Nearly an entire block of Market Street San Diego is filled with vacation rentals that market themselves as a great place to throw big parties.
It’s an unusual place for a party block: the heart of Stockton, a low-income neighborhood just south of SR-94 and east of Grant Hill, a largely industrial area.
And while it’s the nightmare incarnate critics of vacation rentals fear, it’s story, impact on neighbors and what it’s doing to the area’s housing stock is not as straightforward as you may think.
The five rentals are sandwiched between two commercial spaces and take up most of the south side of the block from 32nd to 33rd Streets and have names like The Sanctuary, Surf Shack, Bamboo Garden, Beach Village and The Jungle. They’re marketed on Airbnb as great places to host large events like weddings and business retreats.
The biggest home – The Sanctuary, an old church retrofitted into a vacation rental – is advertised as sleeping 24 people and hosting events up to 100 guests. The Beach Village rental next door sleeps 20 and can host events for up to 60 people. At the center of Beach Village, the deck opens to a large sandbox filled with pristine white beach sand. Lush landscaping surrounds all of the vacation rentals, making them look like an oasis in the middle of a historically underserved neighborhood.
Across the street from the collection of hip rentals is an industrial warehouse filled with pipe valves and other plumbing supplies. A fast food restaurant and other weathered businesses like tire shops, dollar stores and gas stations line the section of Market Street. Several small homes and apartments are tucked between and behind the businesses, inhabited by mostly low-income renters.
To get to the parking lots for the vacation rentals, which are owned by local investment company Endless Summer Properties LLC, visitors have to drive through an alleyway behind them. On one side of the dusty alley are the well-kept rentals, on the other side is a large, beat-up industrial shed with a shack affixed to it. An air-conditioning unit hangs from the shack’s window, which makes it look like someone’s living there.
The juxtaposition between the two sides of the alleyway is stark.
On the surface, the block appears to confirm some of the biggest fears and complaints of those who oppose vacation rentals in San Diego: That investors are buying up properties and removing them from the housing stock in a region faced with a housing crisis; and that vacation rentals become noisy party pads that are nuisances for neighbors.
Sue Hopkins, a member of Save San Diego Neighborhoods, a group pushing for a ban on vacation rentals, said the sheer size of the properties on Market Street is a concern.
“That’s not even a mini hotel, that’s a real hotel,” Hopkins said. “Shouldn’t they have to follow the same rules and regulations as a hotel chain? The only problem I have with this type of use in a more commercial, or mixed-use zone is that this is very clearly a commercial use and this is just an end-run around the requirements hotels have to follow.”
She’s worried the buildings aren’t compliant with fire safety standards.
But some of the party block’s neighbors don’t share those concerns.
A Spanish-speaking woman who lives in a small home across the street from the alley, and didn’t want to give me her name, said she never hears loud parties, and she’s happy the block has been upgraded by the owners of the vacation rentals.
Danny Esho, an employee at David’s Friendly Market, a convenience store on the corner of 33rd and Market, said the vacation rentals help his business.
“Every weekend there are a lot of customers, they come in, they come from different states,” he said.
Esho said he’s never heard any complaints from neighbors about the vacation rentals, and he likes the landscaping and other upgrades the vacation rental owners have done.
Raymond Bernal, the chair of the city’s Southeastern San Diego Planning Group who lives in nearby Logan Heights, said he hasn’t heard many complaints about vacation rentals from his neighbors in southeastern San Diego. He said there are not a lot of them popping up in those neighborhoods yet.
“But I can see the concern for having a big block full of housing taken up by vacation rentals and taken away from people who could be using it in the area,” he said.
Vacation rentals in the city of San Diego still operate in a legal grey area since the City Council punted its policy vote last year. The city attorney says they are illegal. But the mayor has not enforced that interpretation.
One of the proposals the Council considered would have completely prohibited investor-owned vacation rentals like the ones on Market Street; the other proposal limited investors from operating more than three vacation rentals.
Joshua Huddleston is the CEO of Good Life Resorts, the North County-based company that manages the rentals on Market Street. He’s also listed as a member of Endless Summer Properties LLC, the company that owns the vacation rentals. Through Airbnb’s messaging system, Huddleston said the block of Market Street is a prime example of how investor-owned vacation rentals can make neighborhoods better.
“My rentals were abandoned buildings full of rats, trash, and old appliances and abandoned cars,” he wrote. “Pretty incredible turnaround for the neighbors, who are very excited it’s no longer a trash pile. They come over and thank me all the time.”
He said the city needs to decide how to regulate vacation rentals in residential zones with families, but said a ban, especially in mixed-use areas like Stockton, is not the answer.
“We all agree this is very important to ensure noise and trash violators receive a warning and penalty,” he wrote. “If they ban vacation rentals, thousands of happy guests would be misplaced and be forced to rent out poor quality hotel rooms for high rates.”
Huddleston said the rentals on Market Street are safe and include more than 60 parking spaces for guests. He said his company shelled out $14,000 for a disabled-access ramp last year. This year, he is working to make more upgrades to the properties and even the alley behind them.
As for the housing supply concern: Huddleston said the previous owners of the property did not use them as housing. The nonprofit that owned them would offer short-term lodging for its employees. Four of the houses were converted from that temporary lodging, and the other was built brand new, he said.
“My rentals are between two commercial buildings with no abutting residential neighbors,” he wrote. “This is not a loss of housing stock.”
About the parties, he said he has checked decibel levels when big groups have rented them, and hasn’t found a problem. He said the rentals were intentionally designed to muffle noise.
Huddleston said before the city picks back up its vacation rental regulation discussion, he hopes they’ll talk to people like him and collect more information.
“It would be great to see more data on vacation rentals,” he said. “That would be good news and help us all make decisions. Require permits, add penalties for violators and collect data. Then we can make a better decision after 12 months of data.”