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Barbara Wilson, Dana Point

I fear our city council is using the COVID-19 pandemic as a tool to prevent Dana Point citizens from voicing their opinions regarding the expansion of short-term rentals in our residential neighborhoods.

A recent news release states that interested stakeholders will participate in invitation-only Zoom meetings to discuss a “Pilot Program.” Exactly which stakeholders? Will this include Airbnb representatives backed by a $100-billion-dollar company? Current STR investors who have held “conditional” permits for seven years now? Or new investors looking to cash in by buying our residential properties and converting them to full-time mini-hotels?

One group that has not yet been specifically invited is long-term renters. These voters, who represent nearly 40% of Dana Point residents, have a huge stake in the already short supply of rental housing stock.

I also wonder if representatives of our beleaguered hotel industry were invited? This is the industry that normally creates sufficient TOT to pay for our entire Police Services program. How do they, along with the three new hotels now in development, feel about competition from investors who buy up properties in our neighborhoods?

We’ve already had a “pilot program” for the last seven years. It has resulted in hundreds of complaints from neighbors about many illegal STRs, plus noise, parking problems, litter, safety concerns, and parties. In the last three years, $122,000 in penalties have been levied—78% of those never collected. Now, a 3-year “pilot program” will be put in place with more permits and supposedly stronger regulations. Don’t they get it? Even extremely well-regulated and well-run STRs are still essentially small, unsupervised hotels. Hotels belong in commercial or mixed-use areas—not in areas zoned residential.

Residents generally want neighbors next door, not full-time mini-hotels. Every one of the 4,000 people who signed the referendum overturning the last attempt to expand STRs is an “STR interested party.” So is every person who lives in Dana Point. Few will manage to comment, especially during a pandemic, and in the end, will anyone on council listen or care? Three of our councilmen have already voted that there will be no ballot measure allowing us to vote on an eventual ordinance.

Brace yourself, neighbors. Unless we object strongly, more STRs are coming, and one may pop up next door.

Editor’s Note: During the July 21, 2020 Dana Point City Council meeting, then-Councilmember Debra Lewis proposed that any motion passed by council regarding short-term rentals would then be taken to a vote of the people. City council voted against her, but the motion failure did not necessarily rule out the possibility for a future ballot measure.

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