With standing room only, a draft city ordinance that would allow short-term lodging in city neighborhoods for a limited time each year was presented to a City Council subcommittee last Thursday, July 14, at the Susi Q Community Center.
The controversial subject of allowing short-term rentals in residential neighborhoods has been under consideration since May 2015, when a moratorium was imposed and later extended. The council must act by Aug. 30 in order to adopt new rules effective before Oct. 1, when the moratorium ends.
The council rejected an earlier proposal that would have prohibited short-term rentals in residential areas and, instead, directed a subcommittee of council member Bob Whalen and Mayor Steve Dicterow to redraft regulations to allow them under certain restrictions. If approved, the new regulations would allow short-term lodging by permit in residential areas for 14 days a year on the primary property of the homeowner.
A majority of the crowd at the subcommittee’s second and final meeting to draft the ordinance oppose the concept in neighborhoods. Dicterow said a tally showed 60 percent of the 45 speakers opposed the proposal.
“It seems like we’ve made nobody happy so maybe we have it about right,” Whalen said.
Dicterow and Whalen discussed changes to the draft ordinance with Greg Pfost, director of community development, for 20 minutes. Residents voiced concerns for 90 more.
Whether the city allows them or not, short-term rentals are inevitable, Dicterow said in an interview this week. Implementing regulations will give the city greater control as prohibition is hard to enforce, he said.
“What we’re bringing back to the council is far more restrictive than what we would have if we let the moratorium expire,” he said at the meeting.
The draft ordinance comes back to the council at its Aug. 9 meeting, where it may change again, added Dicterow.
Acknowledging heightened concerns that short-term lodging is commercializing neighborhoods due to the increasing popularity of online platforms such as Airbnb, Pfost told Whalen and Dicterow that establishing length-of-stay limits on short-term rentals is consistent with the city’s general plan.
“In 1999, the City Council determined that if short-term rental uses are regulated so that city services are not burdened and residential neighborhoods are preserved, the ordinance allowing them in residential zones is consistent with the city’s general plan,” according to Pfost’s report.
But limits on short-term lodging aren’t the problem, say protestors; it’s the idea that once the practice is allowed, a Pandora’s box will be opened and the sense of community lost in neighborhoods.
Opening short-term rentals to all property owners in the city for even two weeks out of every year will be extremely hard to enforce, said Village Laguna president Johanna Felder. “Who’s going to watch that? The neighbors. The neighbors are going to be policing this,” she said.
“A policy is very likely to fail if implementation is extremely difficult,” said James Danziger, a political science professor at UC Irvine. “It is naïve to think that the great majority of those making substantial profits from STLs will register for a permit,” and follow the proposed regulations, he said.
Short-term lodging is reducing the supply of affordable long-term rentals, said Jane Fulton, an attorney who’s offered a free legal clinic in Laguna for four years. She receives frequent calls from people served eviction notices by landlords that want to upgrade their property for short-term rental use, she said. Six of the 12 people she saw at a senior clinic last week were evicted, Fulton said.
Bluebird Canyon resident Chris Prelitz said he favors limited short-term rental permits. “If there’s a complaint, they go away,” he said.
So do leaders of the advocacy group Homesharing 4 Laguna, some of whom spoke at the meeting. They are urging supporters to put pressure on council members to let the moratorium lapse as well as donate to a legal fund to challenge Laguna’s ordinance as a Coastal Act violation, says an email sent Monday, July 18, from Jason Vogel of Vogel Real Estate Group in Laguna.
Pfost said the California Coastal Commission staff sent a letter to the city “putting us on notice” that they consider short-term rentals a lower-cost lodging alternative that can create neighborhood problems requiring restrictions. He said a new ordinance would need approval by the commission, which enforces development standards within 1,000 yards of mean high-tide.
Under Laguna’s proposed regulation, if the short-term rental permit is revoked, the applicant would not be able to reapply for two years. There are currently 372 investigations into illegal short-term rentals opened over the past year, Pfost reported.
In the last eight years, police received 95 disturbance calls stemming from legally permitted short-term rentals and 217 from unpermitted ones, the city report says. Of the 36 legal short-term rentals now permitted, one provoked 27 disturbance calls, Pfost said. No permits have been revoked, he said. Under the proposed rules, fines for a misdemeanor violation could reach $500 a day, he said.
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