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La Jolla sees reduction in scooters and short-term rentals during pandemic

An area designed to place dockless scooters and other small rental vehicles sits empty in The Village.
(Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, La Jolla has seen less of two issues that have irked residents for years: dockless scooters and short-term vacation rentals.

But they might be making their way back into day-to-day life.

Rental scooters started showing up in La Jolla in March 2018, and residents quickly reacted. Community groups such as the La Jolla Village Merchants Association, La Jolla Town Council and La Jolla Shores Association called for action by the city of San Diego to address the proliferation of dockless bikes and scooters.

The Shores Association urged an all-out ban in The Shores rather than sign on to a community initiative asking for regulations.

During the pandemic, scooter rental companies have withdrawn their fleets to implement intensive cleaning. A spokesperson for Bird scooters said the fleet was “temporarily” reduced in San Diego in the interest of safety and to “discourage nonessential mobility.” At the same time, the scooters were cleaned through what is known as “Bird baths,” which include a 13-point disinfecting process using federally approved cleaners.

However, the spokesperson said that as businesses reopen, the fleet size will increase to pre-pandemic levels.

Bird said employees will sanitize each vehicle every time it is recharged or serviced and will conduct regular spot cleanings in the field on surfaces such as bells, throttles and handlebars.

Another issue that heated up in March 2018 was short-term vacation rentals. A coalition of town councils — including La Jolla’s — presented recommendations to regulate the enterprises in coastal communities, including a permitting process, fines, limiting the number of rentals in certain areas and establishing a dedicated fund for enforcement.

In the weeks following the state’s stay-at-home coronavirus order in March this year, some communities saw a break in the turnover of short-term rentals.

Gordon and Maureen Dunfee, who have lived in the same Barber Tract home for 30 years, said short-term rentals took over their street.

“We had a beautiful neighborhood, beautiful community with kids and families,” Gordon Dunfee said. “Things change, which is natural. But with the short-term rentals, things changed drastically and negatively and it became a hotel zone. We were surrounded by short-term rentals; we have no neighbors now. Every two or three days ... we would have new people come in and celebrate something like a graduation, bachelor party, etc.”

But during the pandemic, Maureen Dunfee said, “we have enjoyed peacefulness in our neighborhood. But it has also profoundly shown us that we have no more neighbors in our neighborhood. We feel alone on an island, so to speak.”

Having seen what life can be like with fewer rentals, the Dunfees are reinvigorated to promote change.

“I would like to see the rentals have a minimum number of days to 14 or 30 days or a full summer,” Maureen said. “In that situation, you have people to live in the community, rather than be here for a couple of days and the house turns over.”

Gordon cited a San Diego city attorney opinion in March 2017 that San Diego’s municipal code doesn’t permit vacation rentals in any zone.

“We have laws on the books; we don’t have to change anything,” Gordon said. “Just enforce the laws.”

The La Jolla Town Council is expected to discuss short-term vacation rentals at its meeting Thursday, June 11, via Zoom. Learn more at lajollatowncouncil.org.