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By Lillian Boyd

Are short-term rentals a right for property owners or a threat to the integrity of a neighborhood in which another property owner has invested?

Are short-term rentals a catalyst for coastal access or the demise of affordable housing?

City officials are grappling to navigate short-term rental regulation amid polarizing public debate. On Monday, Feb. 25, the Dana Point Planning Commission held its first short-term rental workshop since it was directed to further explore a pilot program for regulating short-term rentals. Despite having to adapt to a virtual format, the Zoom meeting drew a turnout of dozens of community members who spoke out, including José Preciado.

“Please do not allow short-term rentals where the owner does not live there,” said Preciado. “They are not affordable for people like me. This would be bad for working families like mine. We can’t afford to lose homes to luxury vacation rentals.”

Preciado, a San Juan Capistrano resident who rents his home, works as a cook for Laguna Cliffs Marriott Resort & Spa.

For residents such as Jordan Abraham, of Capistrano Beach, short-term rentals were what led him to discover what he describes as one of the greatest cities in the world: Dana Point.

“We first visited the city back in 1996 (thanks to a short-term rental),” Abraham said. “I’ve seen people come here from all over the world and also discover this is one of the greatest places in the world—because of short-term rentals. What right do we have to tell someone what they can do with their house?”

Miriam Rupke, a property owner and short-term rental manager, says she screens her renters and turns about 40% of them away in order to maintain good standing with neighbors. Residents like Jer Derloshon, however, face consistent disturbances and conflicts from their own short-term renting neighbors. Other speakers referred to short-term rentals as “unsupervised hotels.”

“No matter how well-regulated, (short-term rentals) are a fundamental change in the character of the residential experience that we all enjoy in Dana Point,” said Dana Point resident Mark Zanides. “The soul of the city is at issue here.”

Short-term rentals are defined as entire residential houses or apartments, or rooms within, that are rented out to visitors for a fee between one and 29 consecutive days. Short-term rentals are often arranged on websites such as Airbnb, Home Away or Vacation Rentals by Owner (VRBO).

The City of Dana Point currently does not allow for short-term rentals within its zoning code. In order for that to change, there would need to be an amendment to zoning and, therefore, an amendment to the Local Coastal Plan (LCP) for the portions of the city that fall within the coastal zone—which is under the purview of the California Coastal Commission.

Attempts to regulate and allow for short-term rentals have not been without effort. In 2016, the City of Dana Point created a short-term rental (STR) program.

During the first year of the program, more than 200 permits were issued in Dana Point. In 2017, following a public referendum, the city council decided to stop issuing new short-term rental permits, but has allowed those with existing permits to annually renew and operate. To date, there are 144 permits still operating throughout the city.

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

“Historically, short-term rentals have been part of Dana Point,” Johnathan Ciampa, senior city planner, has previously said. “The (California Coastal Commission) is the regulatory authority for land uses within the city’s coastal zone, and they really want cities to incorporate STRs as permitted uses to improve coastal access.”

In 2018, city council formed a subcommittee to reevaluate short-term rentals and guide the development of a new ordinance. Coastal Commission staff met with the subcommittee and reportedly recommended the city develop a pilot program in light of the city’s “sensitivity” to short-term rentals, Ciampa said.

“The program would be temporarily in effect for three years and would be approved by a (coastal development permit),” Ciampa said.

While the pilot program has yet to be officially approved by the city or the Coastal Commission, city attorney Patrick Muñoz has stated that the City of Dana Point is getting a “free pass” in pursuing this pilot program without having to first pursue an amendment to the LCP. In February 2020, Coastal Commission staff reportedly met with city officials, further suggesting that the pilot program allow for regulations, community compatibility and coastal access.

But, ultimately, the program will still require approval for a coastal development permit.

On July 21, city council directed staff to move forward with public outreach and the development of the STR pilot program—which would include various types of short-term rentals and establish a robust enforcement program to address potential impacts to the community.

The Planning Commission proceeded in forming a subcommittee, with commissioners Eric Nelson and Roy Dohner, to further explore the pilot program. This month marked the commission’s first public workshop on the proposed enhanced regulations of short-term rentals—after various stakeholder meetings.

“Staff and the subcommittee have come up with a two-phased approach for moving forward with city council’s direction,” Ciampa said in his presentation. The first phase includes developing new and enhanced regulations for existing short-term rentals and focusing on increasing penalties and addressing community concerns related to parking, noise and trash.

Enforcement issues have been a consistently resounding issue brought forward by opponents of STRs. Neighbors dealing with unruly STR tenants on weekends who report issues to the city say they often won’t hear back until Monday during office hours—or that STR owners are difficult to reach.

According to city staff, the majority of enforcement efforts have gone toward short-term rentals advertising without a permit. However, nuisance issues have recently increased in the past year.

The second phase will explore the development of a compatible and flexible program for which to apply permits.

So far, the subcommittee has identified stakeholder groups to include STR permit holders, management companies, neighbors and community groups. Throughout public comment at the Feb. 22 meeting, community members suggested that hotels and homeowners’ associations be included as stakeholders as well.

A Closer Look at the Pilot Program

The short-term rental program would limit street parking to one space per bedroom with a maximum of two spaces. The subcommittee is additionally considering requiring guests to park in the garage or driveway.

As for noise, current regulations call for the owner to ensure tenants do not create unreasonable disturbances or engage in disorderly conduct.

“Action must be taken to prevent a recurrence within a 24-hour period,” Ciampa said. Additional regulations for consideration include implementing quiet hours between 10 p.m. and 9 a.m. and establishing a decibel level. There could potentially be an installation of noise monitors after an initial noise violation.

Trash would be stored in containers and only visible between the hours of 5 p.m. the day before and 9 a.m. the day after trash collection.

“Additional regulations for consideration are walkup trash service by CR&R,” Ciampa said.

Suggested additional regulations that have been gathered throughout the public outreach process include increases in fines, requiring guests to sign an acknowledgment of “good neighbor rules,” increasing the minimum renter age to 25, making the owner/manager’s contact info available, requiring owners and managers to respond to complaints within 20 minutes, requiring the STR permit number on all advertising and posting STR regulations inside the unit.

Ciampa added that additional comments suggested extending code enforcement hours during peak seasons.

Closing Comments from City Leaders

“I live in the Lantern District, and I have an STR on one side and a normal rental unit on the other side. In my case, my STR neighbors are far superior to my long-term renter neighbors. It changes over time; we’ve had good neighbors there before,” Nelson said. “That being said, I have another neighbor across the street who tells me he’s had the opposite experience. We’ve all had our own individualized experiences with STRs.”

Those experiences shape our opinions and how we view these issues, Nelson added.

“I encourage you to stay engaged. The more people who are involved, the more people we hear from, the better off we all are as a society. We need to work collaboratively,” Nelson said.

The city’s next steps will be to draft short-term rental business regulations based on Planning Commission direction. The Planning Commission will then consider forwarding draft regulations to city council for adoption.

The Planning Commission’s short-term rental subcommittee will also kick off its second phase of continuing stakeholder meetings, public outreach and commission briefings.

To watch or participate in upcoming City of Dana Point meetings on short-term rentals, you can request to be included on the email list by emailing str@danapoint.org. Information to participate virtually will be made available prior to the meeting. For more information on STR regulation and workshops, visit danapoint.org/shorttermrentals.

“This will be the first of several opportunities to participate,” said Brenda Wisneski, the city’s community development director.

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