San Diego – Embracing Refugees in Past, Present, and Future

San Diego County has been a home to refugees from all over the globe for many years.  In recent years the region has likely taken in more refugees than any other region in the United States. 


Refugee – a person who has been forced to leave their country in order to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster.


Per the San Diego Union-Tribune, “this region gets approximately 3,000 new refugees each year, with a striking majority hailing from restive Iraq.”  In fiscal year 2009 the county took in 4,168 which has declined to 1,610 in fiscal year 2015 – I believe the 3,000 in the article is the average for the period 2009-2015.  Per the same article the refugees that have settled in San Diego and formed a community here over the past 45 years have included those from:

  • Vietnam
  • Cambodia
  • Laos
  • Sudan
  • Ethiopia
  • Eritrea
  • Syria
  • Iraq

Per the American Immigration Council since fiscal year 2007 the following states have taken in the highest number of refugees:

  1. California – 25,716
  2. Michigan – 18,047
  3. Texas – 12,956
  4. Arizona – 7,447

Based on these sources San Diego has taken in more refugees than any other region in California and California has taken in more refugees than any other state in recent years.  I can’t find a breakdown by county or region but based on this it seems very likely that San Diego has taken in more refugees than any other area.

If you visit City Heights in San Diego you’ll find a wide variety of refugee communities, and in other areas of the city as well.  It says something about an area that takes in so many, and in which many decide to settle long-term and welcome later arrivals.  I feel pride that San Diego is a place that is desirable to live in for those fleeing persecution.

There is a heated debate currently regarding refugees from Syria and who will or will not welcome them in the United States.  I trust that San Diego, officially and socially, will continue to welcome refugees from all over the world.  San Diego is a very safe place to live – large amounts of refugees settling here for many decades have not compromised our safety.  What newly arrived refugees will do is strengthen our regional community and reaffirm that San Diego is a welcoming place to people from the world over whether refugees, visitors, investors, children, professionals, or otherwise.  In time they’ll offer a helping hand to those that follow and start families, companies, non-profits, and community organizations that reinvigorate our neighborhoods.  It’s ever been the story of the United States and one that San Diego will continue to follow.

That’s something that all San Diegans can be proud of. #SDlove

However you look at it, one world.
San Diego – open to the world.

Balboa Park Plaza de Panama – More Shade, More Seats, More People

Plaza de Panama is the central plaza in San Diego’s Balboa Park and a great place for meeting friends, reading, and enjoying children running around.  Until recently it was an ugly parking lot.  Converting parking spaces to park space was a great improvement to this area but we can do more.

sdma_and_fountain_2010_r900x493 - previous plaza - ut sandiego
Previously a parking lot, now a public plaza for people. #winning (Photo: San Diego Union-Tribune)

In the center of the plaza there is a gorgeous fountain (currently running intermittently due to drought concerns in California).  The small earth area surrounding the fountain has been replanted many, many times over the past year.  The plantings have primarily been small flowers – not drought tolerant, not native.  The planting area also precludes visitors from sitting near or on the fountain which would be a natural setting to relax, especially if the fountain was tree shaded.  I propose to improve the fountain area and Plaza de Panama in general by adding trees to surround the fountain to provide shade for people sitting and a focal point for the plaza.

sd flag
San Diego flag
spain flag
Spain flag

 

 

 

 

 

Surrounding the fountain eight beautiful trees would shade those enjoying the plaza and echo the colors of San Diego and Spain – red and yellow.  This shows civic pride and affirms the Spanish heritage of the park and many of the building structures which were built in Spanish-Renaissance style and feature Spanish names.

At each of the cardinal directions, Autralian Flame Trees would be planted.  These trees would grow up to 60 feet tall but have a root structure that is well suited for street curbs or other small spaces.  Flame trees also require little to moderate water once established and love full sun and heat which is present at Plaza de Paname.

flame tree

Between the cardinal point Flame trees Tipu trees will provide the yellow prominent in both flags.  Tipu trees grow 25-40 feet tall so would be a lower level canopy beneath the taller Flame trees.  Tipu trees also have a root structure that would be appropriate for a small space planting as is the case here.

tipu tree

How does this vision become reality?

  1. Feedback from landscape architects regarding size, type, coloration, cost, and other considerations
  2. Approval from Balboa Park / City of San Diego Parks & Recreation to donate trees and labor to Balboa Park for beautification of Plaza de Panama
  3. Funding for purchases and volunteers for planting from community. Total cost is estimated at $5,000.  I selected 36 inch box trees, which would likely be the largest planting size advisable.  Flame trees would be $500 each and Tipu trees run $425 each at that size.  This estimate includes some money for mulch, soil, and nutrients but does not include labor which is hoped to be provided by volunteers.  If labor is hired the cost would likely rise to around $10,000.
  4. Select date for delivery of trees and planting.
  5. Install trees, water, enjoy shade which will increase with each year to come

Thoughts on this idea? Let me know in the comments or via email.  Cheers!

San Diego County Spends $36M To Give Employees Free Parking

The San Diego County Board of Supervisors recently cut the ribbon to officially open a new $36,000,000 parking garage at Cedar and Kettner in Little Italy.  The garage has 640 spaces, built at a cost of $56,250 per space.  The garage will primarily be used for free parking for county employees and will also be available for paid public parking use on nights and weekends.

Here’s a laudatory video from the ribbon-cutting:

Supervisor Diane Jacobs noted “this truly is the best looking parking garage in the entire region and the most needed parking garage”.  The “stalls are a little wider than you’ll find in most commercial parking structures”.

The Little Italy neighborhood is home to many of San Diego’s most highly regarded restaurants including Bracero, Buon Appetito, Monello, Ironside, Davanti Enoteca, Juniper and Ivy, and many others.  Most of the restaurants have little, or zero, private parking provided.  The area has also seen tremendous growth in the number of residential units in recent years.  The result has been a thriving neighborhood that is among the most vibrant places in the entire county.  A large part of the enjoyment of Little Italy stems from the many people and attractive buildings present – I doubt India Street would be improved by the addition of a massive parking garage.  In recent years the need for parking of unused vehicles has been further reduced due to the explosive growth of taxi-hailing apps like Lyft and Uber.

The new county parking garage is the second portion of the “Waterfront Park project” that created a 12-acre park across Harbor Drive from San Diego Bay, replacing 8 acres of surface level parking lots adjacent the County Administration Building.  That project cost $49.4 million dollars after an initial project cost estimate of $44.2M with $19.7M for building the park, $18.5M for building underground parking, and $6M for design and administration costs.

In total, between the two projects $54.5M was spent on moving parking spaces and $18.5M was spent on the actual park that people enjoy.  This is excluding the $5.2M of difference from the original estimate to the actual construction costs and the $6M of design and administration costs.  Those cost breakdowns yield a result of 75% of funds used to move spots for empty cars and 25% of funds used to build a park.  For purposes of this article let’s assume the admin and cost over-run figures split on the same lines.  The vast majority of the funds used for these joint projects was for moving parking spaces, not for building a park.

locations
This is how far the parking spots moved, for more than $50 million.
before pic
Here is the before photo – this is how San Diego uses prime bayfront real estate. Shake your head.

This project was sold as a project to build a great park – it would seem fitting if most of the funds were actually used to build a great park.  Instead we spent 75% of the funds to relocate parking spaces, not creating new spaces but moving existing parking spaces.  251 spaces moved approximately 15 feet, they were undergrounded in the same location as the previous surface level lots.

To boot, the county demolished an historic building in Little Italy to make room for the large new parking garage.  The Star Builders Supply Company building was built in 1911 and added to the county list of historic buildings in 1991.  County supervisors unanimously voted to demolish the building.  It’s now gone but you can enjoy the below video of the beautiful piece of San Diego history that has now been erased like so many others.

From the total 891 parking spots that were moved, 71.8% were moved about 1-2 blocks east from their previous location.  28.2% were moved about 15 feet underground.  To accomplish this feat, county taxpayers spent $54.5 million dollars.  As enjoyable as the the new park is and a huge improvement to the ugly surface parking lots perhaps it would have been better to save that money or spend it on a better use.  To move so many parked cars such a small distance seems a pyrrhic victory.  A small consolation might be that the total number of parking spots went from 1,200 in the surface lots to 891 in the new underground and multi-level parking garages, a net reduction of 25.75%.  We could have spent even more money if we moved all of them!  A legitimate question would be if the previous 1,200 spots or the new 891 spots are actually needed or not. But as so often happens when it comes to accommodating automobiles, too much is never enough and no cost is too high.  More lanes on I-5 for $6 billion? Of course!  More parking lots in Balboa Park? Of course!  Analysis of the actual demand and cost comes far behind the populist appeal of free goodies for motor vehicles.  The environmental impacts of our car culture is even further down the priority list than our dollars.

Enjoy the Waterfront Park (aka Parking Lot Relocation Park); it’s a great place.  Building beautiful things is something a great city does.  I’m proud that San Diego built it.  In total, though, this project was a massive use of taxpayer dollars to move parking spots a small distance – not to build a great public park.  They are distinct items and taxpayers did not need to spend tens of millions to provide a tax-free employment perk that most employees, government-employed or not, do not enjoy.  We also did not need to use prime real estate to do so.  Taxpayers must demand better stewardship of public funds and assets.

2015-09-22 14.52.07 2015-09-22 14.52.40

Many thanks to Streetsblog, San Diego Free Press, Bike San Diego, and Voice of San Diego Morning Report for sharing this article!

Letter to Editor – Short-Term Rentals

Below is a letter to the editor I wrote to the San Diego Union-Tribune that was published on October 14, 2015.  The short-term rental debate continues in San Diego and the 125 word limit forces one to choose a specific point to make.  The one I address below is that short-term rentals are bringing many millions of dollars into San Diego and those monies are broadly distributed to property owners across the city (and to businesses across the city as well).  I do not doubt that there are some issues caused by short-term rental tenants, as there are issues caused by tenants of all sorts – long-term renters, short-term renters, property owners, vagrants, etc.

We should not lose sight of the enormous economic opportunity that short-term rentals present for San Diego, and San Diegans, while discussing how to address problems created and other factors.


 

Short-Term Rentals Present Opportunity for San Diegans

Regarding “Short-term rentals pay $16.4M in taxes” (Oct. 8): The expanding tourism sector of short-term rental properties creates more than a quarter of a billion dollars of economic impact in the City of San Diego – $285 million – per a study released last week by the National University System Institute for Policy Research.  The study’s author, Erik Bruvold also notes this is a conservative estimate and that additional growth is expected in future.  This large, positive economic impact in a city well-known for tourism should not be banned, as some are calling for, in response to complaints of noise, trash, and other negative impacts.  Millions of dollars for San Diegans is a good thing, and provides funds for code enforcement and public benefits like parks.

John Anderson

North Park

Rip Current Brewing is one of the many local businesses my guests frequent. Congrats to Rip Current on recent award of "Best Very Small Brewery"!
Rip Current Brewing is one of the many local businesses my guests frequent. Congrats to Rip Current on recent award of “Best Very Small Brewery”! at the Great American Beer Festival!

North Park – San Diego’s Weak Excuse for a Bike Friendly Place

North Park is an urban neighborhood in San Diego.  It is often cited as the “hipster” area of town and is generally known for being one of the more walkable areas in San Diego.  North Park is home to the only 2 parklets in San Diego, the majority of the bike corrals in the city, and it is not uncommon to see people biking on the streets.

If there is anywhere in San Diego you would expect to find good bicycle infrastructure North Park would be high on the list, perhaps along with East Village, Downtown, Little Italy, or a beach community like Ocean Beach or Pacific Beach.  The reality on the ground is far from good.  The reality is a near absolute lack of any bicycle infrastructure.

Here’s a complete map of all the bike lanes in North Park, highlighted in red.  The gray, white, orange, and red lines indicate all roadways.  There are a total of 2 streets in North Park that have painted bike lanes.  One of them is a portion of El Cajon Boulevard, with cars regularly exceeding 40 and 50 MPH. There are no protective measures for biking anywhere in North Park.  There is no system or grid to bicycle – if you ride on a roadway with a lane you will be forced to connect to another roadway without any dedicated space for biking whatsoever.

north park bike lane mapSan Diego, and particularly North Park, has very wide streets.  There is plenty of room on many of the streets to add bike lanes with the minimal cost and effort of applying paint.  Paint is not protection, but it is much better than no dedicated space at all.  When conflict occurs due to lack of separated space, as on Adams Avenue recently, drivers can literally run over those biking without likelihood of prosecution.

If a place like North Park that is promoted as being a good place to bike or walk has so little accommodation for bikes what does that mean for other areas that are more explicitly car-first?  If our Climate Action Plan rightly targets transportation as a focus area to create a better future, how do we increase biking by a factor of 18 as the plan seeks without facilities to support that growth?  We will not get there without meaningful change on the ground.

A couple of bike lanes in a neighborhood of 50,000 people in the core of our city is not good enough.  It’s barely even laughable as an attempt at being bike and environmentally friendly.  It underlies how unserious we are about moving away from the private automobile as the overwhelming primary transport option.  It is no surprise that so few people bike in San Diego when the reality on the ground is unless you are confident and strong enough to bike with zero accommodation on wide, high speed streets you are out of luck.

Parents, myself included, fret about biking with their children or letting their kids bike to school.  Would you put your child on a bike on University Avenue (where SANDAG just scrapped a plan to add a bike plan) or El Cajon Boulevard?  Or even smaller streets like 32nd Street or Arnold Avenue?  On a recent speed survey on Arnold “City Engineers determined 85% of the traffic was indeed exceeding our 25 mph speed limit by at least 10 mph – one vehicle was going 71 mph – and that test wasn’t even on a Friday or a weekend!”  Quoted portion from North Park Nextdoor website.

Perhaps the good news is we can only improve from our current status.  That is little comfort for those working and fighting to create a safer, healthier future for our neighborhoods and city.  Real support for real improvement is needed from our elected officials and transportation authorities.  Foremost we need leadership from SANDAG to pursue a responsible future path on both transportation and land use – not plans that ignore climate change, encourage sprawl, and commit billions and billions to more highways and scraps for biking, walking, and transport.  Even the scraps committed to healthier transport are back-loaded and likely to be walked back when push comes to shove.

North Park – I dig you.  But bicycle friendly you are not.

2015-04-30 17.23.37
Granada Avenue – 54 feet wide but not an inch for bicycles or crosswalks. Good luck to those that don’t want to drive.

SANDAG Bicycle Corridors – Finished Before They Even Started

Two and a half years ago SANDAG announced $200 million for bike projects to create a regional network.  The first of these projects is a $40 million project in Uptown.  It would create a critical connection both East to West and North to South in the heart of San Diego’s most densely populated neighborhoods.

University Avenue at Park Blvd. Clearly our streets are too small for bike lanes.
University Avenue at Park Blvd. Clearly our streets are too small for bike lanes. And how would bikes fit with so many cars?

Since the original announcement SANDAG has repeatedly trumpeted these funds as a sign of commitment to healthy transport in the form of bicycles.  During the time since Uptown was selected for the first SANDAG bicycle project what has changed in the area?    Population, businesses, traffic, and roadways all remain the same.  There remain only two real options for an East to West connection – University and Washington.

What has changed in that period is the will of SANDAG and the Transportation Committee to support and implement real bicycle infrastructure.  SANDAG is now taking unilateral action, walking back any commitment to bicycles for this corridor and setting a poor precedent for the future.  Worse yet is the toxic effect this will have on the many, many San Diegans that spent thousands of hours attending the public forums to give input and show support for this improvement in Uptown only to be trumped by back-room dealings hidden from the public eye that gutted the project in recent months.

We need safe streets today.  There are too many deaths, too many injuries, and too little justice (or even simple apologies) to those left dead or injured.

We are a real, vibrant, beautiful city – not a collection of suburbs.  We need to behave as such.

SANDAG is doubling down on the failed policies of 50 years of planning and building roadways in our region.  More and wider roads, more cars, more congestion.  Less open space, weaker communities, a weaker economy for both households and government, and more deaths and negative health impacts.  This is the most recent example of a car first-last-and-only approach to transportation.

San Diego has many natural advantages that blunt the effects of these poor policies.  These will not last forever.  Cities such as Vancouver, Seattle, Chicago, New York, Paris, London, Stockholm, and many others showcase the real, tangible benefits derived from creating a livable and safe streetscape and city.

We need a firm, meaningful commitment to healthy, safe, and responsible transport.  Cars and bicycles are not equivalent transport.  Bicycles are better for safety, health, wealth, and should be put at a higher priority than cars.  Chicago Department of Transportation does exactly this by using the following order of priority for transportation:

  1. Pedestrians
  2. Public Transportation
  3. Bicycles
  4. Private Automobiles
ped - chi
Chicago gets it right.

San Diego and SANDAG should take a page from this leading example and do the same, backed up by the allocation of funding and policies.  The opposite is the reality.

The lion’s share of all money goes to cars and roadways for cars while all other modes are made to beg for scraps or sue to compel what should be the course being set by our own leaders.  We need to create a true network for bikes, starting with University Avenue.  It will be a major step forward to improve our city and the individual well-being of our citizens.

If SANDAG is unable to implement the Uptown bicycle corridor with real, safe bicycle infrastructure throughout this $40 million should be moved to a different neighborhood where such a project can be realized.  If you can’t walk the walk, stop talking the talk.  Greenwashing is not a substitute for responsible, forward-thinking action.

More than two and a half years have passed since $200 million was promised for bike projects by SANDAG.  77 miles of bikeways in 42 projects was promised to be finished within ten years.    Where do we stand today?  Without a single foot of paint striped and the first project gutted and providing a maximum of three blocks of protected bike lanes.  A poor omen for the future projects, unless the desire to see a bicycle network was not genuine in the first place.  Hopefully the remaining projects will see real, on-the-ground results in quick order.  I would not hold my breath.

Home-Swapping – Now Banned in Carlsbad, San Diego Next?

Effective today, June 4, the City of Carlsbad has new regulations on vacation rentals / short-term rentals in the city.  They have a helpful FAQ sheet explaining where such activity is and isn’t allowed.  Essentially, the city has banned renting any portion of a home, or an entire home, for fewer than 30 days, unless it’s in the “coastal zone” – roughly west of Interstate 5.  This means if you have a second property, or a spare bedroom, you can not rent it for less than 30 days whether once a year, once a month, or every day of the year.  Per my conversation with the City of Carlsbad, it also prohibits home-swapping or a home exchange.

What is home-swapping?  It is trading time in one property for time in another.  A popular platform for enabling this type of trading is HomeExchange.  For many, it is an opportunity to travel and greatly reduce total travel costs by securing free lodging.  I haven’t used home-swapping before but it seems like a great idea.  A couple approaching retirement on my block recently used HomeExchange so I spoke with them to get more details.  (Names withheld to protect privacy.)

homeexchange example
A sample HomeExchange property in Indonesia

To use HomeExchange costs my neighbors $100 annually, which gives one access to the site and contact information for others on the site.  The details for a swap occur between the individual parties, not via the site.  My neighbor noted that some people include money as part of agreements to swap but they have not in their two uses in the past year.  Their first experience was to Brooklyn, New York, and their most recent trip to Florence, Italy.

My neighbor noted that when he originally read about HomeExchange his wife was adamantly opposed but after looking at overall finances and their joint desire to travel they thought it worth a try – this option would close the financial gap and allow for travel now, and during their retirement years soon approaching.

So far the experience has been a very good one for them and they plan to continue using this option in future.  However, the San Diego City Council may have other plans.  The city is currently researching new regulations on short-term rentals which may include a ban on uses like home-swapping as our neighbors to the north in Carlsbad have enacted.  This platform that allows homeowners to utilize their otherwise empty homes and enable world-wide travel for owners would be gone.

For more recent home purchasers in San Diego the financial incentives to supplement vacation funds is compelling.  The median single-family home price in San Diego currently stands at over half a million dollars – $520,000.  As opposed to long-time home owners with lower property taxes (and lower mortgage balances), new buyers are shelling out near-record prices for their homes.  The upside is that living in San Diego means that there is a lot of demand  for property here and home owners have an opportunity to utilize that by home-swapping to visit family or explore a new country.  Of course, banning home-swapping would be a double whammy – high purchase prices and limited ability to utilize homes.

The debate about short-term rentals and Airbnb continues in San Diego and new regulations of some sort are on the way.  Hopefully, these regulations won’t throw new opportunities in the trash can in the effort to address resident concerns.  We are at the start of many new opportunities like Airbnb and home-swapping which are beginning to become mainstream and many others that are yet to come.  Problems need to be addressed, but the opportunities presented also need to be preserved when possible.

[The Carlsbad prohibition of home-swapping also raises questions about the general ability of homeowners to have guests of any sort.  If no payment is being made but home-swapping is not allowed, are non-paying friends or family also prohibited?  It almost seems as if any overnight guest is technically barred from staying, though I don’t believe this was the intent of the new law.]

Why I Donate Monthly to BikeSD

I am writing to you today to ask you to join me in the fight to make San Diego a world-class bicycling city by pledging to make a monthly donation BikeSD.  Give today.

anderson family photo - bay
My family and I at San Diego Bay

BikeSD is a bicycle advocacy organization with the vision to “transform San Diego into the world’s best city for bicycling”.  Although a young organization in its third year of existence this vision has already been pushed from complete fantasy to “probably not going to happen”.  Every day this push continues and the vision comes closer to reality.  This ongoing progress is due to the efforts of the organization and the many, many members, volunteers, friends, and supporters working together each day.

I first became familiar with BikeSD a few years ago when I began regularly attending meetings relating to SANDAG bike corridor projects.  I quickly became reliant on the BikeSD TwitterFacebook, and website for news of meetings I could not attend.  The sources, especially Twitter, were pretty much the only place to get a true picture of what was going on and being said for those not present.  At the meetings I was present for it was very clear to me who the voices in the room that I supported most belonged to – those of BikeSD volunteers and members.  This is the biggest reason I contribute monthly to BikeSD, to ensure my opinion has a voice at those meetings I can’t attend personally, and to increase the reach of the voice of the organization.  If you look around the city today and compare to five years ago the difference in the policies, infrastructure, and discussion around bicycling is starkly different.  The major change in that time period?  The arrival of BikeSD as a powerful force for the interest of bicycle riders of all experience and ability.

Until this year, BikeSD was solely a volunteer organization.  All the time and efforts put forth were done by people that care about San Diego and were willing to devote significant time to make this a better, safer place to live.  This year the organization is increasing the capacity to create positive change and that requires dollars.  Recently the first part-time hire for BikeSD was made – Kyle Carscaden receives a small monthly payment and is working to partner with businesses to provide secure, attractive bicycle parking for customers and employees.  Samantha Ollinger, Executive Director, is now receiving a small monthly stipend for her time.  We need to increase the ability to support these people, hire additional resources, and pay for physical materials and campaigns.  You can help and ensure that the ability of BikeSD to make San Diego great is amplified and safer streets become a reality.

BikeSD is doing great work in San Diego and though many have helped and supported the organization, that has largely been due to the efforts and sacrifices of one person – Samantha Ollinger.  Any city in the country would be lucky to have such a capable individual leading the push for safer streets and a healthier, happier city.  The impact that Sam has had on the city is hard to overstate and shows how important it is to support her voice, and add more voices, with enhanced resources for advocacy.  We need to support Sam and enable her to continue working full-time on these important issues.  Her leadership and rational, uncompromising approach to building a better city has pushed the entire conversation in San Diego in a meaningful way.  We need more of this, and more voices joining her.

I hope you’ll join me and support BikeSD Outreach* on a monthly basis.  Whether $5 or $500, you will help to make San Diego a better place to live for all.  Thank you.

[This post originally appeared on the BikeSD blog.]

bikeSD logo

* Contributions are tax deductible to the fullest extent permitted by law

A Ban on Short-Term Rentals Is Terrible for Homeowners, And Our City

Do you own a home in San Diego? The homeownership rate for the county is around 55% so there’s a good chance you do.  The proliferation of companies in recent years tailored to improve housing efficiency and financial opportunities for home owners has led to many ways in which property can be utilized that did not previously exist.  It is changing the entire idea of what homeownership means for many.  Instead of a 30-year liability that eats up 30 – 60% of take home pay, owners are increasingly able to reduce this liability and/or have more options and flexibility in their lives.

For some, these opportunities are to rent a spare bedroom in the home they occupy to earn money.  For others, it is the opportunity to rent their home while they are on vacation – in some cases paying for the entire trip while using what would be an empty house.  Instead of renting out their home while away, some use home-swapping to explore a new part of the world.  An older couple on my block uses home-swapping about once a year – last year for a month visit to family on the East Coast and this year for a month-long visit to Italy.  These are all great options for people that elect to utilize them, and that largely benefit individual homeowners.

All of these examples do not reduce housing stock for local residents.  They also are part of systems in which homeowners have a very significant stake in making sure guests are polite, quiet, and considerate.  No one wants their home trashed or to hurt the neighborhoods they live in.  I recognize that there are outliers in which homes have been destroyed by short-term tenants.  It’s worth noting that Airbnb alone books more than 100,000 rooms per night – the horror stories that make the news comprise a very small percentage, likely less then .01% of bookings.  In the rare instances in which such issues do occur, I have yet to see an example in which Airbnb does not fully remedy the situation for the homeowner.

Platforms like Airbnb, VRBO, HomeExchange, and others are becoming more mainstream but we are still in the very early days of these tools.  The Wall Street Journal this week highlighted how large extended families are utilizing short-term rentals to connect with far-flung relatives.  The article noted that “nearly 1 in 4 travelers has switched in the past two years to vacation-rental homes from hotels or condos”.  This growth is significant and increasing.  It represents an incredible opportunity for local economies, in particular home owners and local businesses.  Visitors now have the opportunity to stay in real, dynamic, attractive neighborhoods.

2015-05-13 17.29.03
My most recent guest enjoyed playing with my kids and even gave them books she had illustrated.

Here in San Diego locals can host visitors from all over the world to experience North Park, Little Italy, Ocean Beach, and other fantastic neighborhoods.  It gives a far superior experience for many than staying in Hotel Circle or Downtown.  The ripple effects from this for the reputation and long-term prospects for San Diego are enormous.  We used to be known for beaches, Tijuana, SeaWorld, and the Zoo.  Look at us now – world-wide recognition for the beer industry, industry leading research in science and telecommunications, and thriving neighborhoods with great restaurants and cafes opening daily.  The latter is what our guests can now experience in a realistic way and the reason so many people want to move here.  It shouts: “We’re a real city!”  Beaches and a laid-back attitude will (hopefully) always be part of the San Diego identity.  But we’re not a tourist attraction cultural backwater.  We’re a fully fledged modern American city with the full range of amenities that entails and full of passionate, intelligent, fit residents working to better our region and world – and have a great time doing it.

We can build on this momentum and put San Diego on the top of everyone’s list for places to live or visit.  It will be difficult if our approach is to bar visitors from having an authentic experience of our best neighborhoods.  That’s a good enough reason for me to think a ban on short-term rentals is a terrible idea.

On top of handicapping our ability to attract great people and showcase all the good things happening here we would also be directly harming every property owner in San Diego.  Economic winds change, personal illnesses occur, and people get older with big, empty houses.  The ability to benefit San Diegans all across the city by utilizing unused space in their own homes is an absolute win for everyone.  It can mean the difference between a foreclosure and staying in your home.  It can mean social connections for empty nesters on a fixed income.  It can mean new friendships established and a chance for proud residents to personally show guests what a great city we have.

The types of opportunities are as large as they are varied but are not assured to remain.  Carlsbad just passed a law to ban any sort of short-term rentals in much of the city.  That is a severe reduction in property rights of homeowners.  If you have four bedrooms and three are empty you are explicitly barred from hosting a guest for fewer than 30 days.  Yes, you can get a long-term roommate who will then enjoy tenant rights.  I’d guess that many that might be willing to host a couple for a weekend likely aren’t looking for a long-term housemate.  This rule also prevents homeowners for utilizing their home while on vacation, explicitly preferring to see properties sit empty rather than be used.  An empty house is an inefficient use of space, a reduction of dollars in the local economy, and can be a safety issue as empty homes are sometimes targeted for theft.  Santa Monica recently passed rules that also eliminate the ability of homeowners to rent their home while away.  Good-bye home-swapping or a paid-for vacation for property owners in that town.

Will San Diego follow the lead of Santa Monica and Carlsbad and take away from our economy and the pockets of individual home owners?  I hope not, and hope that if these sort of rules are passed here the elected officials responsible will be held accountable.  We are talking about reducing the utility and freedom that residents enjoy in their own abode.  The largest asset and most private place that we enjoy would be negatively impacted.  This is not a trivial matter, and certainly not one in which drastic action should be taken across the entire city hastily.

If you support short-term rentals in San Diego please share your voice here.  This support will be presented to the City Council.

A Request for Airbnb Visitors to San Diego

The City of San Diego is currently considering new regulations on short-term vacation rentals like Airbnb.  These regulations could potentially ban this type of property use for the entire city.  Currently the city is pursuing a case against a retired school teacher for renting out rooms  in her home via Airbnb with potential fines of up to $250,000.  There are also groups organized to push for restrictions and a ban on short-term rentals.  Nearby cities like Carlsbad and Santa Monica have recently passed very restrictive rules regarding short-term rentals and there is a real possibility San Diego could be next.

If you have enjoyed visiting San Diego using Airbnb, VRBO, or other short-term accommodation please take a moment to share your story.  I am part of a group of San Diegans that are working to preserve this opportunity for visitors and residents alike, to benefit our city socially, culturally, and economically.  If you have friends or family that have visited San Diego using a short-term rental please pass along this request to them.

Please share your voice at: http://www.strasd.org/share-your-voice

We will present all of the support for short-term rentals to the City Council in our efforts to ensure this property use remains a possibility for homeowners in San Diego.  Thank you!

A sample Airbnb property in Pacific Beach.
A sample Airbnb property in Pacific Beach