San Diego City Council votes against proposal to ban short-term vacation rentals

SAN DIEGO - The City Council Tuesday directed staff to develop a comprehensive set of regulations governing vacation rental properties in San Diego, and bring them back for consideration within four months.

In so doing, the council members voted 7-2 to reject a proposal by council President Sherri Lightner that would have prohibited short-term vacation rentals in neighborhoods zoned for single-family homes. Councilwoman Lorie Zapf was the only colleague to support her plan.

"To tell someone they can't rent out their house is a serious problem," Councilman Scott Sherman said.

Regulating such operations has been a thorny issue in recent years as the properties have proliferated in coastal areas, with websites like Airbnb, Home Away and VRBO springing up to advertise them. Neighbors frequently complain to city officials of loud late-night parties, safety problems, overcrowding and trash.

The City Council has held several long meetings on the issue in the past, and around 300 people showed up to speak at a special meeting at Golden Hall. Public testimony took around five hours.

Opponents of Lightner's plan said the problems created by a small number of property owners could be dealt with through regulations, instead of an outright ban.

Robert Vacchi, the city's code enforcement director, told the council that his staff is unable to pursue land-use violations at vacation rentals under existing regulations. The department has never referred such a case to the City Attorney's Office for prosecution, he said.

Vacchi said the troubles being created for neighbors are of noise and nuisance, falling under the jurisdiction of the San Diego Police Department.

Councilman Todd Gloria, who made the motion to direct staff to develop regulations, said he also wanted to find out how much it would cost to provide enforcement.

Under his plan, approved on a 7-2 vote, staffers will take what they come up with to the council's Smart Growth and Land Use Committee so the proposed regulations can be vetted before returning to the full City Council.

Lightner brought her proposal straight to the council, noting the issue had been discussed at numerous meetings in the past.

"While we await a draft proposal from city staff to regulate short-term rentals, we urge the city to begin enforcing our existing municipal code zoning regulations now to bring relief to the thousands of residents who face nightly negative impacts from commercial hotel operations in their single family neighborhoods," Lightner said after the vote.

Airbnb issued a statement that said, "We are pleased that common sense prevailed today. Our community remains committed to working with the council on reasonable, simple home-sharing rules that allow San Diegans to share their homes and earn supplemental income, support neighborhood businesses and increase additional revenue for the city."

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