Dissatisfaction with San Diego short-term rental ordinance is aired in Ocean Beach

The heated debate over short-term vacation rentals has included signs like this one around San Diego in recent years.
(File / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

With an ordinance to legalize and regulate short-term rentals in San Diego passing the City Council the previous day, perceived shortcomings in the law were raised during the Ocean Beach Town Council’s February meeting last week.

The ordinance, approved by an 8-1 vote and scheduled to become effective July 1, 2022, will allow the city to license those properties and collect fees.

New ordinance would cap whole-home rentals available for more than 20 days in a year at 1% of the city’s housing stock, except in Mission Beach.

With the number of whole-home rentals available for more than 20 days in a year capped at 1 percent of the city’s housing stock, the primary concern at the Town Council meeting Feb. 24 was the lack of a mechanism to prevent most, if not all, STRs from being located in Ocean Beach and other coastal communities.

“There’s going to be a lottery [to award operating licenses], but there’s no way to parse where those STRs are going to be,” said Town Council President Mike Winkie. “It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that a large proportion of those STRs are going to reside in [City Council] District 2, notwithstanding the Mission Beach carve-out [which limits the more active rentals to 30 percent of that community’s total dwelling units]. ... I would argue that Ocean Beach is the tip of the spear on that. We will see the biggest amount of pressure [from] STRs in our community.”

Teddy Martinez, the Ocean Beach representative for City Council President Jennifer Campbell — who represents District 2 and shepherded the STR ordinance through — said that while the details of the lottery system won’t be finalized until October, its aim is to confer licenses on existing operators throughout the city who have abided by community standards for protecting quality of life.

“Hypothetically, you could end up in a situation where everyone is on the same block,” Martinez said. “But given the largeness of the city and where people are going to be applying for [a license], the lottery system is intended as a way to spread things out a bit.”

As Martinez presented his case during the virtual meeting on Zoom, Ocean Beach Planning Board member Kevin Hastings ran text visible onscreen about describing some current STR operators as “good actors” even though the activity was prohibited under zoning laws before the new ordinance.

“Operating an illegal vacation rental generally means you don’t follow the rules,” Hastings’ message read.

Newly installed Town Council board member Gary Gartner questioned a lack of accountability in the ordinance for online platforms such as VRBO and Airbnb if they market unlicensed STRs in the city. He cited a San Francisco ordinance that fines companies each day they list an STR that is banned by the city.

“It seemed to really keep the platforms honest because there were strict fines of $1,000 or more,” Gartner said.

Martinez maintained that with a completed lottery system and a fee structure slated to be presented to the City Council in October, the community still has time to raise concerns as the underlying administrative structure of the ordinance is crafted.

“The conversation is going to be an open one as this gets implemented,” he said.

During the meeting, police Community Relations Officer David Surwilo weighed in with remarks on the heated STR debate. He said the ordinance will provide the San Diego Police Department with some basis on which to answer the voluminous complaints about vacation rentals.

“I’m happy that at least something is being done one way or the other,” Surwilo said. “Hopefully this is going to help. I know not everybody is happy. ... Maybe it will limit some of the problems that a lot of people are experiencing.”

Surwilo also expressed concern that the preponderance of STRs will be in coastal neighborhoods.

“I am sure we all do not want that entire 1 percent of the total population of vacation rentals in Ocean Beach and Point Loma,” he said. “Hopefully, with feedback from the community to the City Council as a whole — not just our council member but all of them — I hope you have the wishes that you’re seeking come true.”

Other OBTC news

School reopening plans: Although the San Diego Unified School District reached an agreement with its teachers union and other stakeholders to reopen campuses April 12 if the county is out of the most-restrictive tier of the state’s coronavirus risk framework and school staff gets access to full COVID-19 vaccinations, Ocean Beach Elementary School Principal Marco Drapeau listed obstacles that still need to be overcome to meet the target date.

The date is contingent on school staff getting access to both COVID-19 vaccine doses and on the county getting out of the purple tier.

Rearranging classrooms to meet social distancing standards, organizing safe entry to the school and ensuring comfortable conditions for learning when all the windows and doors are open for maximum air circulation are a few of the many difficulties Drapeau cataloged.

“What does recess look like?” he said. “What does lunch look like? Do we need extra supervision at recess because there’s probably going to be cohorts with students accessing different parts of the playground? All that has to be worked out, and that’s not part of the agreement. So those are things that we as principals have been thinking about.”

Notwithstanding the long list of foreseeable problems, Drapeau worried that the biggest vulnerability may still be unknown and will be discovered only when the reopening occurs.

“We’ve set aside some money in our budget ... for the sole purpose of, hey, we might need something we don’t know we need yet,” he said.

When Winkie asked how the Town Council and community could assist preparations for the reopening, Drapeau replied: “We could really use the community’s help in making this a celebratory thing of coming back to school. I’m envisioning some sort of ... full red carpets out for the students. ... Just make it a big deal — cheering, like a movie premiere.”

Winkie agreed, saying: “We want to give those kids a wonderful experience when they come back after being away so long. I know that all of the local community groups will come together and put something down that the kids will remember.”

Stephanie Kane, Gary Gartner, Corey Bruins, Isaac Darby, Stacie Woehrle, Aaron Null, Scott Grace and Trudy Levenson
Clockwise from top left, Stephanie Kane, Gary Gartner, Corey Bruins, Isaac Darby, Stacie Woehrle, Aaron Null, Scott Grace and Trudy Levenson were elected to the Ocean Beach Town Council board of directors in voting that closed Feb. 5.
(Ocean Beach Town Council)

Board members: With two new and six returning board members taking their seats that night after an election that closed Feb. 5, Winkie adjourned the meeting by praising their participation in the volunteer group.

Gartner, Aaron Null, Stephanie Kane, Corey Bruins, Trudy Levenson, Isaac Darby, Scott Grace and Stacie Woehrle were elected by members of the nonprofit OBTC.


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