I’ve always appreciated hearing the public’s suggestions and wisdom on local issues. Our residents are a type of brain trust that help us shape the decisions we make on the Encinitas City Council.
Two great examples of this “people power” happened at last Wednesday night’s Council meeting.
Regulating short-term rentals
The City of Encinitas has begun the process of refining our 15-year old vacation rental approach. Working together with stakeholders, residents, city staff and colleagues to revise a policy that affects many citizens can be challenging. But with everyone sincerely working toward a fair outcome that balances different interests, we are seeing a satisfying result.
Whenever we update regulations, the question to begin with is:
What problem are we solving by updating our existing vacation rental regulations?
The goals fall into four main categories:
- protecting neighborhood tranquility.
- allowing the city to more effectively conduct enforcement on problem properties related to noise, parties, trash and parking problems.
- avoiding an over-concentration of vacation rentals in one area or on one street.
- avoiding a rapid and uncontrolled transition of the city’s rental housing into vacation housing, displacing longer-term residents in favor of visitors.
It seems clear that most of the 600 vacation rentals in the city are running their home-based businesses responsibly. However, it’s also true that we receive ongoing complaints about the negative effects of some vacation rentals on nearby neighbors. One of the main issues is with homes that have very high turnover, oftentimes large groups for short stays of one or two nights, and the noise from parties, music, traffic, parking and trash accumulation.
From the broadest perspective, I believe it’s important that we provide the chance for visitors to stay in Encinitas in other people’s homes. Similar to Bed & Breakfast lodging, short-term rentals provide visitors with an experience that is different from a hotel. For some families, it’s substantially more affordable to have a kitchen and multiple bedrooms. Plus, it’s a charming way to get to know a new location.
We know from public testimony that many of our vacation rentals have their owners actually on-site — in the same home or in a nearby structure, such as an accessory dwelling unit. And we also know from public testimony that it’s an important source of income for those who own an Airbnb. Tourism also helps support our local businesses. Many current residents moved to Encinitas after vacationing here and falling in love with the place. We’re not aiming to eliminate this important slice of our local economy.
But here’s the rub – it’s also important that as policymakers we don’t allow a large percentage of our neighborhood housing stock to be repurposed into hotel rooms. About 600 vacation rentals in Encinitas means about 2% of our total number of housing units is being used not by long term tenants who live, work and build our community but by short term vacationers. I don’t think we want very much more of our existing housing stock to become vacation rentals.
Regular newsletter readers will know that we’ve historically struggled to find consensus on where and how to add new homes in Encinitas, especially new rental homes. So let’s not lose the ones we have.
Our aim is to be a community that provides homes for people at all income levels, a place where people can remain in their homes, and we want to comply with state housing laws that require cities to provide places for new people to live. So, from my perspective, it’s critical that we work to preserve existing longer-term rental housing.
My thinking on how vacation rentals fit into overall housing policy has been influenced by this article in The Nation, “The Tents of Venice Beach,” also the source of that above photo. The article’s subhead reads, “This summer, thanks in part to the spread of Airbnb properties, one of Los Angeles’s most expensive neighborhoods filled up with tents housing displaced locals.”
In some communities, conversion of housing into vacation rentals plays a role in neighborhood gentrification, displacement and housing instability for renters. We don’t want that to happen in Encinitas.
So here’s where we are in this discussion in Encinitas:
I’m grateful that a City Council subcommittee consisting of Councilmembers Tony Kranz and Joy Lyndes held meetings and heard public comments. The professional staff then made recommendations for the City Council based on the feedback and the policies from 17 jurisdictions they evaluated. At our last Council meeting we listened to 44 speakers, talked through our different perspectives, made modifications, and then unanimously directed that an ordinance that returns to us include these points:
- Owner-occupied vacation rentals don’t have any minimum night stay, but whole home rentals that don’t have an owner onsite have a three-night minimum stay requirement. City staff had recommended a three-night minimum for all properties and we modified this.
- Self check-in only allowed for owner-occupied units, and someone must greet vacationers for whole home rentals. (This distinction was important to my colleagues, but I would have preferred self check-in be available for all properties to provide more flexibility. We all practice the art of compromise.)
- Parking onsite is required unless that’s not feasible, and owners must provide a parking plan.
- Vacation rental permits can’t be transferred (or sold) to another person or property.
- There are clear grounds for suspension and revocation of a permit.
- The ordinance explicitly requires that our 10% hotel tax will be paid.
- Advertising the short-term rental without a valid city permit is prohibited.
We also unanimously directed that staff get back to us with recommendations and analysis on these three topics:
- A citywide maximum number of vacation rental permits to address the concern about too much loss of rental housing.
- Consider ways to reduce over-concentration of vacation rental permits on one street (like Neptune Ave.) or one neighborhood.
- Suggest an approach for managing vacation rentals in duplexes, for instance whether consent from an adjoining owner should be sought when common space such as a wall dividing two properties is shared.
This is how municipal government is supposed to work – identification of a problem that many have requested we tackle, lots of public involvement, clear and lengthy discussion by policymakers based on the feedback we’ve received, advice from city staff who did comprehensive research on other cities, and ultimately consensus and a path forward.
You can learn more by going to this San Diego Union Tribune article or this 10News story, for which I was interviewed.
The show must go on!
At the end of our last meeting, the City Council reinstated the cancelled holiday parade this December. The majority of the Council, including me, voted to hold the city’s family-friendly annual tradition this year.
This was another case where residents contributed to the outcome. There was a substantial amount of public feedback, much of it communicated in all mediums before the City Council meeting began, about the desire to have the parade.
It’s important that we hold the community-building events that our residents and families crave. This wholesome parade takes place entirely outdoors. Masks are encouraged. We know that in San Diego County, 81.2% of people age 12 and over are vaccinated. The FDA has authorized the vaccine for kids age 5-11 and shots could be available starting in the next couple days.
Read more about the Encinitas Holiday Parade’s reinstatement in the North Coast Current and Encinitas Advocate.
Nearly everyone is wearing their masks, following the county’s guidelines for events where vaccination status is unknown; we haven’t had disturbances over vaccines or other pandemic-related topics; and all of us recognize the tremendous benefits of being personally together again. Thanks to everyone whose prudent decisions are making this return to normalcy possible. There are a large number of intangible elements – body language, sharing common space, passing comments – that make live meetings preferable to Zoom meetings.
And finally, I hope you and your family enjoy celebrating Halloween tonight. Please stay safe!
P.S. Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) celebration!