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The Dana Point City Council candidates for Districts 4 and 5 participated in the first forum of election season on Friday, Sept. 11 over Zoom.
Rather than having the candidates seated in a panel format for a coffee chat event like previous years, the Dana Point Civic Association hosted the event in a Zoom video conference due to safety precautions against COVID-19. The Dana Point Chamber of Commerce’s executive director, Vickie McMurchie, hosted Friday’s discussion.
Candidates Mike Frost and Gary Newkirk will run against each other in District 4, and Michael Villar and Benjamin Bebee will run against each other in District 5. (Villar was unable to participate in the Zoom event due to a work conflict and provided a video message at the end of the forum.)
The candidates were asked questions on issues including homelessness, development and short-term rentals—perhaps one of the more polarizing topics.
Bebee, who most recently obtained his state insurance producer’s license and has had a career in construction and the restaurant industry, shared that he has heard from residents on each end of the short-term rental spectrum.
“I hear a lot of young homeowners say, ‘I’ve made an investment in this property and I can get some return on my investment, and I’m in favor of it and I need you to be in favor of it,’ ” said Bebee. “I’ve heard some of neighbors say, ‘I’ve been here for 20 years, and this is a quiet beach community and I’d like to keep it that way.’ ”
Short-term rentals are defined as entire residential houses or apartments, or rooms within, that are rented 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). At this time, the City of Dana Point is not issuing any new Short-Term Rental permits. However, permits issued prior to November 16, 2016 are currently allowed to renew on an annual basis.
Some residents have expressed frustration about neighboring homes being used as STRs, as they draw in unfamiliar or rowdy visitors—particularly when STRs go unregulated. The opposing view is that property owners are within their rights to offer short-term rental and that STRs offer affordable access to the coastline.
“I do think there needs to be a strong community input on what we do from here,” Bebee said. “I do think that this is a great way, if we manage it properly, to address some of the budget shortfall that we’re going to experience over the years due to a decrease in tourism.”
On Oct. 1, 2019, Dana Point City Council directed the city manager to conduct a survey focused on STR policy to obtain public feedback on the community’s position on STRs. The city contracted with FM3 Research, a firm that surveyed 500 registered voters in Dana Point from March 12-18 of this year. The survey asked voters what they thought the most serious issue facing Dana Point residents was that they’d like to see the city government do something about. “Homelessness” garnered the most popular answer with 28%, while “too many short-term rentals” collected 3%.
“I know that short-term rentals ranked low on the FM3 survey, but if you live next door to a short-term rental, it’s a big issue for you,” Villar said in his pre-recorded video. “I know this because my neighbors talk to me about it all the time.”
Villar, a retired U.S. Marine Corps pilot and commissioned officer, and director in the construction industry, said he’d like to see both pro- and anti-STR people work together toward an ordinance that will ultimately appear on a ballot for voters to decide on.
“Capistrano Beach is strong because of the neighbors, because of the neighborhoods—that neighbor-to-neighbor relationship that I’ve been able to build with people that I know,” Villar said. “That gets deteriorated with short-term rentals. There’s not a family that’s staying there that you get to know; they’re in and out of that property.”
“I do think that 3% (opposed to STR proliferation) represent the discussions I’m having when I’m out and about,” Frost said. Frost, who has made a career in financial analytical and accounting work, emphasized that the California Coastal Commission has made affordable short-term rentals a priority. “We need to do two things: We need to protect our residents but we also need to work with the Coastal Commission,” Frost said. “And we can do that with a well-rounded council.”
Newkirk, a photographer and former stock broker and planning commissioner, countered that homeowners should be able to have a good idea of what can happen in their neighborhoods ahead of making an investment—whether that be how high someone across the street can remodel their home or the frequency of STR visitors staying next door.
“For most of us, our home is our largest investment,” Newkirk said. “Unregulated (short-term rentals) runs the risk of severely compromising the integrity of our neighborhoods.” Newkirk called for open dialogue and a mutual resolution among all stakeholders. “The problem has been commercially based, short-term rentals . . . which (are) really nothing more than a hotel that’s operating in a single-family zoning area,” Newkirk said. “Without controls over these, the number you can have, the minimum nights of stay . . . you run the risk of compromising neighborhoods while there is money to be made.”
The Dana Point Chamber of Commerce will be hosting its own candidate forum via Zoom on Wednesday, Sept. 30 at 6 p.m. To register, click here.
Lillian Boyd Lillian Boyd is the senior editor for Picket Fence Media and city editor for Dana Point Times. She graduated with a degree in journalism from Humboldt State University. Her work experience includes interviewing incarcerated individuals in the Los Angeles County jails, an internship at the Pentagon covering U.S. Army news as well as reporting and anchoring for a local news radio station in Virginia. Follow her on Twitter @Lillianmboyd and follow Dana Point Times at @danapointtimes.