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Council members recently agreed that when it comes to short-term rentals, doing nothing isn’t an option, they shouldn’t be operated as a year-round business in residential zones and no matter what decision is finally made, the city is probably going to be sued. Photo by Bianca Kaplanek
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Short-term rental talks continue, no decision made

DEL MAR — After another marathon discussion at the Sept. 19 meeting about how to address short-term rentals, council members still couldn’t make a decision but they did reach consensus on a few issues.

“We don’t want to do nothing,” Councilman Dwight Worden said. “That doesn’t seem to be a viable option and … the intensive year-round short-term business rentals don’t have a place in our residential zones.”

According to the staff report the council was being asked to review options crafted by Worden and Councilman Terry Sinnott and then decide whether to allow but regulate vacation rentals or prohibit them in residential zones.

But after 90 minutes of public testimony, during which about 35 people spoke, and another 90 minutes of discussion, council members still had questions and were reluctant t commit to either scenario.

Zoning districts and the Community Plan, created decades ago, don’t define or list short-term rentals of less than 30 days as an allowed use in residential zones, although residential zones don’t expressly prohibit them either. Some have said since they aren’t addressed they aren’t permitted.

Mayor Sherryl Parks and Worden seem to favor prohibiting short-term rentals in residential zones because that option is consistent with the Community Plan, Local Coastal Plan and zoning codes.

In fact, Worden wrote two reports to support his views, concluding that the allow-but-regulate approach “would be difficult if not impossible” to enforce and would require changes to city and possibly state laws. He also noted it is “doomed to fail in meeting identified success criteria.”

Not allowing short-term rentals in residential zones “is relatively easy and can be accomplished with little need for intrusive actions,” he wrote.

“If an exemption is coupled with such a program to allow occasional rentals … some complexities are likely to arise, but at a much smaller scale,” he added. “They strike me as manageable and worthwhile as they would accommodate Del Mar residents who want to occasionally rent their homes short term while they take a vacation … while excluding the business of short term rentals in our residential zones.”

Sinnott and Councilman Don Mosier said they want to see concrete data on who’s renting their homes, under what conditions, the frequency and the number of complaints.

“We are in effect writing a little chapter in the Community Plan … and I’m not sure we have the data,” Sinnott said. “We’re making a decision on something that didn’t exist (when it was written).

“We need a better understanding of what’s going on,” he added. “I don’t feel comfortable with going to a ban or heavy handed regulation until we have a better a better understanding of it.”

Additionally, Mosier said it didn’t make sense that people could rent t heir homes for 30 days and be in compliance with city codes but they would be breaking the rules if they rented them for 29 days.

The Community Plan didn’t contemplate this kind of position, he said.

Mosier also said he sides with the California Coastal Commission’s view that the public deserves as much beach access as possible, and that is provided in part by short-term rentals. He supported a two-year pilot program with increased regulations.

Councilman Al Corti, like his colleagues, said whatever position the city takes will likely result in lawsuits. He was trying to make a decision based on input from attorneys but about a half dozen weighed in and all have differing opinions.

He said his goal is to choose an option that in his opinion is best for the city but he remains unsure which one that is.

Based on public testimony and emails sent to the city, residents and property owners are nearly evenly split on the two options.

Some who rent their homes say they depend on the income. People in the industry feared unemployment if vacation rentals are prohibited in residential zones.

People who live near short-term rental properties, particularly in the beach colony, say the constant turnover of people is disruptive and contributes to increased noise, traffic, parking shortages and trash.

They also said it changes the fabric of the community. Brenda Sampiere said that phrase is definable.

“What fabric are we trying to get to?” she asked “(W)ealthy, white retired folks that go to bed at 8 o’clock?”

Council members also seemed to agree that it may come down to letting the voters decide. In the meantime they directed staff to find a consultant to help garner the requested data.

The council will also need to enact another moratorium on new short-term rentals because the one currently in effect expires in November.