The Coast News Group
The California Coastal Commission won its short-term rental (STR) lawsuit against the city of Del Mar during a motion hearing on Feb. 6. File photo
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Coastal Commission rejects Del Mar’s STR ordinance

DEL MAR — The California Coastal Commission rejected Del Mar’s proposal to limit short-term rentals to minimum seven-day stays for a maximum of 28 days per year in nearly all residential zones.

The panel instead approved at the June 7 meeting a plan that will allow rentals of less than 30 days for a minimum of three consecutive days for no more than 100 days annually.

Del Mar council members adopted the ordinance governing vacation rentals late last year but because it is an amendment to the land-use plan (LUP) local coastal program it could not take effect without approval from the Coastal Commission.

In making the unanimous decision, the commissioners relied on the California Coastal Act goal to provide affordable access to the coast and Del Mar’s certified LUP, as well as about 90 minutes of public testimony, during which 14 of the 21 speakers stated opposition to the city’s ordinance.

Commissioners also received more than 150 emails — mostly from STR advocates — that included one petition with about 500 signatures supporting vacations rentals and another with 100 signatures supporting the city ordinance.

Some speakers showed videos of past vacation renters from outside the state urging the commission to reject Del Mar’s proposal. People on both sides of the issue presented conflicting data on whether short-term rental rates are, in fact, more affordable than room rates at the city’s six hotels.

Chairwoman Danya Bochco said testimony by the owners and what they charge weighed heavily in her decision. Donne Brownsey did a quick internet search during the meeting and said she found the booking websites showed proof STR rates are significantly lower than what the hotels charge.

Also impacting the decision was resident Greg Rothnem’s research that indicates most complaints to the city and Sheriff’s Department come from people other than short-term renters.

Amanda Lee, Del Mar’s senior planner, said the ordinance is consistent with the city’s LUP and would help preserve Del Mar’s housing stock by providing a disincentive to convert homes to short-term rental units.

Deborah Lee, the commission’s district manager, said while there is concern about affordable housing, that is a separate issue.

“The units in Del Mar are not going to be providing affordable housing,” she said. “These units do not need to be protected as affordable housing options because they’re not going to meet that.”

Commissioner Steve Padilla said he was “deeply concerned and troubled” with correspondence from Del Mar Mayor Dwight Worden that short-term rentals in Del Mar “just aren’t affordable and never will be.”

“That ignores your own LUP language … that says you want to provide” access to “people of means and people of lesser means,” Padilla said. “I’m not aware there’s an exemption to the statute for wealthier communities.”

Brownsey said affordability and accessibility for all Californians are the core of the Coastal Act.

She said she was concerned that “a major pipeline for many of California’s residents to enjoy the essential beauty of California’s coast is going to be restricted in a way that’s absolutely going to affect low-income folks.”

“Many families cannot afford seven days,” she added.

“My general preference is to support the local government … land decisions, but I just can’t today,” Commissioner Carole Groom said. “There’s a disconnect of what the city chose to do. I’m sure that they had … very good reasons.

“But the vast majority of the public … think it’s way too restrictive,” she added. “The Coastal Act is very clear that the coast is open, and it’s open every day to everybody in this state. So, it’s not wise of us to opt for policies that say not everybody can come to the beach when they want to come.

“I think that’s partially what this ultra-restrictive proposal is saying — is that you can’t come to Del Mar and go to the beach every day because there aren’t places for you to stay,” Groom said.

Coastal Commission staff recommended a three-day minimum stay for a maximum of 180 days a year.

Resident Betty Wheeler, representing about 100 property owners, said that focused solely on overnight visitor accommodations.

“We believe that the City Council’s decision to allow STRs in all residential zones on a 7/28 basis better balances three important goals: preserving the special residential quality of our neighborhoods, protecting our housing stock and opportunities for more affordable housing for residents, and providing overnight accommodations for visitors.

“Implementing the CCC staff’s 3/180 recommendation would likely be devastating to the two other goals without making STRs truly affordable for visitors, which is what the staff asserts is its principal interest,” she added.

“The good news is that the Coastal Commission, unlike the City Council, actually followed the law and saw how important short-term rentals are in the history of Del Mar and for affordable access,” said resident Laura DeMarco, who is part of a group that has three lawsuits pending against the city.

“They saw through the claim that short-term rentals were not affordable,” she added.