Guest commentary: A compromise on short-term rentals can protect neighborhood character and quality of life

Short-term vacation rental

After 13 frustrating years, San Diego seems poised to adopt short-term vacation rental regulations. The compromise effort spearheaded by Councilwoman Jen Campbell is likely to stick. We say that because, for the first time, a majority of the stakeholders and decision-makers in San Diego seem to agree that a compromise is needed.

So, what should this compromise regulation on short-term rentals include, and what needs to be accomplished?

The thousands of complaints and comments of concern about short-term rentals typically fit into two categories: neighborhood character and quality of life. A compromise that meets the needs of San Diego residents can address those two issues.

Neighborhood character issues typically include an absence of permanent neighbors, impacts on schools and community and a reduction in critical housing stock.

Quality-of-life issues typically include excessive occupancy, noise and street parking issues with too many vehicles.

The goals of a vacation rental ordinance should be to:

• Provide fair, same-day and real-time relief for neighbors impacted by vacation rental disturbances

• Protect neighborhood character and livability

• Preserve scarce housing for long-term renters and homeowners

• Recognize the historical nature of vacation rentals in San Diego and find a balance that preserves our communities while allowing limited vacation rental use

We think these key provisions will achieve the goals:

• Freeze the number of transient occupancy permits now until new regulations are in place.

• Require permitting but also an inspection. Before permitting, the residence would be inspected and approved for a certain occupancy and maximum number of vehicles. No permit would be allowed for any residence with illegal or unpermitted construction, including bedroom quantity modifications, garage conversions, any code violations, safety issues, etc. The permit would include limits on the number of guests and require a 24/7 contact name, phone number and email. The permit number and conditions would need to be on all advertising and publicly recorded to be accessible online.

• Limit the number that can be on any particular block or in a neighborhood with a distance separation. A cap on the total number of short-term rentals is a good start. However, a percentage of housing units still allows concentrations to occur in popular beach-area neighborhoods. A distance separation solution would be best, as the distance can be used to create a percentage allowance but also eliminate any concentrations. We are suggesting about 200 feet for Pacific Beach and 50 feet for Mission Beach. The final distance separation should be determined with community input, projections and mapping.

• Limit the number of short-term vacation rental permits to one per person/Social Security number. This can eliminate the investor/corporate buying for business profit motives. Permits should not be transferrable. If a property is sold, the new owner would need to apply for a new permit. This, with distance separations, will reduce existing concentrations each year.

• Regulate the number of guests in a residence. A maximum of one person per 200 square feet will address over-occupancy.

• Permit fees must cover regulation, administration and enforcement. The permit would include a fee to cover regulations, inspections and enforcement. While a compromise greatly reduces the number of whole-home vacation rentals, it still permits thousands of STRs. Home sharing is permitted. Taken together, this will generate millions of dollars for enforcement and administration. San Diego continues to benefit from millions generated by tourism taxes and tourist spending.

• Public posting of city and specific STR rules. Each STR residence must post rules in an approved location, such as the back of the front door. City rules would include but not be limited to:

Overnight occupancy limit

No amplified sound

No events and a maximum number of guests on the property

No noise after 10 p.m.

Each short-term occupant may be subject to fines and expulsion

Other rules included based on the rental agreement

• Enforcement. Regulations have little value if there is no enforcement. A compromise needs to include a new enforcement system that brings in a high-tech partner to work with the city. This partner would create a database of all permitted rentals. When a complaint is called in, the city or high-tech partner would call the 24/7 contact number in the database. The contact would reach out to the rental guests to address things like noise complaints. Only if this fails would the city send a code compliance officer. Only code compliance officers would call police, if necessary.

These provisions are the result of more than 13 years of observations, research and input. It is long past time to implement effective regulations and permitting for short-term rentals. We hope all concerned citizens will consider these provisions and finally support a resolution.

We welcome additional consideration and input at our website,

Scott Chipman is a 45-year Pacific Beach resident and 12-year member the Pacific Beach Planning Group. Tom Coat is founder and former president of Save San Diego Neighborhoods.