Ride for the River Park – 5th Annual – October 1-2, 2016

This weekend, Oct 1 & 2, 2016 – hope to see you there!  Sign up via following link and please pass on to anyone that might be interested in having a great time this weekend.



2016 marks the 5th Annual Ride for the River Park, benefiting the San Diego River Park Foundation (SDRPF).  This 2 day, 1 night tour begins at the Pacific Ocean in the neighborhood of Ocean Beach, and follows the path of the San Diego River from the ocean to the headwaters in the mountains near Julian.  This is a challenging ride of 70 miles each direction, with about a mile of elevation climb on the first day.  At the summit in Julian we’ll enjoy dinner and craft beers at Nickel Beer Company.  The return trip on Sunday, October 2 is all downhill – a well deserved easier return trip.

Registration cost is a $30 donation to the River Park Foundation but please feel free to make a larger donation if you’d like! The event organizer and volunteers will provide snacks and water along the way and a support vehicle for carrying small overnight bags and gear.  Food and drink  are the responsibility of each participant as is accommodation in Julian on Saturday night.  Julian is a popular tourist destination so reservations are recommended as soon as possible.  There are a variety of hotels and other accommodations and many options on VRBO or Airbnb.  There are also nice campgrounds nearby like Heise County Park and Lake Cuyamaca.  Please note that the campgrounds are a few miles from Nickel Beer Company where we will end the first day’s ride.

* Lake Cuyamaca will be the location for a number of participants to camp.  There are showers located at the Chambers Park location at Cuyamaca.

Big thanks to our event sponsors!

  This ride is challenging and is on open roads, some with fast-moving automobile traffic.  We welcome participants of all skill levels but please be aware that this will be a difficult ride for those not used to elevation gains or long-distance riding (more than 50 miles).  Please note that the average group pace for the first day is 10 mph and 15 mph for the second day.  If you’re not comfortable with this pace for a long day’s ride please bring a friend to ride along – we don’t want to leave anyone riding alone.

Notes and Itinerary:

Ground Rules

  1. Show up early so we can depart on time – we roll out at 7 AM on Saturday, 10/1/2016
  2. Bring needed gear – sunscreen, helmet (if you want), lights, spare tire tubes, WATER, bicycle, human body, snacks, cash, phone.  If you have clothes, camping gear, etc. you can put in support van to take for you.
  3. Book your accommodations in Julian in advance of the event or secure a camping site at Cuyamaca
  4. Great attitude, smiles, be ready for a great time!


Route Map – Click image for dynamic Google Maps version.

Day 1 Stops – Saturday, 10/1/2016

  1. Starbucks Coffee – 10406 Friars Rd, San Diego, CA 92120 (Grantville)
  2. 7-11 – 10195 Riverford Rd, Lakeside, CA 92040 (Just before Highway 67)
  3. Thai Time (Lunch Stop) – 2330 Main St, Ramona, CA 92065
  4. Dudley’s Bakery / Santa Ysabel Grocery – 30218 California 78, Santa Ysabel, CA 92070
  5. Nickel Beer Company (Finish Line!) – 1485 Hollow Glen Rd, Julian, CA 92036. All are welcome (non-riders included) to enjoy a pint at Nickel Beer Company from 6-8 PM with a portion of each sale going to the River Park Foundation.

Day 2 Stops – Sunday, 10/2/2015

  • Breakfast – Location TBD – Alpine, CA 91901
  • 7-11 – 10195 Riverford Rd, Lakeside, CA 92040 (Just before Highway 67)
  • Mission Trails Visitors Center – 1 Father Junipero Serra Trail, San Diego, CA 92119
  • Finish Line – Mike Hess Brewing (Ocean Beach Tasting Room) – 4893 Suite A Voltaire St, San Diego, CA 92107.  All are welcome (non-riders included) to enjoy a pint at Mike Hess Brewing at end of ride, estimated arrival time is 3:30 PM on Sunday, Oct 2.

Hope you can join us for this great event and even if you can’t enjoy the ride you can support the work of the SDRPF by learning more and making a tax-deductible donation at: http://sandiegoriver.org/give.html. 

You’re Gonna Die

Here’s a horoscope for everyone
Aquarius, you’re gonna die
Capricorn, you’re gonna die
Gemini, you’re gonna die twice
Leo, you’re gonna die
Scorpio, you’re gonna die f**king

Happy birthday (to me)!  Amid the well wishes of friends, family, and strangers – and thanks to all for the kind words – a birthday ever makes me contemplate death, what the point of life is, etc.  As Chris Rock excellently reminds in his classic “No Sex in the Champagne Room” we’re gonna die.  No need to be sad about it, and no need to try to hide from it.  Death comes for us all – some earlier than others.

I’ve been very fortunate in many ways in life, most of which were in no way in my control – family, health, luck / fate.  Celebrating my birthday makes me feel self conscious and guilty.  I have received far more than my fair share, I scarcely need another reason to celebrate.  So I try to refocus and remember to be grateful and to think and work for a better world.  It’s an effort that will never end – learning, adjusting, striving – and good to take a moment to take a fresh look and re-energize for the next year.

Whether you read this today or at some point in the unknown future I hope you’ll also take a moment to count your blessings and contemplate the larger world and how we can move toward a better future.  Humans have had a really good few hundred years and I’m confident we’ll continue to progress and create a better world.  Cheers to the work before us today, and to the many (or few) days to come.

The Short-Term Rental Debate Returns in San Diego

The debate over short-term rentals in San Diego had been quiet for a number of months but a recent series of op-eds at Voice of San Diego seems to signal the return of the debate to the public stage.  The op-eds have been both against short-term rentals, for short-term rentals, and some general articles about the number of short-term rentals.

What this debate is about is what rules should apply to the rental of a portion of a property or a whole property for a period of less than 30 days.  Changes to the hotel taxes on short-term rentals are not being debated.  Monthly rentals are not being debated either.

Much of the debate on short-term rentals has come to be synonymous with the largest platform for short-term rentals today – San Francisco tech wundercompany Airbnb.  The debate is more about the proper place for Airbnb and less about the wide variety of short-term rentals that exist outside of this relatively young company (founded in 2008).

Some examples of short-term rentals that may not be directly discussed or considered as part of the short-term rental debate but will likely be impacted by any rules, fees, or regulations include the following (and many more):

  • Foreign exchange students – Hosting a student for less than 30 days is common and a great cultural experience for many. This type of use has a long history in San Diego.
  • Evergreen Club – A website ($75 annual membership fee) for those 50 and older to stay with other members for $20 per night.
  • HomeExchange – A site connecting people from all over the world that would like to “swap” houses for a period of time.  Per website, HomeExchange currently has more than 65,000 listings in 150 countries.  Many swaps do not include exchange of money.
  • Couchsurfing – A site to connect with others and share space in your home.  Website states 400,000 hosts per year and 4 million users.  Website name comes from sharing a spare couch, but includes more than couches, Couchsurfing invites hosts to share a – “couch, spare room or air mattress available to travelers”.
A screenshot from Couchsurfing San Diego taken 6-4-2016 shows the number of hosts, guests, and properties.
A screenshot from Couchsurfing San Diego taken 6-4-2016 shows the number of hosts, guests (“surfers”), and local events.
  • VRBO – Vacation Rental by Owner – An early entrant into the online world of vacation rentals.  Founded in 1995 and sold to Homeaway in 2006 (which was subsequently purchased by Expedia in 2015).  This site continues to thrive in traditional vacation locations.
  • onefinestay – A short-term rental site focuses on luxury / upmarket offerings.
  • Warm Showers – “A free worldwide hospitality exchange for touring cyclists” – similar to couchsurfing but for travellers exploring by bicycle.
  • Informal – Whether by personal connections, Craigslist, or other means there are short-term stays arranged directly by property owners and visitors to provide lodging for visitors, friends of friends, or strangers.

There are many, many other sites and services that offer short-term rentals (and the above also offer non short-term rentals – stays longer than 30 days).  As the debate over short-term rentals continues it shouldn’t be lost that we aren’t talking about just one website or one multi-billion dollar company.  The rules we put in place will affect a wide variety of uses that San Diegans have for their property.

Also worth noting is that many of the above noted sites and platforms are relatively young and new offerings and ideas are being created as the market for short-term rentals changes and grows.  When I started traveling and hosting via Airbnb a few years ago my parents thought it was quite odd, likely unsafe, and a generally weird idea.  Today they have used the site a number of times and it has become a mainstream tool that people from all over the world use.  I expect this trend to continue and hope that San Diego will embrace new tools that benefit both local residents and visitors in ways financial, social, and cultural.  Increased flexibility and opportunity is a good thing.

Trump by The Presidents of the United States of America. Enjoy.

In middle and high school my friends and I enjoyed listening to a quirky band by the name of The Presidents of the United States of America.  One of their biggest hits was “Lump”, released in 1995.

This song came on Spotify during a ride today and I couldn’t help but replace Lump with Trump given the current level of interest in the U.S. Presidential race.  Here’s the full set of lyrics with Trump replacing lump and gender pronouns changed to male from female.  Enjoy.


Trump sat alone in a boggy marsh,
totally emotionless except for his heart
Mud flowed up into Trump’s pajamas
he totally confused all the passing pihranas

He’s Trump, he’s Trump
He’s in my head
He’s Trump, he’s Trump, he’s Trump
He might be dead

Trump lingered last in line for brains
and the one he got was sorta rotten and insane
Small things so sad that birds could land
Is Trump fast asleep or rockin’ out with the band?

He’s Trump, he’s Trump
He’s in my head
He’s Trump, he’s Trump, he’s Trump
He might be dead

Trump was limp and lonely and needed a shove
Trump slipped on a kiss and tumbled into love
He spent his twenties between the sheets
Life limped along at sub-sonic speeds

He’s Trump, he’s Trump
He’s in my head
He’s Trump, he’s Trump, he’s Trump
He might be dead

Is this Trump outta my head?
I think so
Is this Trump outta my head?
I think so
Is this Trump outta my head?
I think so
Is this Trump outta my head?

Check out the video and sing along!

Plaza De Panama – A Host of People-First Changes Make a Big Impact

Plaza de Panama is the central plaza in Balboa Park and for many years was devoted to automobile parking.  In June 2013 reviled former Mayor Bob Filner led a push that removed the parking spots from the Plaza de Panama and created a public space for strolling, sitting, and enjoying the surrounding museums and sunshine.

san diego metro - plaza de panama parking
Photo from San Diego Metro

Here’s a photo of what the plaza looked like as a parking lot.


Below is what the plaza looks like now, less than three years later.  Today our family had a small picnic lunch on the plaza and there were people everywhere – a newlywed couple taking photos on the steps of the Museum of Art, small children riding bikes and scooters, people of all ages sitting or taking photos.  In short, it felt like an authentic plaza: “a public square, marketplace, or similar open space in a built-up area“.

2016-02-29 14.58.48

While a lack of parking at Balboa Park continues to be a prominent point of public discussion and debate the Plaza de Panama proves that empty parking spaces do not a great space make – no one was hanging out at the parking lot it formerly was, other than the valets for The Prado restaurant.  People enjoying life and each other are what make a plaza great and if you visit Balboa Park today you’ll find such a place at its heart.

The removal of the parking lot was the start of this new public life, but there have been many other elements that have contributed to the engaging place it is today.  Below are a few and it’s encouraging to see a range of different players contributing – I look forward to see what other improvements lie ahead.

  • The Balboa Park Explorer Pass – This pass grants access to the museums and cultural institutions in the museum campus area of Balboa Park.  Our family has had the annual pass ($229) since the inception of this program.  It is fantastic and has us visiting the park more frequently and a wider variety of museums than we previously had.  A great idea to increase the amount of visitors coming to the museum campus.

2016-03-13 12.37.41

  • Trees and tables – After the parking was first removed the plaza felt empty – it’s a big expanse and needed to be populated to make it more inviting.  The addition of a variety of chairs, tables, umbrellas, planter boxes, and other items have made it a pleasant and comfortable place to sit and people watch.

2016-03-13 12.36.46

  • Panama 66 Restaurant – The owners of local favorites Blind Lady Ale House and Tiger!Tiger! Tavern now operate a full service restaurant adjacent to the Plaza de Panama (and technically part of the Museum of Art).  This is a photo from March 13, 2016 at 11 AM – the line out the door says all that is needed about the popularity of the venue.  The restaurant includes a sculpture garden area and sitting on the grass in the evening while the California Tower is aglow is a newly classic San Diego experience.  [Caution: check schedules for sometimes irregular hours.]

2016-03-13 12.36.16

  • Art of the Open Air – The newest addition to the Plaza de Panama is a series of sculptures set up around the plaza.  In the central seating area there are information cards about the works including pieces by Rodin and Miro.  A great addition and fitting complement to the Museum of Art which stands on the Plaza de Panama.

2016-03-13 12.35.33

2016-02-27 10.35.25

  • Improvements for walking and biking – Improved crosswalk markings and Balboa Park themed bicycle racks in prominent locations have made it more convenient to visit the park without a car.  Hopefully in future we will see the Laurel Street bridge closed to automobile traffic and made into a full-time pedestrian promenade.

2016-03-13 12.35.07

2016-03-13 12.34.40

Thank you to the many people that are working to enhance Balboa Park and the experience of visiting for locals and tourists alike.  The Plaza de Panama shows that even on a short time frame big changes can be made through thoughtful, low-cost projects that put people first.  Cheers!

Saturday Mornings in San Diego

Going for a run on a Saturday morning in San Diego is a great joy.  This is an undeniably outdoor town and seeing people out enjoying the sunshine and each other while I lumber by brings a smile to my face.  The past couple of Saturday mornings I’ve taken a few photos during my runs through Balboa Park and wanted to post them here.

I hope you enjoy your Saturday mornings as well, and sharing and enjoying the beautiful place in which we live.

2016-03-05 14.08.06
Lawn bowling area with symmetry and cool drinking water
2016-03-05 14.02.30
People gathering and strolling along the main East-West corridor in Balboa Park museum campus
2016-03-05 13.59.25
Cactus garden overlooking Florida Canyon, featuring dragonblood trees
2016-02-29 14.58.48
The Plaza de Panama is a great place for sitting for a picnic or coffee with friends.
2016-02-28 07.11.09
An early morning shot (approx. 6:45 AM) with the plaza still in the glow of morning.
2016-02-28 06.58.06
Florida Canyon typically has a small stream flowing, supporting large trees.
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A view from the lower portion of the cactus garden.
2016-02-27 10.43.01
Along 6th Avenue is a popular area for volleyball, frisbee, baby strolling, and napping.
2016-02-27 10.35.25
The Museum of Art recently installed a number of sculptures on the Plaza de Panama. A terrific idea and I love this piece.
2016-02-27 10.33.30
The botanical building is one of the most popular place for a group photo in the park.
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Spring is in bloom along Park Boulevard. (This shot is a bit better than the one with lots of pavement and cars)
2016-02-27 10.24.59
Running the trails in Florida Canyon is a great place to enjoy the outdoors in the heart of the city. Thanks to SD Canyonlands for working to protect our urban open spaces.

Uptown Planners Election – Tonight, 3/1, 6 PM

If you live in, own a business in, or own property in Uptown you are eligible to vote tonight at 6 PM for the board of Uptown Planners. Show up at 3900 Vermont St., San Diego, CA 92103 to make your voice heard and have a say in the future of Uptown!  Please consider supporting the slate of candidates noted below.


Tonight, Tuesday March 1, the community planning group for the neighborhoods of Uptown, Uptown Planners, will hold a board election.  Groups like Uptown Planners, give input to the city about development, park space, and other important issues.  Per the city websiteCommunity planning groups (CPG) provide citizens with an opportunity for involvement in advising the City Council, the Planning Commission, and other decision-makers on development projects, general or community plan amendments, rezonings and public facilities. The recommendations of the planning groups are integral components of the planning process, and are highly regarded by the City Council and by staff.

For an idea of the topics that Uptown Planners you can view the agenda for the meeting tonight following the election.

Being a part of a planning group is a significant commitment of time and dedication to a community.  It is also a very important part of how things get built in San Diego.  This applies to buildings, sidewalks, bike lanes, housing, dog parks, and much more.

Please see the below graphic for a slate of candidates that has stepped up and organized to run for Uptown Planners. I support this group of candidates and hope you will too.  Paul Jamason at SD Urban has a thorough write up of the major issues at stake and why it is important to support these candidates.

“Let’s move beyond the priorities of traffic, parking and home value appreciation, to the more important challenges of climate change and housing affordability. We can do this by supporting Uptown Planners candidates who will work to implement San Diego’s Climate Action Plan and transit-oriented development in our neighborhoods.”

Uptown Planners election

Following is a message from Bike San Diego that has endorsed two of the above slate of candidates for this election.

Tomorrow is the Uptown Planners Board Election – Tuesday, March 1st, 20166:00-7:00 p.m.

BikeSD is pleased to announce our endorsements of Ms. Maya Rosas and Mr. Joshua Clark, for the Uptown Planners Board election this coming Tuesday, March 1st. It’s time to get out the vote!
Uptown Planners is a key community planning group in the City of San Diego’s urban core and includes the neighborhoods of Bankers Hill/Park West, Hillcrest, Mission Hills, University Heights, Five Points/Middletown, and the Medical Complex. As the official planning advisory board to the City, it’s key that forward-thinking members with an eye toward fostering smart urban growth focused on active transportation, be elected to the Board. Maya and Josh are running on a slate of candidates who fit the bill. BikeSD recommends that you arrive early enough on Tuesday, March 1st (tomorrow), to meet Maya and Josh, as well as hear their recommendations for the remaining slate of candidates. A voter may vote for up to seven candidates!

Last year, our endorsement helped elect Michael Brennan and Kyle Heiskala to the Uptown Planners board, and their influence on the board cannot be understated. It was through Heiskala’s patience and willingness to educate his fellow board members that Uptown Planners voted to support protected bike lanes along all of University Avenue at their 2015 December meeting, something that could happen through city efforts regardless of SANDAG’s own project. This development was a huge departure from Uptown Planners of the past and it is only because of Heiskala and Brennan than this change was possible. So this being election year, don’t discount your voice. Opposition to safe streets and in favor of maintaining the status quo is still strong – so come out next Tuesday and VOTE!

Details of the election are below:

What: Uptown Planners Board Election
When: Tuesday, March 1st, 2016 – 6:00-7:00 p.m.
Where: Joyce Beers Center, 3900 Vermont St., San Diego, CA 92103 (between Aladdin Restaurant & Panera Bread)

**To vote, an individual must present identification proving either residency, property ownership, or business ownership in Uptown. (See map of Uptown boundaries here.) Identification may include a driver’s license, utility bill, tax bill, business license, or rent receipt – any document that has the voter’s name and street address. Photocopies of documents are acceptable.**

Don’t live or own property in Uptown? If you have friends or family who live there (Bankers Hill/Park West, Hillcrest, Mission Hills, University Heights, Five Points/Middletown, and the Medical Complex), give them a call and tell them to come out.


“Nuisance complaint” (Code 415N) police calls in San Diego

Awhile back I received a data set of all the Code 415N calls to San Diego Police Department for all properties in San Diego for a one-year period, 10/1/2014 – 9/30/2015.  I believe 415N is the police department code for Disturbing The Peace.  The data is for all property types, not only short-term rental properties.  During the short-term rental debates there has been quite a bit of discussion about the crime and safety impacts that short-term rentals have on communities so it would seem a decent place to look for elevated impacts in areas with more short-term rental units.

I took the information and did some high level analysis of the complaint calls – the data file is included here and the notes / calculations I added are  at the top right of attached file.

[Note: I didn’t have the TOT addresses to match to the 415N info (and the 415N info doesn’t have zip so I’m not sure how you match it unless they use the exact same address typing for both sets of data.  I didn’t take a stab at it since it’s above my skill level to break that down.  I’m also unsure of the completeness of TOT addresses since Airbnb now handles those remittances for hosts, so many are likely not registered with the City Treasurer.]

Some points I thought might be relevant to the ongoing discussion:

  • Total calls in past year = 13,869. With city population of 1.381 million that comes out to 1% of the population making 1 call per year.  I don’t know what a “good” nuisance reporting rate is, but if 1 of 100 people are calling once per year that seems pretty low.
  • Average calls per district – with 9 districts the total number of complaints comes out to 4.22 calls per day.  When thinking about enforcement needs, this seems a relevant point.  I would think 1 hire per district could handle 4.22 calls per day, maybe 10 or 20 (I don’t know).  At least a good point for talking about what resources are needed to handle complaint volume.
Police beat areas with most 415N calls
Police beat areas with most 415N calls
  • Complaints by neighborhood – the data doesn’t match to exact addresses, but is useful in seeing where complaints are from by beat area and how that matches to the neighborhoods cited as being short-term rental problem spots.  In the top 5 by % of complaints are: Pacific Beach (6.51%), North Park (5.78%), Ocean Beach (3.99%), East Village (3.14%), and Logan Heights (3.12%).  Pacific Beach & Ocean Beach have had a lot of anti short-term rental sentiment, but not the other 3, maybe North Park if you include Burlingame.  By address would be better to be more precise, but if you look at the Excel the neighborhoods that receive the most calls don’t correspond much to anti short-term rental sentiment, and I would guess correspond mostly to total population (which makes sense in general) than to perceived / actual short-term rental caused issues.

    Wanted to share this information in case of interest to others.  It seems a good touch point in the overall conversation so I thought worth posting.

Below is the Excel data set for download / use.

Want a Better San Diego in 2016? Make It Happen with Bike San Diego

2016 begins with San Diego looking at some pretty major changes.  Downtown San Diego is experiencing a building boom and has community groups pushing for it be a walkable, bikeable city center.  Awesome.  The San Diego City Council recently unanimously voted to adopt a Climate Action Plan to ensure our city is a leader in moving to renewable energy and reducing emissions.  The plan includes a goal to make biking 6% of commuter mode share by 2020 and 18% by 2035 (in select “Transit Priority Areas”).  Currently the city is around 1% bicycle mode share. Aim high – great.  Last week SANDAG held a meeting for public input regarding a bicycle / pedestrian bridge above Florida Street to connect Hillcrest and North Park.  This week SANDAG holds a meeting for public comment regarding Pershing Drive and creating a high quality bike route from North Park to Downtown.  Good stuff.

Biking is fun.
Biking is fun.

The tough bit about all these goals and plans – and there are many more great projects being proposed – is in making them a reality and backing up words and PowerPoints with actions and improvements on the ground.  Roadway and infrastructure projects changes happen over years, if not decades.  It is not a fast nor easy process and without consistent oversight and public pressure many, if not most, changes and projects will be scrapped a few years after being proprosed or passed.  To see long-term, meaningful progress in making San Diego a world-leader for bicycling is why I support Bike San Diego.

Today I doubled my existing monthly contribution to the organization and I hope you’ll join me and make a recurring donation today.

I have found no organization in San Diego that more strongly and consistently is pushing for real, positive change on our roadways than Bike San Diego.  If you want representation at public meetings, in meetings with elected officials and community groups, and ongoing leadership on the public stage I think you’ll find the same.

2015 was a tough year for biking in San Diego.  The SANDAG Regional Bikeway Projects, announced in September 2013 with $200 million of funding, have yet to paint a single foot of bike lane more than 2 years later.  The first project under this program, in Uptown, had the most critical portion – an East-West connection from Mission Hills to North Park – gutted despite many hours of meetings, and input from the communities to be improved.  I attended many of the meetings for this project, and for a paired project in North Park, and have since wondered why I spent so much time, stress, and effort to see a unanimous vote against bike lanes by the Uptown Planners group.  It has left me pondering if my time would be better spent elsewhere – if the “public outreach meetings” seem intentionally designed to give cover to the pre-ordained outcome as being community supported perhaps attendance is even counter-productive.  Across the bay Coronado was widely panned for ludicrous commentary regarding bike lanes (video below).

My solace comes from the growing bicycling community in San Diego, and the support and leadership shown by Bike San Diego.  We may have lost University Avenue (for now) but we showed up, spoke up, and connected.  At the next set of meetings we’ll be bigger, louder, and more insistent on the outcome of public meetings truly reflecting the content of those meetings.  When 70% of meeting testimony is strongly in support of a project the outcome should not be unanimous in the other direction.  Such disrepect for the public can stand temporarily but over time will not.

Biking is critical to the future of San Diego, if we desire to be a city succeeding in the future.  Look at world-class cities like London, Paris, New York City, Vancouver, Copenhagen, and others – they are embracing biking and walking and reaping immense economic rewards.  The backwaters are not those that walk and bike – they are those that are tripling down on freeways and levelling neighborhoods to pave even more.  Would San Francisco be more successful if four freeways were rammed through it or was the city right to demolish the freeway that long blighted the famed waterfront on the bay?

San Diego has no excuse to not be a world-leader in biking.  We have the best weather in the United States.  We stand to benefit economically, socially, and in health from increased levels of biking (and decreased levels of driving).  We are a major city and should stop pretending we’re a congolmeration of suburbs with a mall as a city center.  We need to get serious about real change on the ground.  Bike San Diego will be there every step of the way but can not do it without support.

Please support Bike San Diego today and help create a better future for our city.

Some Market Thoughts on Short-Term Rentals in San Diego

The topic of short-term rentals in San Diego continues to be debated and potential rules / changes to rules will be a hot topic in 2016.  After ending 2015 with a well attended Planning Commission meeting in December it looks like the next official meeting / hearing will be in late February or March at the City Council.  It is sure to be a long hearing, with hundreds of San Diegans attending and providing commentary both for and against short-term accommodations in San Diego neighborhoods.

In the meantime, I wanted to jot down some thoughts about short-term rentals in San Diego from a market economy perspective, which follow.

Serving unmet demand – Short-term rentals in San Diego (and many places globally) have grown briskly in the past 5 years.  Airbnb was founded in August 2008 and is the largest short-term rental platform today although it was preceeded by Craigslist, Vacation Rental by Owner, and many other “more traditional” short-term rental uses like bed and breakfasts, room-letting, and others.  Today Airbnb has more than 2 million listings worldwide in more than 190 countries and 34,000 cities.  On New Year’s Eve 2015 the site was expected to host more than 1 million guests in a single night, up from 550,000 a year previous – nearly 100% growth in a year.

In San Diego the total number of short-term rental units in the city was estimated at 6,116 in a National University System Institute for Policy Research (NUSIPR) study released in October 2015.  This report was paid for by Airbnb and the San Diego Vacation Rental Managers Alliance which has lead some to believe it is biased. (The Union-Tribune article linked to states that the Short-Term Rental Alliance of San Diego (STRASD) paid for the study as well – I am part of STRASD and our organization paid for a not a cent of the study, just to clarify.)  With vested parties paying for the study this may be true although NUSIPR does studies on a number of topics in San Diego and is a credible research organiation.  Regardless of intent or paying party, this study remains the most comprehensive, and I believe only, one on the subject in San Diego.

In the study a few figures stick out:

  • Hotels have increased their occupancy rate and nightly room rate consistently over the past 5 years despite the growth in short-term rentals.  Occupancy increased from 68.4% in 2010 to 76.7% in 2015. Over the same period revenue per available room, a figure that measures both occupancy rates and average room rates, increased from $84.72 in 2010 to $103.52 in 2014.  It would seem short-term rentals are not hurting hotel business and are a complementary offering, at least to date.

    airbnb - hotel rates in sd
    Image from NUSIPR study, click for link.
  • Total short-term rentals now comprise a maximum of approx. 1.1% of total housing stock in San Diego.  This is based on a total of 6,116 short-term rentals per the NUSIPR study and a total housing stock of 518,300 per the American Community Survey 5-year estimate (2010-2014) for housing information, Table DP04.  This estimate treats all short-term rentals as whole unit rentals although many are a room in a unit or the use of a primary home on a part-time basis.  I’ m using the total number to be conservative and over-estimate the total impact on housing stock.  6,000 units is not a small number, although it is much smaller than the number of vacant units in San Diego.  Per the same ACS study there are 39,221 vacant units in San Diego – approx. 1.6% of homeowner occupied units and 4.2% of rental units.  A similar question could be posed regarding vacation homes or second homes owned in San Diego, I do not know the figure for such property holdings here.
  • Short-term rentals are blunting the ability of hotels to increase room rates during high-demand special events.  The Economist recently wrote about the impact of increased short-term rental supply around large special events like the Olympics or the annual Berkshire Hathaway shareholder meeting.  Traditionally, hotels have been able to greatly increase rates during high-demand events but more recently the higher prices have incentivized property owners to add to the existing short-term rental stock.  In San Diego this can be seen in the increase of short-term rentals around Comic-Con.  Interestingly, as reported by Voice of San Diego, “It turns out getting Comic-Con to stay in town for 2017 and 2018 is more about discounted hotel rooms than the size of San Diego’s Convention Center.”  Spending millions of dollars to expand or renovate the Convention Center gets much press and attention when perhaps we could secure the future of Comic-Con by simply encouraging local homeowners to house attendees or take a full paid vacation to Hawaii for the weekend.
An Airbnb listing in Barrio Logan.
An Airbnb listing in Barrio Logan.
  • Short-term rentals keep more money in local pockets. Per the same Economist article, “more room rentals should also mean that more money flows directly to residents every time small cities stage a tourist-magnet event. (Airbnb passes on around 85% of guests’ total payments to hosts, whereas hotels spend just 30-35% on labour.)”  The NUSIPR study put the total rental revenue to property owners at $110M and the total economic impact, including government tax receipts, restaurant spending, etc. at $285M.  If spread evenly across the total number of short-term rentals that means an economic impact of $46,599 per short-term rental property in San Diego, with $17,985 going to the property owner in direct rental payments.
  • San Diego is an expensive place to live. This is due to many factors and not a new phenomenon.  For example, in the Morena Boulevard area a recent plan to add units (read: increase population density in a manner consistent with housing patterns in an urban portion of a major city rather than suburban land use) would have added 4,800 units to a blighted area near I-5.  It was widely panned by local residents and scrapped.  San Diego does not have to build more housing at all, but if we do not it is not logical or reasonable to think that housing prices will not increase.  San Diego is a very desirable place to live and priced at a discount to other California hubs like San Francisco.  Static housing stock and increased demand and/or population will yield increasing housing prices and rent costs.  Short-term rentals with a total of 6,116 units in the city pale in comparison to the anti-build / anti-growth / anti-height / anti-density sentiment common in many areas of the city.
  • Relative to income levels, the costs of rent in San Diego have fluctuated both up and down in recent years.  Per an October 2015 article in the Union-Tribune 55% of San Diego renters are “cost-burdened”, spending a third or more of income on rent.  As shown in the image below, this ratio is about the same as in 2007 – before Airbnb existed and prior to the rapid growth in the number of short-term rentals. The ratio has been both higher and lower than the 2015 figure in recent years.  Interesting sidenote from the article: “In Miami, 66 percent of residents are paying a third or more on rent. In Detroit, because of low incomes, more than 65 percent of renters are cost-burdened”.  Both low income levels and high housing prices can result in a high percentage of income going to rent.
    Data and image from Union-Tribune (click for full article)
    Data and image from Union-Tribune (click for full article)

    There is a finite demand for short-term rentals.  Although short-term rentals are not new in San Diego and have existed for many decades in some areas of the city – particularly beach areas like Mission Beach – the recent growth has been fueled by new techonology and trends.  Ubiquitous smart phones, social media and the internet connecting the world market, and increasing global travel are all major causes.  At the onset of a new trend growth can be explosive but will decline over time.  At some point the supply will meet, or exceed, demand.  It is hard to predict what the total demand for short-term rentals is.  Per the NUSIPR study, short-term rental room nights totaled 456,000 in 2014-15 compared to 11,300,000 total room nights for hotels and motels.  Short-term rentals were an estimated 4% of the hotel total night stays.  Perhaps this ratio could reach 10%, maybe even 25% – it’s hard to predict but seems unlikely that short-term rentals would entirely replace hotels, or even rise to an equivalent level.  My best estimate is we are relatively close to meeting demand – 5% or perhaps 10% of total hotel nights would be my estimate.  This is based on discussions with other short-term rental owners / hosts and I have not found a study or formal estimate of this.  Especially over the past few months I’ve spoken to many hosts / owners that have seen a large drop in occupancy and/or reduced nightly rates.  This is partly due to the slower winter season but likely also due to increased competition as the number of short-term rental units have increased.  Given the low vacancy rate and rising rent levels for rental units in San Diego and the reduced labor hours, taxes, and hassle to operate a long-term rental vs. a short-term rental I would not be surprised to see some short-term rentals being converted to long-term rentals.  It may not be a trend today, but whenever the demand is met (or approached) each unit entering the short-term rental pool will reduce the revenue per unit for the short-term rental market.

The future for short-term rentals in San Diego is cloudy and could go any number of ways – we’ll have to wait and see.  To date, short-term rentals have provided a meaningful economic opportunity for many property owners in San Diego.  For the reasons above and many others, I hope to see this opportunity continued.

At the same time, non-economic factors remain important and seem the cause of the bulk of the disagreements between those supporting and opposing short-term rentals.  The OB Rag has written most about this topic and I think best presents the major issue dividing people – that of community character.  Community character is hard to define and it is difficult to measure social impacts or make comparative examples.  That doesn’t make it unimportant – the “feel”, personality, or culture of a place is often the most enduring and compelling attribute it can possess.  I’m sure that qualitative factors will continue to play an important role and I hope the prominent one.  Economically and quantitively I see short-term rentals as very much to the good of individuals (hosts and guests / owners and customers) and the region at large.  The impact of short-term rentals on our communities is less clear and should be well considered.