The Del Mar coastline / Image via Shutterstock

Del Mar’s feud with the California Coastal Commission over short-term vacation rentals could have significant consequences outside the region’s smallest city.

Earlier this summer, the commission rejected Del Mar’s decision to require visitors to stay in vacation rentals for a minimum of seven days and limit the total number of days that hosts can open their homes to 28 days annually.

Those rules, the commission said, were too severe. Instead, it recommended that renters be required to stay a minimum of three days and hosts keep their homes open for no more than 100 days annually.

Del Mar officials were not pleased. The city voted 3-2 behind closed doors to challenge the commission’s decision, questioning its authority and jurisdiction to require short-term vacation rental rules within residential zones. They asked the Superior Court to intervene.

As its name suggests, the Coastal Commission has significant authority over the state’s coast, extending generally 1,000 yards inland. One of its goals is maintaining public access to beaches, and so it has defended short-term vacation rentals as an affordable option for low-income visitors.

Del Mar lies completely within the state’s Coastal Zone, and the commission has an established role there.

But as Everett Delano, an attorney specializing in land use and environmental law, told me, Del Mar is simply asking a judge to determine whether the commission has overstepped its bounds in this case. Where the commission’s authority ends and the city’s authority begins is the key question, he said.

The commission has until mid-December to respond, the Coast News reported.

I also asked Erik Bruvold, CEO of the San Diego North Economic Development Council, for his thoughts on the significance of Del Mar’s petition and he said it’s likely, if the city is successful, that other neighboring coastal cities would push for more restrictive short-term vacation rental policies.

But he added: “My expectation would be … that any pressures to further short-term vacation rentals will be weighed against the financial contributions to that city’s general fund.” Carlsbad, he noted, has started tracking the amount of revenue on a per property basis — data that should help move the conversation out of the anecdotal realm.

The commission has rejected rules in cities outside Del Mar for being too onerous, and its presence continues to loom over the short-term vacation rental debate in San Diego. The commission has yet to approve the ordinance that San Diego City Council members adopted in mid-July.

Days before that vote went down, the commission suggested that it preferred a more permissive proposal put forth by the mayor.

By the Way, Hello!

In case you didn’t notice, I’m not Ruarri Serpa. Our friend and North County contributor has moved on. After a brief break, we’ve decided to relaunch this newsletter on a biweekly basis.

Feel free to drop me a note and say hey. Taco shop recommendations are always appreciated. Tips even more so. I know the region is teeming with good stories, but I’d like to hear from locals where I should poke my nose.

One of the first questions on my mind …

What’s Up With Tri-City?

Over the summer, the Oceanside-based medical center announced that it would be suspending all its psych beds by October. The last day to accept patients into the behavioral health unit is Saturday.

Officials blamed three things: a decrease in mental health resources, expensive new federal and state rules requiring older facilities be renovated to prevent hangings and comply with seismic safety standards and a shortage of psychiatrists.

The news didn’t go over well. Labor reps and politicians orchestrated a rally, warning that the need for mental health resources is only growing.

What Tri-City is experiencing is not unique. As the U-T pointed out, a recent California Hospital Association analysis found that the state has lost 37 mental health facilities and lost nearly 2,700 beds since 1995.

“My fear is we’re going to continue to see more reduction in mental health services as entities that need to make ends meet are forced to close businesses that aren’t financially viable,” Greg Anglea, CEO of Interfaith Community Services, a homeless and low-income advocacy group, told me.

The immediate downside to Tri-City’s suspension is that law enforcement will be forced to transport patients to other parts of the county. It could also put pressure on local emergency rooms.

“We know working with people in behavioral health crisis, the longer they have to go before they can see a doctor or get medicine or get stabilized, the worse their psychiatric condition will become and the harder it will be for them to recover,” Anglea said. “It’s similar to if you had a heart attack and the nearest hospital couldn’t help you and you had to go to the next one. It’d put you in grave risk for your health.”

Aaron Byzak, Tri-City’s chief government and external affairs officer, said the hospital hasn’t given up the behavioral health unit space because it’s hoping that more comprehensive legislatives fixes are on the horizon. “We’ve been for far too long punting on the issue of mental health reform,” he said.

Nathan Fletcher, the former assemblyman who’s running for the County Board of Supervisors, urged the county in July to pay for Tri-City’s necessary repairs in exchange for keeping those beds in use, the U-T reported. The county ordered a review of local psychiatric services.

Pot Measure Delayed in Encinitas

Reps for the marijuana industry seemed confident over the summer that they’d get the necessary signatures to put a measure on the November ballot that would have allowed a range of marijuana businesses, including storefronts, but the campaign ran out of time.

Encinitas voters will have to wait until 2020.

The City Council considered its own system of permits this summer but decided against that. Mayor Catherine Blakespear, the Del Mar Times reported, said she’d be willing to move forward with a separate ordinance that would allow marijuana deliveries.

Officials have also raised the question of public safety, suggesting they should wait and see how the industry first performs in a place like San Diego. A similar point was made in Oceanside earlier in the summer.

It’s a fair concern. So I looked into it.

I reviewed roughly the first six months of police calls to San Diego’s 13 licensed dispensaries and found that only a small number of crimes, nearly all of which are non-violent, can be attributed to those businesses. There was an alleged assault of a security guard, reports of possible burglaries in the night and a few thefts. But most of the requests for police assistance were low-priority and included mundane stuff like false security alarms and 911 hang-ups from nearby payphones.

Judge Says Not So Fast on New Rural Developments

KPBS reported last week that a Superior Court judge sided with the Sierra Club, which said San Diego County was promising to mitigate the increased greenhouse gas emissions from new housing developments in rural communities by buying credits in other parts of the world.

As Voice’s Ry Rivard noted this week, the judge found that the Board of Supervisors had been relying on a legally dubious plan to ensure new developments don’t contribute to global warming. Under state law, the county is supposed to be working to curb the release of greenhouse gases locally.

The county’s current plan appears so weak that the county is temporarily forbidden from approving new rural developments. But it’s not entirely clear whether the ruling covers the Newland Sierra, a 2,100-unit development proposed near San Marcos.

In Other News

  • Voice’s Ashly McGlone found examples of school districts in North County and beyond shuffling problem employees to new jobs or schools without notifying parents or staff. The article was shared Monday on a Vista Unified parents Facebook group and taken down Tuesday by the page administrator, who works for the school district. Some parents expressed shock the teacher was still employed at Vista Magnet Middle School and said they planned to ask the principal about the case at an upcoming community coffee event.
  • Overall ridership on the North County Transit is down 5 percent and so the board is considering an increase in fares. (KPBS)
  • Not all the farmers in Oceanside are backing the slow-growth initiative on November’s ballot. Two of the most vocal opponents are farmers who say the initiative would put them out of business. (The Coast News)
  • A hearing is set Friday for a priest accused of groping a seminarian. Father Juan Garcia Castillo was an associate pastor of St. Patrick’s Parish in Carlsbad until late March, weeks after the alleged assault was reported to the diocese. (Catholic News Agency)
  • Amid activist pressure, the Del Mar Fairgrounds has suspended gun shows in 2019 while officials reconsider their policy. The U-T reports that several board members cited concerns about “wagon loads of ammunition” on the property and DIY kits for illegal automatic weapons.
  • A majority of the Vista City Council reiterated its support for the federal government’s lawsuit against California over its so-called sanctuary state laws, according to the U-T. If you’re still unsure how local law enforcement can and cannot cooperate with ICE these days, Scott Lewis provided some much-needed clarity in April.
  • San Dieguito Union High School District appointed a new superintendent “pending negotiation and approval of an employment contract,” according to the Del Mar Times. The previous superintendent abruptly resigned in May.
  • Stacy Carlson, president of the San Marcos Unified School District Board, does not hold a bachelor’s degree, as she has claimed on the district website. 10News looked into it after getting a tip from her political opponent. “I am embarrassed that I have gone the last 16 years believing that I had my degree only to learn that I have a class pending,” she said in a statement.

Jesse Marx is Voice of San Diego's associate editor.

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