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Del Mar's Community Plan

Milking the Cash Cow
Ann Gardner | Via Latina

Vacation rentals available.
Photo illustration Virginia Lawrence
Click on photo to enlarge.

The pitch is the same. But some are more blatant than others. KellerWilliams advertises a property at 2034 Santa Fe Ave. in Del Mar as a “VRBO cash cow potential!” The short term rental phenomenon has hit beach communities throughout California, and Del Mar is no exception. Cities are crying foul and reviewing their options.

In May Laguna Beach suspended approval of all incomplete and new short term rental applications; in June Manhattan Beach outlawed all vacation rentals of less than 30 days and last month Marin County, home to Tiburon and Sausalito, passed a new ordinance banning short term rentals. Residents in Mammoth Lake, fearing the Town Council was going to expand nightly rentals into residential zones, initiated a winning referendum that barred the Council from acting on the issue.

Short term rentals (STR) in residential areas throughout the State are under review due to the growing number of complaints from residents about noise, parking, loss of long term rentals and changes in the character of traditional neighborhoods. There is no definition for STRs in Del Mar’s Zoning Ordinance. However on September 8 the City Council, also responding to complaints from Del Mar residents, asked staff to prepare draft zoning code amendments to “accommodate and regulate” short term rentals in Del Mar. The draft amendments will be presented at the Planning Commission meeting on November 10.

Historically Del Mar beach rentals were occupied by students during the academic year after owners returned to their primary homes during “off season.” Residents throughout the City also rented their homes during the 4-6 week race season, often to race patrons, jockeys or other track related employees, taking that time for their own travel. The “exchange” was often with the same people year after year. “We knew each other,” one owner said. However, the year round STR phenomenon is relatively new and the dynamics are different. A big difference is the advent of speculators purchasing homes and using them solely for short term rentals, or as one angry Santa Barbara resident exclaimed, “The carefully disguised hotel next door.”

Vacation rental.
Photo Edward Yuskiewicz
Click on photo to enlarge.

When a STR opens next door, a long term neighbor can be replaced by an offsite property manager and revolving transients. Vacation rental signs sprout and stay year round. A week-day walk around one beach block for this article revealed numerous signs in front of empty houses at more than half of the properties in the neighborhood. We stopped several times to pick up discarded trash. One landlord said he preferred long term renters and would not object if the City banned short term rentals even if it meant less money for him. Another expressed amazement that a City that takes privacy and noise so seriously when reviewing permits, allows short term renters who are in constant recreational mode within a few feet of homes.

Some coastal cities are allowing STR with restrictions. Santa Monica requires the host to be living in the property during the renter’s stay; Carlsbad allows within the Coastal Zone, or 37 per cent of the city only; in Solana Beach stays of less than seven days are prohibited. California Senator Diane Feinstein is supporting a San Francisco measure that would limit STRs to 75 days a year. Most cities collect a transit occupancy tax (TOT) ranging between 8 and 14%. Sometimes the Coastal Commission’s protection of public access to the beach hinders restrictions. In 2002 the Commission rejected a proposed ordinance in Imperial Beach that would have restricted STR to the commercial/tourist zone. Based on the strong support of the community, the City sued the Commission and won the case.
Currently every home in Del Mar is defenseless against an STR “cash cow” opening next door. In addition to the immediate impacts such as revolving visitors, the community also loses a home for families who want to live here; for residents who vote, send children to our schools, volunteer to serve on committees, support open space and parks and attend community programs and cultural events. How will Del Mar respond? The draft ordinance will be posted on the City website for residents to review and to provide input on November 10th at the Planning Commission. The Commission’s recommendations will then go to City Council.


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