Del Mar council discusses principles for short-term rental policy

Del Mar City Hall
(Karen Billing)

Del Mar City Council members approved a series of “guiding principles” on July 24 that they will use on a short-term rental ordinance, with further discussion about the parameters of the ordinance scheduled for September.

The city currently allows short-term rentals that were in operation prior to April 2016, pending a permanent set of regulations. The process to draft and adopt those permanent regulations has been beset by litigation, disagreement with the Coastal Commission, and the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’re in a position where we need to establish new policies and regulations, and that means processing a new ordinance,” said Amanda Lee, the city’s principal planner. “And during that time, the forbearance will continue to be maintained, in effect, to accommodate the existing STRs.”

The guiding principles that the council wants to include in the ordinance are consistency with the community plan, maintaining the character of the city’s residential zones, minimizing adverse impacts to adjacent properties, and establishing enforcement protocols that don’t require additional expenses for the city, among others.

During the council’s regularly scheduled September meetings, there will be discussion about litigation involving short-term rentals that is shaping policy throughout the state, as well as short-term rental policies that other California cities have adopted.

In 2017, the Del Mar council adopted a short-term rental policy that required short-term rental reservations to be a minimum of seven days and limited hosts to renting 28 days per year. But that policy never went into effect because it didn’t get approved by the California Coastal Commission, which wanted the city to loosen those limits to a minimum of three days per reservation and maximum of 100 days for hosts to rent every year.

According to a city analysis, there were 116 short-term rentals advertised in Del Mar from January through April 2023, in addition to many more that were advertised as Del Mar rentals even though they were outside the city’s borders. The average cost was $630 per night and the average stay lasted 3.7 days.

Historically, short-term rentals in Del Mar have been popular during the summer racing season and for students. In recent years, sites such as Airbnb and Vrbo have made it easier for homeowners to enter the short-term rental business. They’ve also stoked concerns about housing units essentially being erased from the market if they’re used only as short-term rentals, exacerbating the statewide housing crisis.

“There has been a long-term tradition of having short-term rentals and vacation rentals,” Del Mar City Councilmember Dave Druker said. “We want to make sure as we create these ordinances that we understand that is what’s happened in the past. My assumption is that we’re not going to turn around and say that short-term rentals are not allowed, period.”

Council members in the city of Solana Beach have also been discussing updates to the city’s short-term rental policy.

Kimberly Jackson, who lives in Del Mar and has operated a short-term rental company for 13 years, added: “It has been a tradition here, not only during racetrack season but also year-round.”