A short term vacation rental in mission beach
A beachfront vacation property in Mission Beach / Image via Shutterstock

In July, the San Diego City Council is expected to vote on short-term rental regulations that could decide the fate of Mission Beach.

During the previous round of discussions in December, the City Council considered a rule that permits would only go to people who could show that a home was their primary residence. Councilwoman Lori Zapf introduced an amendment that would have exempted Mission Beach from that requirement, but she later pulled it, and eventually the discussions ended with no resolution.

Voice of San Diego Commentary

The short-term rental regulations on the table this summer are reportedly similar to those proposed last year. One of the biggest and ongoing concerns at the Mission Beach Town Council, where I serve as president, is that this time around the City Council will elect to carve out Mission Beach from whatever regulations are passed.

That would be a big mistake.

The community of Mission Beach, as I have known it for the past 50 years, is already disappearing. While vacation rentals are an integral part of Mission Beach history, the number of short-term rentals is now uniquely high. Host Compliance, a San Francisco company that monitors the industry, estimated last year that there are 1,624 short-term vacation rental listings in Mission Beach. The number of total housing units number is about 3,500, according to SANDAG.

That means short-term vacation rentals take up around 40 percent of the housing stock in Mission Beach. In other communities, that number is estimated around 5 to 10 percent.

Vacation rentals in the 1970s were typically located on Ocean Front Walk, with a smaller percentage on Bayside Walk, and I remember they were rented out during the three summer months at about four times the cost of the other nine months. That allowed for affordable beach housing at the time and created a good balance between owner-occupied units and rentals, a delineation between the tourist season and the rest of the year.

But this balance began to fade beginning five to 10 years ago with the founding of Airbnb, which connected short-term rental owners and visitors online. During this period, San Diego, like many coastal cities, was caught off guard.

There were two major changes. First, short-term rentals were being considered all year round, reducing the winter housing stock. Second, the short-term rentals, previously limited to Ocean Front Walk, began showing up on the courts, which are dedicated walkways. On Avalon Court, where I live, the number of short-term rentals increased from one to 14, out of 32 units. Now, many of the short-term rentals on the court are vacant during the winter months, eliminating the affordable beach access to longer-term residents.

In 2015, the city asked for the community’s position on short-term rentals and the Mission Beach Town Council and the Mission Beach Precise Planning Board joined forces on the response, which favored a seven-day minimum. When nothing followed, the town council agreed to support Save San Diego Neighborhoods, which is petitioning the city to enforce the municipal code and ban short-term rentals outright. When that failed to gain traction at city hall, the town council crafted and offered its own set of possible regulations. This included on-site performance standards (such as maximum occupancy, off-street parking and fines), density and spatial limits, rules for enforcement and a system of permits.

One of the arguments for carving out Mission Beach from the city’s short-term regulations is that it’s part of a “planned district ordinance,” which provides residents with some latitude in determining its own land use options. But any ordinance we might want to pursue is subject to review by the city planning department, the City Council and the California Coastal Commission. Past short-term rental-related actions by the California Coastal Commission have favored boundary and density limits  rather than a minimum number of days — which solves only part of the problem.

A carve-out of Mission Beach from the city’s short-term rental regulations, and a failure of the community to pass its own special ordinance, would leave Mission Beach completely vulnerable. With limits on the rest of the coastal communities and no protection here, Mission Beach could easily become inundated with short-term rentals.

To ensure that doesn’t happen, the town council hopes to be part of the new short-term rental discussions and is ready to engage.

Gary Wonacott is a retired engineer and president of the Mission Beach Town Council. See anything in there we should fact check? Tell us what to check out here.

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