‘I want the city to reduce it’: Short-term rentals in Bird Rock neighborhood bring worries of saturation

A yard sign speaks to the feelings that many community members have about short-term vacation rentals.

La Jolla has about 10 percent of the short-term vacation rentals that have received licenses from the city of San Diego. And while the distribution is throughout the 92037 ZIP code in neighborhoods such as the Barber Tract, Windansea, La Jolla Shores, The Village and the hilly areas, one Bird Rock neighborhood has an intense grouping, leaving at least one resident worried about oversaturation.

The city’s current short-term rental ordinance was brokered by City Councilwoman Jennifer Campbell, whose District 2 includes Ocean Beach and several other coastal communities. It was approved by the council in February 2021, with Councilman Joe LaCava, whose District 1 includes La Jolla, casting the only dissenting vote after unsuccessfully proposing amendments that he said would strengthen it.

For the record:

7:24 p.m. Jan. 25, 2023This article was changed to clarify when the City Council approved the short-term rental ordinance.

2:22 p.m. Jan. 24, 2023This article was changed to correct the number of licenses issued in the 92037 ZIP code.

In March 2022, the California Coastal Commission approved a planned cap on short-term rentals after commissioners added a key provision requiring the city to revisit the new regulations in seven years to assess their effects.

Thus, whole-home rentals for more than 20 days out of the year are capped at 1 percent of the city’s more than 540,000 housing units, or about 5,400. However, in Mission Beach, which has a long history of vacation rentals that predates the rise of online home-sharing platforms, the allocation is much more generous, limited to 30 percent of the community’s total dwelling units, or nearly 1,100.

The ordinance requires a license for all short-term rentals of a San Diego residence, or part thereof, for less than one month. The license will be required starting May 1.

The ordinance groups short-term rentals into a four-tier licensing system:

• Tier 1: Home-share (a room or rooms) or whole-home rentals totaling 20 days or less per year

• Tier 2: Home-share rentals totaling more than 20 days per year

• Tier 3: Whole-home rentals totaling more than 20 days per year

• Tier 4: Special tier for Mission Beach, which allows whole-home short-term rentals in a manner consistent with recommendations from the Mission Beach Town Council

For all of the four tiers, a total of 5,869 license applications have been received and 5,366 licenses have been issued. Of them, 568 are in the 92037 ZIP code.

In one Bird Rock area, about 18 percent of the houses have a short-term rental license attached to them.

Resident Trudy Grundland said she started counting the licensed whole-house rentals in the geographic area bounded by Calumet Avenue to the west, Chelsea Avenue to the east, Sea Ridge Drive to the south and Midway to the north — her immediate neighborhood — after seeing an influx of houses available as rentals.

She said she found it “misleading” that the city announced it was capping the number of whole-house rentals at 1 percent of available housing, since that doesn’t consider saturation in one area.

“I’ve lived here since 2008 and I have gotten to know my neighbors … so it’s not like we don’t know when new people come in,” she said. “I wanted to see [how many rentals there were] in my immediate neighborhood, what it actually comes out to, and thought it was ridiculous. What is the city going to do to address saturation so there is not too many in one area?”

City representatives did not immediately respond to the La Jolla Light’s request for comment and more information.

In looking at street addresses on a recently released city database, Grundland found that out of 95 houses in her neighborhood, 17 were listed as short-term rentals, she said. Of those 17, she added, 14 were purchased in the past four years.

She said one neighboring home is considered a “party house” because of its size and proximity to the ocean, and she said it has been modified to create more sleeping areas and therefore allow more people.

“This has been a thorn in our side and we have been trying to pull it back,” Grundland said. “I want the city to reduce it and address the saturation. We didn’t expect to have businesses next to us when we moved in. We’re going to be the next Mission Beach.” ◆