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STRs: Fact Check
Dwight Worden | Deputy Mayor

Short term Rentals (STRs) are a hot Del Mar topic, and Council meetings have at times been heated, with some ignoring the Code of Civility prominently displayed in Council chambers. At this point, we’ve invested hundreds of hours listening to speakers, reading red dots, and engaging in discussions. Much of this has been illuminating and productive, but it is frustrating when we keep hearing “facts” that just aren’t true. As the saying goes, you’re entitled to your own opinion, but not your own facts.

Here is my effort to correct three inaccurate or misleading “facts” that some have circulated in the community. To see two more, visit the Sandpiper on the web to read my full article.

CLAIM: The City Council voted to ban STRs.
FACT: Although the Council has never voted on a ban, much less passed one, it has clarified the current status of STRs under our Community Plan and Municipal Code, as follows: under the current code, STRs are allowed in one residential zone (RC) and in most commercial zones; one residential house is allowed per lot in these commercial zones that can be rented short term. Recently, the Council endorsed a policy (4-1) to add STRs as an allowed use in ALL residential zones for a maximum of 28 days per year with a minimum 7-day stay. You may agree or disagree with these restrictions, but they are not a ban.

CLAIM: A majority of residents favor STRs in residential zones.
FACT: The best measures we have indicate this is not true. Public input to Council by emails, petitions, and letters indicate that the majority of residents do not favor STRs in residential zones, especially on a full-time, high-turnover basis. The November Election saw three candidates elected who campaigned in favor of restricting STRs in residential zones, with STRs one of the most dominant issues of the election. The two candidates who favored STRs lost, as did one candidate who opposed STRs.

CLAIM: The STR “problem” can be solved by managing nuisance problems.
FACT: This claim can be made only by willfully ignoring other problems that flow from the proliferation of STRs in residential zones: they change the special residential character of neighborhoods that the Community Plan and zoning ordinances were intended to protect, as evidenced by their careful separation of commercial and residential uses, and strict limits on residential zones. Today, residents increasingly live next to STRs with many of the attributes of commercial operations. Dwellings that historically have been available for long-term rentals have increasingly been converted to STRs, reducing the available housing stock for residents. Neighborhoods that were intended to have the special amenities of a single-family residential area are becoming more akin to commercial boutique hotel districts.

CLAIM: Few complaints about STRs have been received by the city or the sheriff in spite of a city hotline for complaints, and this means STRs are not a problem.
FACT: This is partly true, but misleading for two reasons: the Sheriff cannot respond to nuisance calls in a timely way, and the hotline is for reporting violations of the temporary moratorium. If a noisy STR is causing a problem next door at 10 pm, city staff are off duty and calls go to an answering machine. The sheriff typically refers nuisance callers to the city.  People quickly learn complaints to these sources may not be worth the effort. Council has heard many complaints that this “system” doesn’t work to address STR problems.
The simple permit we plan to implement for STRs under the new rules being formulated will likely require a 24-hour emergency number that neighbors can use to reach the property owner or manager when STR guests are creating problems. And, of course, it also is true that many STRs do not generate complaints because the properties are well managed.

CLAIM: STRs have always been part of the Del Mar community.
FACT: This is true in the broadest sense, but not true with respect to STRs as they have been occurring in the last few years. The Community Plan provides a highly detailed picture of the physical and demographic characteristics of Del Mar as of 1976. It does not document short-term uses similar to today’s STRs. Instead, it has one paragraph that notes:

A comparatively large percentage of transient housing is available within [the North Beach] planning area. During the year much of this transient housing changes from occupancy by students and moderate income families in off-season months to wealthy tourists (often affiliated with the race track) or the property owners themselves during the summer.

This language, which applies only to the North Beach area, describes a transient pattern significantly different from the definition of “transient” adopted years later as part of the tax code. It documents a sizeable student resident/moderate-income family population, renting North Beach housing during the 9-month school year; seasonal rentals during the summer and racing season; and use by the property owners themselves during the summer. What was documented as occurring in 1976 was very different from today’s Internet-driven model with high-intensity, year-round rentals that often turn over every 2-3 days.

As we work through the details of the short-term rental policies we are putting in place for Del Mar, we need a fact-based focus on key issues. Now that a Council majority has voted to approve a policy that all residential properties can engage in STR use for up to 28 days per year, with 7-day minimum stays, what permit policy can we put in place that will be simple, but effective in helping to enforce limits and violations? Are there unique properties that need special treatment, and if so, what is the best way to effectuate that? How do we best create a “soft landing” to allow current non-complying STR operators to transition to compliance?
The Council welcomes all help in working through these issues. I hope people on all sides will honor our Code of Civil Discourse as they advocate their position. A good first step is listening to others thoughtfully, especially when you disagree, and making sure the facts upon which you base your opinion are sound.
In a longer article available online, I address two more claims: 1) Few complaints about STRs have been received by the city or the sheriff in spite of a city hotline for complaints, and this means STRs are not a problem; and 2) STRs have always been part of the Del Mar community.


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