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San Clemente City Council took a two-pronged approach on Tuesday in its latest step toward regulating short-term living units. Council members voted 3-1-1 (with Councilwoman Lori Donchak opposed and Councilman Tim Brown recused) to cap the number of allowable units to those already in existence instead of adding a grandfather clause for current STLU owners. That means all the short-term rental units already in existence will remain and no more will be permitted until the Planning Commission provides updates to the ordinance before the next City Council meeting on Feb. 15, where the second and final reading of the ordinance will take place. Ordinances take 30 days to go into effect, so the final day to submit STLU applications will be April 1, according to the ordinance. While homeowners may still submit applications, they could possibly be retroactively voided.
The Planning Commission was instructed to examine the details of the city’s current zoning for STLU units in the city. However, the argument presented against allowing any amendments to zoning is that STLUs should not exist in residential neighborhoods because they act as businesses.
Over the course of the last few months, City Council has listened to both sides of the issue—those in favor of trying to ban or tightly regulate SLTUs, those who want them to continue business as usual and a mix of other suggestions.
Residents have brought forth major issues to argue that STLUs do not conform to the “quality of life” council members swore to protect, including high noise levels, disruptive behavior, crowded parking and worse. The ordinance mandates only two people per room within an STLU as well as other limitations as to how many people can occupy one of them at a time.
As far as the current ordinance is concerned, residents within a 300-foot radius of the proposed STLU will be notified by the city via postcard and have a chance to comment on the proposal for the establishment’s permit before it is granted. Additionally, homeowners must prove they paid transient occupancy tax (TOT) to the city in the last year in order to qualify as an existing STLU owner.
Councilwoman Kathy Ward said there had been a significant number of identified vacation rentals that had not paid into the TOT fund and adding the cap would stop the rapid increase of STLUs within the city.
Donchak wanted to bifurcate the issue into two separate ordinances in order to address the common sense rules that were introduced into the ordinance and ensure they remained a centerpiece to the law. Hamm and Ward did not support the motion and moved forward with the one ordinance.
“I won’t be voting ‘yes’ tonight because of the freeze that was proposed,” Donchak said. “I think it’s unnecessary. I think it introduces anxiety into the lives of good people in San Clemente and it’s not productive. It frames the issue in a negative and narrow light and will affect…our Planning Commission’s deliberation.”
Depending on the amendments suggested by the Planning Commission, the ordinance could be revised before it is finalized. There’s a chance it could also be continued to a future council meeting, as the ordinance has already been amended, continued and examined by the Planning Commission at least once. The city may include STLUs into its Housing Element, used to address its housing demographic statistics. The council also voted to examine putting a raise in TOT on the ballot for November. Council members said San Clemente has one of the lowest rates of TOT compared to other beach cities and the increase could be used to pay for enforcement of the nuisances created by STLUs out of compliance.