Opinion on short-term vacation rentals: A radical is born when a motel moves in next door in La Jolla/San Diego

Opinion / Guest Commentary:

Backyards are among the most fertile theaters for radical political conversions.

Just look at me.

For many years, we've lived in the same house in a coastal neighborhood associated with bird guano, roundabouts and small lots.

We've noted the outbreak of short-term vacation rentals (STVRs) — and the ensuing blowback — but have viewed the proliferation with nonpartisan detachment.

Our block is a mix of weathered bungalows and remodels. Lots of young families, retirees, dogs.

A neighbor or two can go on vacation and rent their home out for a week or two, but no one minds much. Hand-picked guests have blended in without incident.

But then, a couple of weeks ago, without a word of warning, a $110-a-night motel opened next door.

This 900-square-foot cottage has always been occupied by an owner or a long-term tenant. We've lived a paper airplane flight away from concert violinists, a Harley-Davidson mechanic, a family fresh from Kansas, and most recently, a widowed grandmother.

That's urban life. You say hi on the street. You exchange phone numbers. You adapt to each other.

But now, our eucalyptus-lined block has been invaded by strangers booked by the night.

So far at least, the stream of motel patrons have been remarkably quiet. This "Shabby Chic beach house," as its advertised on the Airbnb website, appears to be a model STVR.

Here's how the ad reads: "We know you are on vacation and it's all about fun, but so sorry there are some rules. This is a family neighborhood and is very quiet as houses are close together. No Noise in Front Yard or Backyard from 10 PM to 8 AM. … Bachelor or bachelorette parties, or similar, are not allowed. Parties of any kind that might disturb peaceful enjoyment of neighbors is strictly prohibited and will lead to immediate eviction."

Maybe we should be thankful that the new motel's owner is concerned about our "peaceful enjoyment."

But here's the thing: I'm not grateful.

I resent that a long-term rental, a two-bedroom godsend for a small San Diego family, has been taken off the market, inevitably applying upward price pressure on rents.

I resent that I have to wonder who has checked in tonight and if this will be the party that erupts into a festival that I'll have to complain about.

A couple of weeks ago, I called the owner and left a message. I said I would have appreciated being warned of the motel. I told her that we would be quick to complain if her tenants stepped over the line. (As I was speaking, I was listening to four young people drinking beer and chatting in the backyard. They'd parked two cars pointing the wrong way on the street, a minor infraction that I found oddly irritating.)

The owner, who lives nearby, called back to register her lack of "appreciation" for my "threatening" attitude. She said she has always been a good neighbor and was within her legal rights to open a STVR.

I listened to her but didn't argue. Her business plan is clear. She priced the house at $110 a night, less than most motel rooms, to generate nonstop occupancy.

I didn't remind her that the city attorney says STRVs are illegal. A compromise reportedly is about to emerge from Mayor Kevin Faulconer's office, but the City Council is deeply divided over which is more important: the right of residents to know their neighbors vs. an owner's right to milk properties for as much money as possible.

In my newly radicalized view, San Diegans should be allowed to rent out rooms any time or their whole primary residence when they're away. That's healthy social policy, I believe.

But the conversion of houses or condos into de facto motels, no matter how well-managed, is a venereal disease spreading within the so-called "sharing economy."

STVRs in typical family neighborhoods are a pox on all our houses.

Too much?

A month ago, I would have thought so.

Not now.

 

Logan Jenkins can be reached at lbjenkins5437@gmail.com

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