Commentary: STR Carefully

New Short-term rental (STR) policies will soon be considered by the Del Mar City Council. The current Council majority (Gasterland, Martinez, Quirk, Druker) were all supported in recent election campaigns by STR operators, so it is likely that policies will be more favorable to them than those developed by previous Councils. The “guiding principles” that the Council developed for staff guidance also suggest a more favorable posture “honoring the tradition of vacation rentals…considering the distribution and concentration of STRs throughout the community.” Several of the other guiding principles clearly are clear contradictions such as “honoring…the Community Plan” and “maintaining the residential character of neighborhoods in residential zones.”


A staff analysis identified 116 STRS advertised between January and April, with more June numbers to be added. 80 of these were investment properties, not owner-occupied. The average rental rate was $630 per night. STR by definition refers to any rental for less than 30 days. Unlike many other cities Del Mar does not impose a hotel tax on these rentals.


This issue is  particularly challenging for Del Mar because of our small  size. Other cities may be able to absorb these mini-hotels without radically changing their residential character. But in this small village, allowing these businesses to operate in residential neighborhoods creates a level of tourist behavior that often overwhelms the quiet character of low key  neighbor to neighbor interaction. Adding to that is the increasing number of absentee owners of properties that are not occupied full-time. These trends reduce the number of full-time residents who engage in the kind of volunteer civic activity that has made Del Mar a special small town.


There is growing concern that we are reaching a tipping point where we become more of a tourist party town than a real residential community. This becomes an existential issue which this Council has promised to resolve during the next several months.


It is critical that we residents speak up  forcefully to protect the small town we love.