State bill clamping down on Airbnb rentals in San Diego clears major hurdle in state Assembly

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In a major victory for critics of short-term rentals, a bill to sharply curtail them in San Diego County’s coastal communities won approval Thursday in the state Assembly.

Should the bill ultimately win passage in the state Senate and be signed by the governor, it would hugely transform the home sharing landscape in local jurisdictions that have more lenient rules or none at all, as in the city of San Diego.

Authored by North County Assemblywoman Tasha Boerner Horvath, D-Encinitas, the bill takes aim at the short-term rental platforms themselves by not allowing them to list a residential property for any more than 30 days a year unless the full-time resident were present. Year-round rentals would be permitted for traditional home-sharing in which residents rent out a spare bedroom or a granny flat on their property. The short-term rental of second homes and investor properties listed on the home sharing platforms would be prohibited.

Most affected would be the largest players in the vacation rental market — home sharing giants Airbnb, HomeAway and VRBO. In San Diego County’s coastal cities, there are nearly 14,000 housing units currently listed as short-term rentals on the Airbnb, HomeAway and VRBO platforms, according to the home-sharing data analytics firm Airdna.

Airbnb, which not surprisingly has taken a strong stand against Assembly Bill 1731, released a statement late Thursday saying that the regulation of short-term rentals should be left to the affected local jurisdictions.

“AB 1731 is a misguided bill that will restrict access to the California coast, violate private property and impact San Diegans ability to earn supplemental income,” Airbnb said. “This is an issue that should be dealt with at the city level, and we remain committed to those conversations.”

Among those backing the bill are the California hotel industry, which has long been critical of short-term rentals, and organized labor.

While the bill was originally conceived to apply to all of California’s coastal areas, Boerner Horvath later changed the legislation to cover just San Diego County, where cities from Coronado to Carlsbad have widely varying regulations, from outright bans to more permissive rules. The bill would allow cities to enact or retain regulations that are more restrictive than her bill.

The assemblywoman’s primary goal, she says, is to stem the loss of long-term housing, which she says is being chipped away at by the proliferation of vacation rentals.

“We are in a housing crisis and we talk a lot in Sacramento about the need to have more housing supply,” Boerner Horvath said. “And my bill brings up the often forgotten point that you can build all the housing in the world, but if you’re removing housing stock you’ll never meet the goals to address our housing crisis, and I think that really resonates with people.”

She characterizes AB 1731 as a pilot program that will expire in five years, after which a study could be conducted to determine whether the tighter controls had any meaningful impact on stemming the loss of coastal housing and whether they should be extended to other California coastal communities.

The legislation, though, already is dividing local jurisdictions in San Diego County’s coastal zone.

The Del Mar City Council, which is fighting the state Coastal Commission in court over a proposal it supports to sharply limit vacation rentals, voted this week to back AB 1731.

Meanwhile, Oceanside Mayor Peter Weiss has formally come out against the bill, insisting that it would interfere with the city’s longstanding efforts to enact reasonable short-term rental regulations, which the council expects to take up within the next month.

“The loss of local control is very concerning to me,” he said of Thursday’s Assembly vote. “We have gone through an exhaustive public process on short-term rentals and we’ve talked to Coastal Commission staff and I think they’re generally OK with them. This started out as a statewide bill, and I can just imagine how some of the state legislators would feel if this was in their jurisdiction.”

Among San Diego County’s delegation of state legislators, Democrats Lorena Gonzalez and Shirley Weber supported the bill while Todd Gloria, also a Democrat, voted no, along with Republicans Marie Waldron and Randy Voepel. Democrat Brian Maienschein abstained.

The city of San Diego, although it has tried for the last four years to pass short-term regulations, currently has none. The City Council came close last year when it agreed to limit short-term stays to one’s primary residence only and for no more than six months out of the year. The council, though, had to rescind its action after an Airbnb-led effort to place a referendum on the ballot, and it won’t be until much later this year that the issue is likely to resurface.

Long-time Mission Beach resident Gary Wonacott, who has pushed for stronger regulation and enforcement in the beach areas, where the greatest number of rentals are concentrated, said he was pleased with the Assembly action.

“I have spent countless hours in City Council meetings hoping for the city to take some action to limit short- term rentals in Mission Beach, but with no tangible results,” he said. “This is one of the reasons why I support AB 1731. Last July there were 5,700 long-term housing units off the market in La Jolla, Pacific Beach, Mission Beach and Ocean Beach that were being listed as short-term rentals. I believe that AB 1731 will restore about two-thirds of these, which includes about 1,300 in Mission Beach.

“Perhaps now is a good time for the city to move forward with an ordinance that focuses on permits and enforcement that complements AB 1731.”

For those who argue that her legislation interferes with local control, Boerner Horvath points out that when it comes to the regulation of short-term rentals, the ultimate control for those areas that lie within the coastal zone rests with the Coastal Commission, not the elected leaders. The commission has historically favored vacation rentals, arguing that they typically are a lower cost lodging option that provides greater access to the coast.

“All cities in the state of California can regulate — or ban — short-term vacation rentals as they see fit,” Boerner Horvath told the Assembly on Thursday before it voted. “This is not true in the coastal zone. The Coastal Commission requires our cities to have short-term vacation rentals because they have only purview over access to the coast and no authority to balance that with the impact on the removal of housing from the housing stock in these cities.”

The bill will now make its way to one or more state Senate committees and if successful there, would move on to the Senate floor. The current legislative session ends in September.

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