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By Collin Breaux | Twitter: @collin_breaux

Dana Point is taking steps that would, in theory, strengthen the city’s code enforcement capabilities when it comes to short-term rentals.

The city council recommended changes to a municipal code amendment that enhances regulations and penalties when it comes to short-term rentals, a longtime hot-button issue in Dana Point, during a meeting on Tuesday, May 4.

Enhancements under the draft amendment, based on recommendations from the Planning Commission, include giving notice to neighbors about a short-term rental’s permit application and renewal, setting the minimum age for renters at 25 years old, requiring renters to sign a “good neighbor” acknowledgement that would be posted in a visible location within the unit, prohibiting outside noise from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m., and revoking a short-term rental permit after a third violation.

Changes made to staff recommendations by councilmembers from the dais included removing language that prohibits corporate meetings and bachelor/bachelorette parties, doing away with a suggested 20-minute time limit for property owners or emergency contacts to handle nuisance complaints, and revoking an absolute prohibition on any amplified outside noise.

“My first issue is the short 20-minute time frame,” Mayor Pro Tem Joe Muller said. “I think that needs to be expanded … (to) 45, 60 minutes. That’s plenty of time in case multiple phone calls needs to be made.”

Muller said bachelor parties and corporate events don’t have anything to do with nuisance issues, pointing out that proposed and existing regulations can generally determine if renters are a nuisance.

“I don’t have a problem with after 10 p.m.,” Muller said of noise regulations. “I do have an issue with, if I’m there with my family and we have a radio going on in the backyard, you can hear that. You can probably hear a cellphone on a table playing music.”

Councilmembers voted, 4-1, in favor of the changes. Muller, Mayor Jamey Federico, and Councilmembers Richard Viczorek and Mike Frost voted yes. Councilmember Michael Villar voted no.

“I would have accepted the ordinance as written,” Federico said. “I don’t think it’s perfect, but I think it’s light years better than it used to be, and it makes (code enforcement’s) job easier. You can always update it later if it needs to be.”

Frost said the ordinance is a net benefit to staff for additional regulations while they work on further plans to handle short-term rentals.

“If we give these guys some extra tools and we’re able to hold some existing short-term rental operators more accountable, at least in the next nine months, it’s beneficial,” Frost said.

Plans going forward will involve a two-phased approach. Phase one addressed at the meeting focuses on enhancing regulations. Phase two involves development of a draft short-term rental pilot program to address types, location restrictions, numerical limits, and other aspects of short-term rentals. The pilot program is anticipated to kick off this month.

Villar said he wanted to see more of what phase two would look like and more input outreach from the community and stakeholders, particularly from hotels and renters.

“I wanted to give the Planning Commission more time. We’ve gotten a lot of feedback. We’ve gotten a lot of discussion. Let’s keep working on it,” Villar said. “I need more of a package together, more of a package deal … not a complete bow on it but something close, that gives us a little bit more information of what the horse does, so I know whether the cart is before the horse.”

The agenda item drew a number of public comments from residents, both for and against short-term rentals. Short-term rental owners said they support the enhanced regulations, that they already have stringent rules and extensive screening of guests, and that they are good neighbors. STR owners said most renters are families who cannot afford to stay in hotels.

Residents who spoke against short-term rentals said short-term rentals should be banned outright under zoning rules, that the properties can lead to out-of-town corporate ownership in the area, and that the regulations do little to address unpermitted short-term rentals.

Muller said the city is not in a position to prevent short-term rentals and that the California Coastal Commission will require some form of short-term rentals locally since half of Dana Point is in a coastal zone.

There are currently 136 active short-term rental permits in Dana Point, according to a staff report. Since 2016, 493 cases were opened on unpermitted short-term rentals, of which 256 were substantiated and citations were issued. There have been six citations for nuisance issues at permitted short-term rentals.

The ordinance is scheduled  to come back for a consideration of a first reading by the city council at a May 18 meeting.

Collin Breaux

Collin Breaux covers San Juan Capistrano and other South Orange County news as the City Editor for The Capistrano Dispatch. Before moving to California, he covered Hurricane Michael, politics and education in Panama City, Florida. He can be reached by email at cbreaux@picketfencemedia.com

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