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In a recent op-ed, Councilman Chris Cate addressed his position on the controversy over short-term rentals in the city of San Diego.
Unfortunately, the piece entirely missed the real issue: the misuse of land for purposes that are incompatible with single-family neighborhoods.
The city has myriad rules on what can be located where, it’s what we call zoning. Zoning allows for reasonable expectations of what uses will occur in our neighborhoods, and for adequate notice if someone wants to change the zone to introduce a previously prohibited use. But in the case of short-term rentals, many parts of our city have seen a dramatic rise in mini-motel operations in single-family neighborhoods despite zoning that prohibits hotel and motels. There are many reasons for this growth, but we suspect that technology is a major contributor.
But the reasons, technological or otherwise, are not the issue. Adherence to zoning regulations is the real issue. When you buy a home in a residentially zoned neighborhood in San Diego, you have a reasonable expectation that the houses next to you will remain residences. You also rightly assume that if your neighbor someday decides to turn his or her house into an auto-body shop or some other commercial use, the city will step in to prevent that from happening.
Currently, city laws state that hotels and motels cannot be located in residential zones, but – with the city’s current lack of enforcement – homes rented year-round on a short-term basis are somehow OK. We have seen many examples of homeowners who have found themselves living next to a de facto mini-motel and experiencing the negative impacts of a commercial business located in a residential area such as transient activity, noise, etc. To be clear, we are not talking about renting a spare room or even a once-a-year rental while you are away on vacation; we are talking whole-house rentals year-round for short stays, just like a motel.
Cate compares this controversy to ridesharing. This analogy is inappropriate, as this issue is about zoning. That said, there are parallels between short-term rentals and the regulation aspect of rideshare in California. Rideshare, the poster child for the sharing economy, is a regulated industry, requiring extensive background checks on all drivers, annual automobile inspections to ensure health and safety of passengers, disclosure of ownership information of vehicles, third-party liability and excess liability coverage, audits by a third party to ensure compliance, areas where a driver can and cannot operate and adherence to all local regulations.
Since Cate uses this example to bolster his support position on the technology, we would expect him to propose regulations that mirror the regulatory parameters of rideshare. This would include prohibiting mini-motels in single-family neighborhoods like we prohibit hotels, how and where full-time, short-term renting should occur with respect to the zoning, discretionary review by the city for those investors and companies operating mini-motels, disclosure of ownership information of properties, annual home inspections to ensure the health and safety of visitors, providing guests with assurances the properties they are renting meet the liability insurance requirements beyond simple property damage and confirming visitors are not renting from a registered sex offender nor convicted felon via extensive background checks.
Put simply, zoning must be respected regardless of the technology, and the city should ensure that our neighborhoods are protected from the proliferation of mini-hotels.
Joe LaCava is a land use and policy consultant and the past chair of the San Diego Community Planners Committee and the La Jolla planning group. Vicki Granowitz is a longtime North Park resident, member of its planning group and a citywide activist on land use issues.