Own Property in San Diego? Get a Free Street Tree!

 

The current drought in California (or possibly a reversion to the long-term mean of precipitation in the state) has lots of people removing grass, planting native or other low-water plants, and rethinking what a yard should look like.  Adding a tree to your yard can provide shade, lower overall water use, and provide food and shelter for birds, insects, and other animals.  The City of San Diego even has a program that provides free street trees in the public right of way (the first 10 feet from the curb) on your property.   Below is a re-post of my experience with this program and how you can get a free tree(s) too.  Green your neighborhood, save water, and improve our region.

A recent pathway planting of sages, milkweed, fuschia, and verbena.
A recent pathway planting of sages, milkweed, fuschia, and verbena.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Back in April 2013 I wrote about a program ran by the Urban Corps of San Diego that plants free trees in front yards for property owners in San Diego.  At the time I was living in an apartment and unable to partake of the green goodness but have since moved into a house – I can vote now! – and one of the first things I did upon moving in was contact the Urban Corps to get as many free trees as possible.

My yard already had a number of trees, all palms unfortunately, so although I applied for “as many as possible” on the application form I was only able to get one tree planted in my yard.  Yes, that is actually an option on the application form.  I applied for my tree on May 8th and it was planted, complete with support posts, on July 19th.  The Urban Corps team evaluated my yard, marked the appropriate spot for the tree, called to check for utilities, then brought the tree (approximately 7.5 feet tall), dug the hole, and planted it.  My cost: zero.  Work required on my part: none.  My responsibility: to water the tree occasionally.  Sounds like a good deal to me.

The tree added to my yard is a Hong Kong Orchid (Bauhinia purpurea).  Per the City of San Diego Street Tree Selection Guide this is a small canopy form tree that grows to a 15′ – 25′ spread.  It is deciduous and flowering as well.  They are relatively common along streets in San Diego and memorable for the large purple blooms they produce.  Although I would have preferred to have a native, drought-tolerant plant any tree is better than no tree.  If I had it over again I would make sure to note my preference for native trees on my application form when submitting since I didn’t have any contact with Urban Corps after submitting my application until the tree was in the ground.

Currently the Urban Forestry program of the Urban Corps is only open to City of San Diego residents so readers in La Mesa are out of luck for the time being.  But for anyone owning a property from Barrio Logan to Rancho Bernardo or Pacific Beach you most likely qualify.  The application is very simple and takes less than 2 minutes to complete.

Many thanks to the City of San Diego for sponsoring this wonderful program and to Urban Corps of San Diego for the effort and execution.  Two months after planting my tree is doing great and I’m looking forward to enjoying the shade and beauty for many, many years to come.  I invite other San Diegans to take advantage of this program and help to make our city better and healthier one tree at a time.  All it takes is two minutes of your time.

Link to application: http://www.urbancorpssd.org/FreeTree.pdf

Urban Corps on the scene!
Urban Corps on the scene!
Preparing the planting hole
Preparing the planting hole
A job well done!
A job well done!

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.

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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

Monthly Financial Summary – Spreadsheet Tool

For a number of years I’ve put together a monthly summary of my financial accounts, just to take a few minutes each month to see where things stand.  Are things going in the right direction? If not, what is the reason?  It is a big help to take a look at the big picture of where things stand financially.

After getting married my wife and I have continued to use a simple summary spreadsheet and sit down each month to take a look and discuss.  It’s a great way to make sure we’re on the same page and aware of where our money is going.  I wanted to share my spreadsheet in case it’s of use to others.  It’s basically just a simple list of all the accounts we have – credit cards, investments, bank accounts, student loans, mortgage, etc.  We add a column each month for the current balances and I added a couple of formulas to show the change for each account month-to-month and for the year in total.

It’s a simple tool, but simply having a good idea of all the accounts you have and how they change is something I find few people do.  If you’re married or sharing accounts with another person, it’s also a really good opportunity to discuss goals and issues that otherwise might go unspoken.  You can also use Mint for more detail on your transactions and for creating budgets or tracking trends.  It’s really good and really easy to use.  Mint is also a big help in putting together the monthly summary since it has your current account balance all together in one place.

If you’re interested in learning more about money and saving I highly recommend the Mr. Money Mustache website and reading the book Early Retirement Extreme.  They are great and somewhat unconventional resources for having a full life and full wallet.

Download file here (Excel): Monthly Financial Summary – Template

Share Your Support for Airbnb and Short-Term Rentals in San Diego

If you value the existence of short-term rentals in San Diego and platforms like HomeAway, VRBO, and Airbnb please share your thoughts to ensure they remain available here.  The San Diego City Council is currently considering new rules and regulations for this type of property use which includes a potential ban, strasd-logo-w375among other possibilities.  The Short-Term Rental Alliance of San Diego (STRASD) is a grass-roots group of San Diegans that has organized to give a voice to responsible hosts here and the benefits that short-term rentals provide to the city.

The City Council Smart Growth and Land Use Committee held a hearing on April 22nd attended by hundreds of San Diegans on this issue and will have another hearing on May 29th.  For many, it is not possible or difficult to attend in person and voice an opinion.  STRASD has created an online submission option you can use to add your thoughts and why you support short-term rentals here.  Whether you are a property owner, a visitor to San Diego, a local business, or anyone else that supports platforms like Airbnb your voice is important and needs to be heard!  STRASD will compile the submissions and present them to the City Council.  Please take two minutes (or more) and add your perspective.  It really makes a difference.

You can make your submission via the “Share Your Voice” link at the top right of the STRASD website, or via this direct link.  Thank you for speaking up.

The following is my submission, as an example.  Yours can be shorter or longer – the important thing is that you make a submission.  If you’re not familiar with this issue or would like to discuss I’d be happy to talk with you, just drop me an email or phone call.


I am an Airbnb host in North Park and love the platform and the opportunities our family has due to it. We bought our home two years ago, and the presence of a second legal and permitted unit on the property was the primary consideration outside of neighborhood for us. We exclusively use Airbnb when we travel and wanted the opportunity to be a host in San Diego. We are a one-income family and planned on the income from the second property to allow us to spend quality time with our young children. A ban on renting our property on a short-term basis would be a major issue for us and may cause us to sell our home and potentially leave the region as well.

It’s not all about the money though. For us and for many hosts there are many factors at play in being hosts on Airbnb. We are able to accommodate friends and family in town (no return on investment) due to the flexibility provided. We are able to help move San Diego away from solely being a car-focused place by encouraging bike use (provided), bus, etc. Many guests do not bring a car, they walk around the neighborhood and improve the conditions around parking and traffic for all. We can show off our great neighborhood of North Park and the many businesses located here. I give all of our guests great San Diego beer to help promote one of our most recognized industries. We’re also able to host parents of friends that otherwise would be miles away instead of a short walk.

During the time we’ve owned this property we’ve made many improvements to the cottage we rent out, hiring local electricians, plumbers, construction workers, and other service providers. We also pay a neighbor to clean the cottage at an hourly rate that is more than double the existing minimum wage. The positive economic impact for San Diego provided by platforms like Airbnb and VRBO is significant and on top of indirect effects like restaurant purchases and zoo tickets the dollars paid for the lodging itself benefit our local community by staying with owners that live and spend here, not hotels that take the money out of our city.

Please keep ordinary San Diegans like us that are good hosts and care about and are involved in our community in mind when contemplating any regulations or rules on short-term rentals. This is a great opportunity for many people in the city that should not be eliminated due to a very few problem locations. Thank you.

Stop Package Theft – Simple Steps You Can Take To Avoid Losses

With the rise of Amazon, Etsy, and other Internet businesses there has been a marked increase for many in the amount of package deliveries.  The convenience of home delivery and the vast array of products online, many at discount prices, has been a boon for customers around the world.  Unfortunately, these deliveries have also presented a new easy target for theft in many places.  That has been the case in my neighborhood, so I wanted to share some tools I use to reduce the risk of theft.

This man wants to steal your packaged trinkets. Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/saxonmoseley/288741595/
This man wants to steal your packaged trinkets. Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/saxonmoseley/288741595/

 

Sign up for package delivery alerts

  • FedEx – Create and account, “My Profile”, via the link at the top right for a multitude of options regarding your packages.  Use the “Delivery Manager” to set specific actions for when a package arrives so you don’t miss it.  My method is to receive a text message when the package is delivered – it usually arrives within a minute of the package delivery.  You can also do other things like set a Vacation Hold to avoid packages sitting on the porch while you’re gone.
  • UPS – Create an account via link at top “New User” for options similar to those available on FedEx, though I find the FedEx site more polished and with more options.  Use “Delivery Alerts” to set specific actions for package deliveries.  As with FedEx, I use text alerts when a package arrives.  If you prefer to know in advance, you can get email or text alerts the day of or day before a package arrives.
  • USPS – USPS does not currently have the same breadth of tools as UPS and FedEx, but you can still create an account with some useful tools.  Use the “Register / Sign In” link at the top right to start.  I primarily use USPS to hold mail delivery while we’re out of town.  Hopefully they’ll add package delivery options in the near future.
  • OnTrac In San Diego, OnTrac completes a fair amount of deliveries for Amazon though it seems recently that USPS is doing more of that work.  Their website options are very limited, and from conversations with company representatives they do not have similar tools to those for other delivery providers.

Know your neighbors

  • No one knows your habits and schedule like your neighbors.  Creepy, right?  Exchange your contact information with your neighbors and be a nice person and they’ll probably be happy to pick up a package that’s sitting on your porch if you’d like.  If you have the delivery notifications mentioned above set up, you can even call them when there’s a package at your place.  Your neighbor probably doesn’t have a formal registration system, but cookies are usually a good starting point.

Install a security camera

  • I installed a security camera above our front door to record anyone coming to our home or passing by.  It’s also visible from the street so hopefully acts as a deterrent to those considering approaching with ill intent.  I opted for the Dropcam Pro due to ease of installation, price point, and low monthly fee structure (which is optional).  It cost me $149 plus $10 per month for 7-day online recording, so I can review the tape and save clips if anything happens.  The price per month per camera decreases quite a bit if you add additional cameras.
Our front door camera and grumpy old man sign.
Our front door camera and grumpy old man sign.

 

Report thefts that do occur

  • If you do have a package taken, or other items stolen make sure to report it to the police.  Chances are that you won’t get your item back, but the theft will be entered in the official system and may result in increased patrols or better data for the police to address area issues.  If they don’t know, they can’t help.

Have you had packages stolen from your property?  Have other tips to avoid this problem?  Share them, I’d love to hear.  Cheers!

Common Ground on Airbnb in San Diego

The debate about short-term rentals, including sites like Airbnb, Flipkey, VRBO, and Craigslist continues in San Diego.  The San Diego City Council Smart Growth & Land Use Committee held a public hearing on April 22nd that was attended by hundreds and will be continued in a hearing to be held on May 29th.  To date, four council members have issued memos on the issue (click links for full memos):

San Diegans waiting to attend the April 22nd hearing
San Diegans waiting to attend the April 22nd hearing

While there are a broad number of issues that have been raised, there are also some very major points that nearly everyone agrees on.  These basic points should be the baseline for any proposed rules or regulations.  They include:

  • Everyone should pay the hotel taxes due
    • Anyone renting out a property or a part of a property is responsible for timely and full payment of the San Diego hotel taxes – for most, that is a transient occupancy tax of 10.5% and a tourism marketing district assessment of .55%. (For more details on the taxes click here.) These taxes are not being debated although the City Treasurer could do more to improve the payment system including acceptance of credit card payments, a payment profile system to save account information and history, and acceptance of zero due filings.  Additional staff for the Treasurer’s office to collect back taxes would likely pay for itself many times over in addressing current non-compliant properties.
  • Owner-occupied properties should be allowed to host guests
    • The horror stories of late-night parties, loud noise, and heaps of trash no doubt reflect reality in some instances.  These types of issues are far more likely to occur in a non-owner occupied property.  I have heard very few people that want to prevent a widower from renting a room in their house, or a young couple trying to pay bills renting a spare bedroom.  Home owners should not be curtailed in their ability to rent space on their own property.  There do not seem to be many San Diegans that would agree with the City Attorney prosecuting a retiree in Burlingame for renting rooms in her own home. (Other than perhaps her private investigator neighbors.)
  • Enforcement of existing nuisance laws and fines for bad actors
    • Late-night noise, property damage, trespassing, and other issues have existing laws on the books.  These should be enforced and property owners held responsible for the behavior taking place on their property.  Additionally, most parties support fines for bad actors on an escalating scale.

Hopefully the city council will take these common ground, and common sense, items as a starting point for any proposals put forward.  Other issues remain and will likely be contentious but with very strong support across the board for the above items there is no need to muddy the conversation with issues that are not being debated.

Airbnb in San Diego – Good Riddance to a Great Thing?

Last Wednesday morning, April 22, the City of San Diego Smart Growth and Land Use Committee held a public comment hearing on the topic of short-term rentals in San Diego in advance of creating a proposal clarifying the status of this sort of property use and potentially creating additional rules and regulations.

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After the hearing room was full, many more waited in the lobby.

The meeting was attended by hundreds of San Diegans and testimony was heard in 30 minute chunks with those opposing restrictions on this property use alternating with those supporting restrictions.  Many, myself included, were unable to speak during the 4 hour meeting.  A continuance of the meeting will be held on May 29th for those that were unable to speak.

San Diego’s primary issue is it is a very desirable place to live and visit.  It’s a good problem to have.  Today there are more vacation rental properties than ever, the hotel industry just came off a record-breaking year, rents are high and rising, as are property prices.  There is more demand for every type of property than supply can keep up with.  Further impacting the supply is a strong sentiment across most of the city against increased density and/or building heights.

The city is approaching this issue in the wrong way.  A small number of San Diegans have had issues with short-term rentals – mostly complaints of noise, trash, or impacts on street parking.  For those not familiar with common San Diegan complaints, the lack of pavement on which to park private vehicles at public expense is nearly always the top of the list.  Joni Mitchell is probably crying.  More likely, she’s darkly laughing.

The complaints raised have existing rules and penalties that can be applied.  If enforcement of those rules is the issue then the solution is to improve enforcement by increased staffing and resources.  The solution should not be to curtail the property rights of every property owner in the City of San Diego.  Banning or restricting the ability of property owners to use their property is not the answer to problems with enforcement of public nuisance laws.  It would quite literally mean reducing the property rights of hundreds of thousands of San Diegans due to the complaints of a few hundred or perhaps a few thousand.  That is not a relevant or appropriate response.

Restrictions on use of platforms like Airbnb, VRBO, HomeAway, and others would also be a real disservice to homeowners throughout San Diego.  For the first time, technology is putting the opportunity to utilize what is typically the largest asset a family owns, their home, in the hands of every property owner.  Vacation rentals have existed for decades in San Diego but were mostly relegated to property management firms and wealthy individuals that could hire staff to manage the properties.  Today, this is possible to the average person whether they are renting their home once a year or every night of the month.  This is a great thing.  It also means many dollars coming into and staying in San Diego, benefiting our entire economy.  Unlike hotels, which are often owned by non-local companies, home-sharing brings dollars into our city and keeps them here – in the pockets of our friends and neighbors.  Win win.

Are there bad actors among the property owners and visitors in San Diego? Certainly.  There are also bad actors among homeowners and renters.  When there is an issue there are tools to remedy them.  Utilize the tools we have, don’t take away a great opportunity for all property owners in San Diego and a boon to our economy across the board.