Editor’s note: The original version of this article incorrectly stated that after a proposed short-term rental ordinance is approved by city council and the California Coastal Commission, it would then appear as a ballot measure for Dana Point voters. While this possibility has not been ruled out, city council has not taken initiative to guarantee a ballot measure at this time. Mayor Pro Tem Paul Wyatt has stated it is his hope that there will be a ballot measure.

Lillian Boyd, Dana Point Times

A set of action items regarding short-term rental regulation that Mayor Pro Tem Paul Wyatt had brought forward for council approval failed during the Nov. 19 meeting.

The recommended list of actions were meant to set a clear timeline for city staff, council and the public to understand how officials are proceeding with STR regulation, Wyatt said. The actions included conducting a survey on STRs, council passing an ordinance, the California Coastal Commission approving the ordinance and a ballot measure for the ordinance being approved by a simple majority of Dana Point voters.

Council has already set direction for city staff to conduct a resident survey on short-term rentals, which will be made public and will be reviewed at a future council meeting.

“Elections are only held every (two) years, so if this issue is to make the November 2020 ballot, the Short-term Rental Subcommittee and staff must establish a sequence and timeline of all the key events that must take place to enact an ordinance in a timely fashion,” Wyatt stated in the report.

In 2013, city council passed an ordinance to permit short-term rentals in Dana Point effective January 2014. However, the passage was contingent on acceptance by the CCC. If the CCC did not approve the ordinance, short-term rental uses in the coastal zone would remain illegal. Anyone operating a short-term rental prior to all zoning changes becoming effective is essentially “doing so at their own risk.”

In Spring 2016, the CCC rejected the ordinance as submitted and made approval contingent upon outlined changes. Those changes were approved by city council in September 2016, but voters rejected the ordinance from taking effect.

A Short-Term Rental Subcommittee was formed on March 20, 2018, and councilmembers Paul Wyatt and John Tomlinson were appointed to serve. The subcommittee determined in its first meeting that it would not submit a proposed ordinance to city council until the CCC had accepted it and there was a high probability the residents of Dana Point would accept it in a vote.

The agenda item led to confusion among councilmembers at several moments during discussion. At this time, there is no proposed ordinance, and council was not tasked with voting on an ordinance on Tuesday.

“I’m never going to commit to putting something on a ballot when I don’t know what it is,” Mayor Joe Muller said. He added that this agenda item could be construed as politicizing an issue for the purpose of campaigning.

“If you go to the FPPC, this could be illegal,” Muller said.

Wyatt responded that the agenda report was not written for political purposes but to “put a fire” under city leaders to get something done.

Dana Point Times submitted an inquiry to the Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) to confirm whether there was a possible FPPC violation and is awaiting a response.

Councilmember Jamey Federico asked Patrick Munoz, the city attorney, if there were any legal implications of the motion on the table. Munoz said it was more like adopting a council policy.

“What you are doing tonight, if you were to go forward with this motion and adopt it, it is not binding,” Munoz said. “There’s a whole process if you were to put this on the ballot. . . . You can’t legally bind yourself tonight, one way or another.”

Upon that clarification, Federico made a substitute motion to continue this discussion to when a draft ordinance was on the table.

“Well, this is news, on the nonbinding, it would have been really nice to hear this an hour and half ago,” Councilmember Debra Lewis said. “Are you saying we’re not able to say whatever is necessary to put this on the ballot and let residents vote? There’s no way to make that a binding decision?”

“No,” Munoz said.

“Well, then what is it exactly we do up here?” Lewis asked. “I’m miffed I wasn’t told that.”

Munoz answered that council was able to pledge to do something, but come time for when an actual ballot measure was brought forward, council would need to follow legal procedures and vote again either way.

“In defense of our city attorney, I understood that,” Wyatt said. “There’s a process to go through to get something on the ballot eventually. This is not to put certain language on the ballot; this is a process to make a commitment to our residents.”

Federico’s substitute motion was voted down with Lewis, Wyatt and Richard Viczorek dissenting. Wyatt’s original motion was voted down, with Federico, Viczorek and Muller dissenting.

“The short-term rental subcommittee will continue to lay out a plan, keeping the November 2020 election in mind,” Wyatt said. “We haven’t communicated very effectively, and I think there was a fear some of the community had and I wanted to lay out a process before the public.”

There are currently 153 permits for short-term rental operations in Dana Point. When asked what a compromise between CCC and Dana Point voters would possibly look like, Wyatt said it would depend entirely on what permits allow.

“If permits were to only regulate homestays, the amount of permits could be higher,” Wyatt said.

Homestays are a term used for short-term rentals in which the operator primarily resides in the establishment.

Wyatt anticipates that the STR survey will be conducted in mid-to-late January. There will then be two public “focus groups” to gather feedback and hear concerns in terms of regulation, Wyatt said. When an ordinance is drafted after community outreach, it will go before city council. Upon approval, it will go to the CCC. It is Wyatt’s hope that the proposed ordinance will then appear on a ballot for Dana Point voters to consider.

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