as the council’s sole opponent to the package of zoning changes and clarifications that spell out the terms arrived at after three years of divisive, bruising debate.

The regulatory framework — which requires short-term rentals (STRs) in nearly every residential area of the city to last at least seven days at a time and total no more than 28 days per year — will not take effect until the Coastal Commission adds the regulations into Del Mar’s “Local Coastal Program (LCP),” a state planning document that dictates development and land use.

City staff plan to apply for the LCP amendment by the end of this year. The Coastal Commission has not indicated how quickly it will take up Del Mar’s proposal.

Whenever the Coastal Commission’s decision does come, the dozens of Del Mar homes that have been allowed to continue renting without restriction thanks to the city’s April 2016 moratorium will have to immediately abide by the approved regulations.

The city’s procedural move came over of the last-gasp entreaties of a throng of STR proponents pleading with the council to reconsider its direction, especially on the 7/28 timeframe. They blasted the measure as certain to cripple Del Mar’s tourist economy and price out all but the most affluent visitors and homeowners.

The Breeders’ Cup — which brought tens of thousands of horse-racing fans to Del Mar last weekend — weighed heavily on the minds of STR supporters, several of whom hosted attendees and race officials in their homes. If Del Mar is awarded the Breeders’ Cup again, they said, the seven-day minimum rental would force most attendees to stay in hotels.

“You created this issue, you created the division in this town,” Forest Way resident T. Patrick Stubbs told the council. “Historically, short-term rentals are woven into the fabric of this community. The fair predates you. The racetrack predates you. And the beach predates you. Vacation rentals have been around for as long as they’ve all been here. Last weekend, we said ‘Welcome to the Breeders’ Cup.’ With this, you’re saying ‘Don’t come back.’”

Like many STR proponents who have watched the regulations take shape over the past six months, Lauren Raines was at a loss for new things to say despite it being her first time testifying to the council.

“I know there’s a way to reach a reasonable resolution,” she said. “I know there is. And we’re all willing — like, very willing. But the fact that we’re still up here having the same conversation is like a soup sandwich on a stick: it makes no sense.”

Above all else, they asked the city to take pause to research the issue and find a more inclusive compromise, as suggested in September by the city’s planning commission and Coastal Commission staff.

“Please stop. Collect the data. Actually do a compromise,” said 7th Street resident Debbie Church. “… Make a plan that eliminates the virtual hotels. Make a plan that removes any possible party houses. Just stop and make a plan that saves these historic vacation rentals without destroying our business district, without destroying the fabric of the beach colony in particular that has been a vacation town for the history of Del Mar.”

After nearly 30 residents railed against the ordinance — with one speaker voicing support — three councilmembers responded with a multifaceted defense of the regulations. Councilwoman Ellie Haviland took particular issue with claims that the council is rushing the regulations through and ignoring Del Mar’s long history of vacation rentals.

“No one’s ever said that didn’t exist. What we have today, though, is a completely different entity than what we had 30 years ago when I first moved here, or 20 years ago when I bought my first home. When you introduce Airbnb and some of these other platforms in the last 10 years, it has completely changed the way people commercialize our residential neighborhoods,” she said. “… This is also not an issue for me about noise and trash. Of course there are solutions for noise and trash. This is about am I going to raise my children in a community of strangers or in a community of neighbors? That is the fundamental question at the heart of the large number of people who support what we’re trying to do here tonight.”

Later in the evening, the council agreed on when to end the city’s April 2016 moratorium on short-term rentals. The moratorium has allowed homes that were being rented out prior to April 4, 2016 to continue renting without restriction. This summer, the council had discussed allowing the forbearance period to continue for as much as a year. But at the Nov. 6 session, the council unanimously agreed to end the forbearance period either when the Coastal Commission formalizes the LCP amendment or in 24 months from now, whichever is sooner.