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STR Magic Number?
Bud Emerson | Klish Way

On June 7, the California Coastal Commission (CCC) cast two votes on the City of Del Mar’s Local Coastal Program Amendment (LCPA) regulating short-term rentals (STRs), first voting to reject the key elements of the City’s STR program, allowing short-term (less than 30-day) rentals in residential zones subject to a minimum stay of 7 days, and a maximum of 28 rental days per year; then voting to approve the plan with modification of the 7-day minimum to 3 days, and modification of the 28-day annual maximum to 100 days. The CCC staff recommendation was for an annual maximum of 180 days, and much of the CCC’s discussion was a search for a consensus on whether the maximum should be 180 days, 90 days, or the 100 it finally settled on. Discussion was sparse with respect to a rationale for the number selected.

These actions put the CCC and the City at odds on a series of important issues, both factual and legal. On the legal side, those issues include whether the City has the authority to make and interpret its own zoning ordinances, including those regulating STRs; whether the CCC’s decision was supported by substantial evidence; and whether the LCPA complies with the City’s already-certified Land Use Plan. The City’s assertion of its need (and right) to balance competing legal demands – including not only providing visitor-serving facilities, but also meeting state mandates regarding affordable housing, and the Community Plan’s directive to protect the City’s special residential character, was brushed off by the CCC. For example, CCC District Director Deborah Lee characterized as “speculative” the City’s efforts as part of current development planning to provide both visitor accommodations and affordable housing, because, she claimed, the City is essentially built out, so existing buildings would have to be torn down for such development to take place. (Just 21 days after the CCC hearing, the City Council demonstrated the inaccuracy of Lee’s assertion with its 5-0 approval of the 941 Camino Del Mar Specific Plan, which if approved by voters in November will provide both visitor-serving accommodations and affordable housing on a currently-vacant lot.)

On the factual side, the CCC focused solely on the City’s provision of overnight visitor accommodations, to facilitate access to the coast. The CCC disregarded the extensive services Del Mar provides for day visitors; it treated STRs as more affordable than hotels, despite what the City asserted was substantial evidence to the contrary with respect to Del Mar STRs (with one Commissioner announcing the “findings” of a Google search she conducted during the hearing); and it gave short shrift to evidence showing extensive overnight options for visitors, including hotels/motels, timeshares, RV spaces, and the significant STR opportunities allowed by the City’s LCPA.

The City Council’s options range from accepting the proposed modifications to challenging the CCC’s action in court. The City has 60 days to challenge the decision in court, and 6 months to decide whether to accept the proposed modifications, and presumably the Council will weigh these options in both closed and public sessions. Recent preliminary court decisions in cases challenging STR policies in the cities of Hermosa Beach and Santa Monica show the potential for defending Del Mar’s STR program as a permissible exercise of its power, consistent with its Land Use Plan already certified by the CCC. The City Council has the opportunity to demonstrate that when it comes to Del Mar’s core values, including protecting our special residential character, it’s worth going to the mat.



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