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By Eryka Forquer and Lillian Boyd  

The Dana Point City Council passed an ordinance that is designed to enhance regulations and penalties for short-term rentals in Dana Point during a meeting on Tuesday, May 18, in a 4-1 vote with opposition from Councilmember Michael Villar.

City staff’s recommendations for the new and enhanced regulations for short-term rentals include setting a maximum occupancy, establishing a response time during which issues must be abated, prohibiting outside noise within the time frame of 10 p.m. to 7 a.m., and revoking a short-term rental permit after a third violation.

During the meeting, councilmembers focused on the overnight and daytime occupancy aspect of the proposed ordinance. The maximum occupancy for overnight guests at a short-term rental is set to be limited to two people per bedroom, plus an additional two people. While the proposed ordinance does not define a daytime occupancy, Mayor Jamey Federico urged the city to consider establishing a maximum occupancy for each short-term rental.

“If there’s only six people staying in this place overnight but there are 100 there at noon, that does not mitigate the nuisance possibility, and that’s why I think the community development director can set a reasonable maximum occupancy for each property,” Federico said.

Short-term rentals are often arranged on websites such as Airbnb, Home Away or Vacation Rentals by Owner (VRBO). Photo: Lillian Boyd

Community Development Director Brenda Wisneski mentioned Laguna Beach’s maximum occupancy guidelines, which allow the daytime occupancy to be twice as high as the overnight occupancy without exceeding more than 20 people. Wisneski said Dana Point could apply similar restrictions.

While Councilmember Mike Frost questioned whether 20 people would be too high of a number, there was general agreement on a recommendation made by City Attorney Patrick Muñoz.

“Leave the overnight occupancy the way that it is and then add a clause at the end that says the total occupancy at any time should not exceed—pick a number—two times or two and a half times the overnight occupancy in all cases,” Muñoz said.

During the meeting, an additional motion to the ordinance was made. Councilmember Joseph Muller made a motion to reduce the 40-minute time period to abate an issue to 30 minutes.

While the majority of the city council voted to pass the first reading of the ordinance, members of the community spoke in opposition of it. Dana Point resident and former councilmember Paul Wyatt said the city has “looked the other way” and allowed short-term rentals to operate illegally for many years.

“If you genuinely believe that the city’s mission is carried out by allowing short-term rentals in residential zones with minimum protection to surrounding properties and neighborhoods, just say so,” Wyatt said. “Have the courage to own your beliefs.”

Steve Didlier, resident of Dana Point and manager of municipal projects at the city of Carlsbad, pointed out two problems that he sees with the ordinance. Didlier compared the proposed amendments to Carlsbad’s short-term vacation rental policy, which he stated he had written in 2015.

“My understanding is that existing regulations prohibit special-event uses at short-term vacation rentals, but the proposed policy strips that out,” Didlier said. “Back in 2015, Carlsbad had a dozen short-term rental properties that were operating as special-event venues for weddings, corporate events, private birthday parties and every weekend, with hundreds of people showing up on Thursday, Friday and Saturday night. Maintaining that prohibition in the policy is critical, so I urge you to consider keeping that in.”

Didlier also advised the council to require short-term rentals to display a plaque near the entrance that contains a valid permit and the “good neighbor” guidelines. Didlier said this would notify the neighborhood that there is a short-term rental in the area.

Councilmember Villar, who voted against the ordinance, said that there are still too many issues that need to be resolved before moving forward. While Mayor Federico said the ordinance was not perfect, he said that its flexibility allows for future changes.

“We need to deal with this issue,” Federico said. “Like it or not, the Coastal Commission guarantees access to the coast for all Californians. They have a say, and I don’t see a world where they say that we can have no short-term rentals, so we need to start working on this, as tough as it is going to be.”

The first reading for the ordinance was passed with the amendments of changing the 40-minute response time to 30 minutes and creating a daytime occupancy that cannot exceed 20 people and is two and a half times the number that is allowed per bedroom.

On Tuesday, June 1, city council approved the second reading of the ordinance with Villar, once again, being the lone dissenter.

The ordinance will take effect 30 days after the June 1 meeting, which will be Thursday, July 1.

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