San Diego rescinds tough Airbnb regulations, reopening debate on how to rein in short-term rentals

A referendum effort by supporters of short-term rentals forced the San Diego City Council to repeal legislation that would have sharply curtailed Airbnb-style rentals.
(K.C. Alfred / San Diego Union-Tribune)

Faced with a referendum seeking to repeal San Diego’s new restrictions on short-term rentals, the City Council did that repeal itself Monday, but left open the question of how the city will regulate home sharing in the future.

The council had only two choices before it: repeal the regulations it adopted in August or put the question before voters. The council’s actions again leave San Diego in limbo on the much-debated question of renting out homes for periods of less than 30 days, an increasingly common practice popularized by online platforms such as Airbnb and HomeAway.

The council vote to repeal the short-term rental legislation was 8 to 1, with Councilwoman Lorie Zapf dissenting. Zapf had supported taking the matter to voters.


“I was not elected to represent the interest of out-of-town investors and I will not let corporate interests with a lot of money to bully me into rescinding this ordinance,” said Zapf, who represents the beach communities that have been most affected by the proliferation of vacation rentals.

“I just feel we worked too hard on this issue,” she said. “There is no guarantee a compromise will be reached any time soon or ever.”

But other council members expressed optimism that a compromise on new regulations can be reached, despite years of debate and struggles to reach consensus.

“What I’ve always said is a good compromise is where you find yourself where neither side is totally happy,” said Councilman Scott Sherman, one of the backers of the referendum effort.

“We found ourselves, though, where one side was very happy and the other side very unhappy, but I think there is room to find a true compromise,” he added. “We’re going to have to let the dust settle and cut back on some of the rhetoric. We can get to a place where I think a compromise can happen.”

The regulations, adopted in August, would have barred the short-term rental of second homes but would have permitted the use of primary residences for short-term stays six months out of the year.


Though the council members were limited in what action they could take Monday, many people who addressed the council pushed for speedy action on replacement regulations. The city legally has the option of adopting regulations within the next year, but those new rules would have to be substantially different from the ones that were repealed.

“Our communities cannot wait an indefinite period of time to bring this pressing issue to resolution,” said La Jolla Town Council President Ann Kerr-Bache, who heads a short-term vacation rental working group that represents about 20 community organizations. “We are prepared to immediately work with the city and all stakeholders to create legal, reasonable and improved ordinances that protect our communities.”

Weisberg writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.