Guest Commentary: Compromise and enforcement are needed to solve short-term vacation rental issues

Henish Pulickal is CEO of the California Home Company and a former PB Planning Group member and chair.
Henish Pulickal is CEO of the California Home Company and a former PB Planning Group member and chair.
(Courtesy Henish Pulickal )

I’ve lived in Pacific Beach since 2009 and served as a PB Planning Group member and chair from 2013-19. The short-term vacation rental issue has been present and worsening over many years. Every time we think the San Diego City Council will do something, nothing gets done.

Our last mayor didn’t help by deciding that nothing would be enforced. It’s hard to be optimistic that any kind of compromise will be reached and enforced in the foreseeable future. There’s just too much pressure from the vacation rental industry to keep the status quo, even with the considerable push-back and shouts for change and enforcement from the most important constituents, the residents that live in the neighborhoods with the most vacation rentals.

I think some key things have changed in the beach communities specifically. Prior to the 2009 beach alcohol ban, Pacific Beach and adjacent areas had a reputation as a major party town with an “anything goes” attitude. Young adults and college students had the run of the town.

The alcohol ban was a blessing in disguise for the many families and families-to-be in the area. Now we didn’t have to move to the suburbs to avoid being overrun by a drunken party at our local park or the beach! If you look at the enrollment data at local schools, you’ll see that enrollment of students has increased dramatically since 2009.

Prior to a few months ago, directly across the street from my family’s home, there was a 16-person whole home, investor-owned vacation rental. There was no shortage of mega 100-plus-person parties with bouncers at the front door, temperature checks (there is a pandemic), and party litter left around the neighborhood, and of course, the violation of all reasonable noise rules.

We never saw the police come for any type of enforcement.

A few months ago, I was told the investor owners discovered there may be rental regulations coming soon, so they wisely sold the property after making $800+/night for many years. Much to our benefit (and the whole neighborhood), a family moved in with two kids the same age as two of our kids! Our street is quickly filling up with young families that want to live in our incredible neighborhood and have actual neighbors that live there full time.

This is a tough problem because I know many people prefer to stay in a house with a kitchen and other amenities that many hotels don’t provide.

The PB Planning Group has proposed having vacation rental caps by district, and I think this is a more elegant solution than having a citywide lottery. The vast majority of the problematic vacation rentals are in residential neighborhoods by the beach. Plenty of non-coastal neighborhoods may appreciate having the opportunity to have alternative visitor housing that furnished vacation rentals can offer.

Besides having a cap or lottery system to award vacation rental licenses, there are other potential solutions:

1. Encourage hotels in commercial zoned areas to create accommodations with kitchens and allow for larger families to rent a larger space.

2. Encourage redevelopment of our underdeveloped main street areas: Garnet, Mission, Hornblend and others, to have retail on ground floor and visitor accommodations on the 2nd floor. This keeps tourists in the areas that are prepared to handle them.

Our coastal neighborhoods would benefit from having a much lower percentage of the housing stock going toward investor owned vacation homes, and more owner occupied properties with home owners that care and contribute toward their community.

Our locally elected officials are supposed to represent their constituents. If 51% of us say that we want something fixed, aren’t they supposed to do that? If an area is zoned residential, isn’t it intended for residents? How many neighborhoods would prefer to have a party rental house with vacationers offering the neighbors to join them for a game of beer pong, versus neighbors that can go to school together, volunteer in the community together, water their plants when they are out of town, etc.

Pacific Beach can and should accommodate visitors of all types. In fact, I’m sure we could accommodate even more vacationers than we currently do. It would be best to follow the zoning laws that allow visitor accommodations in commercially zoned areas.

Henish Pulickal is CEO of the California Home Company. He was a PB Planning Group member and chair from 2013-19.