Lightner efforts to ban short-term vacation rentals defeated Nov. 1

Neighborhood residents show their support and opposition to regulating short-term vacation rentals at a special City Council meeting.
(Nelvin C. Cepeda/UT)

After a vote Nov. 1 at Golden Hall, where City Council President Sherri Lightner’s efforts to offer a solution to the short-term vacation rental issue was defeated 2-7, she told constituents, “I’m sorry, I’m really sorry.” The termed-out Council President and La Jolla Shores resident, will leave the Council in December.

Hundreds of people were attracted to the special City Council meeting at which Lighter hoped to pass what she referred to as a “minor change” in the municipal code that would allow local authorities to enforce a ban of entire house year-round rentals in single family residential zones. Had it been approved, home sharing, an Airbnb-like rental form where the owner stays on site, would still be allowed citywide, but with a minimum seven-day stay, which many home-sharers indicated would effectively terminate the business.

Two hundred people turned in speaker slips, 100 from each side of the issue, many of them from La Jolla.

La Jollan Allison Patton spoke against short-term vacation rentals, noting “This is 100 percent about shutting down these mini-hotels. … We’re not getting cooperation from the majority of the City Council or the City Attorney.”

David Schroedl, a real estate agent who rents out a historic mid-century modern home in the La Jolla Shores area, said he was inspired to join the Airbnb market by living next door to vacation rentals. “I have fully enjoyed the people I’ve met and there have been no disturbances (to neighbors). We are paying five times the amount of taxes on our property that we would if we had it rented out to a (long-term) tenant.”

Citizens, which council members patiently listened to for over four hours, were polarized in their arguments. Those wearing green shirts, rallied by San Francisco-based company Airbnb, defended their right to rent out parts of their property (or the property as a whole) and, in many cases, their need for the extra income.

Anti-short-time rental neighbors, most of them in orange, organized under Save San Diego Neighborhoods, complained about the noise and the annoyances of living close to one of these establishments. A resident of La Jolla Shores shared that a whole-house rental in her area had been turned into a wedding venue. “I do not enjoy them blasting music late at night,” she said.

La Jollan Joe LaCava spoke in favor of the proposed change in the City code, “We have been waiting for the City to protect our neighborhoods with a lack of any action. Something must be done to shut down year-round whole-house rentals. You must protect our single-family residential neighborhoods by shutting down mini-motels.”

City Council District 1 candidate Barbara Bry (poised to replace Lightner in the Nov. 8 election) added, “Many of the communities in the district are greatly impacted by this issue. I’m fine if you rent out a room in your house as long as you’re onsite to supervise. I’m also fine if you rent your house while on vacation or when your kids are with their father. I know living in San Diego is expensive and this can make it more affordable. What I’m against is having entire houses turned into mini-hotels. What you vote today is the first step, and only the first step in resolving this neighborhood issue. If I’m elected, I will lead a thoughtful reform that will truly protect our neighborhoods.”

When it came down to a vote, only the council representatives from coastal communities — Lightner (District 1) and Lorie Zapf (District 2) — voted “Yea,” with the majority rejecting the measure.

Council member Todd Gloria (District 3) put forward a motion calling for new regulations governing the short-term vacation rentals, seeking a thoughtful reform that would ban whole-house, year-round rentals while allowing neighbors to rent out parts of their homes. His motion passed 7-2.

“Unfortunately, the council has not had an opportunity to consider a thoughtful, well-crafted ordinance that takes into consideration the difference between home sharing, home swapping, whole-house rentals and room rentals. … I would hope instead of a blanket ban there would be reasonable regulations to clarify the rules and provide necessary code enforcement and maintain the quality of life in our neighborhoods,” Gloria said.

Many residents complained of their frustration at trying to get the City code enforcement personnel and the San Diego Police Department to address violations perpetrated by short-term tenants, such as noise. Lightner added, “I have tried over time to work with communities in noise complaints, and it just doesn’t work.”

She argued that short-term rentals are already illegal in single-family residential zones, while City Attorney Jan Goldsmith clarified that the current code language is too vague to be enforced. Lightner moved to amend Gloria’s motion with a clarification that short-term vacation rentals are visitor accommodations, which presumably will allow for immediate enforcement of the prohibition. Gloria denied.

Had Lightner’s proposal been approved, residents in the areas of Bird Rock, Soledad Mountain, The Shores and Hillside, would have seen relief from short-term rental concerns, but the problem would have been far from solved. As a community with its own land-use map, La Jolla has many areas zoned for multi-family use, where whole-house rental was still allowed. These areas of La Jolla are thick with entire-home short-term rentals.

According to the website, there are 722 active Airbnb rentals in La Jolla; 575 (79 percent) of them entire homes.