Ryan McDonald

Hermosa Beach City Council approves ban on short-term rentals

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Hermosa Beach City Hall. File photo

Hermosa Beach City Hall. File photo

by Ryan McDonald

After one of the most crowded public hearings in recent memory, the Hermosa Beach City Council unanimously voted Tuesday night to prohibit short-term rentals in the city’s residential areas.

More than 60 speakers addressed the council during the public hearing on an amendment to the city’s code. The modifications would impose civil penalties, and eventually a misdemeanor, on those who lease property for fewer than 30 days in the city’s residentially zoned areas. The new law also makes it unlawful to occupy a regulated short-term rental, and to advertise one.

The changes come as municipalities across the country adjust to changes brought on by the growing popularity of home-sharing websites like Airbnb and VRBO. Hermosa had an existing ordinance that city staff interpreted to ban the practice, but it was written long before such companies came into existence, and ambiguities made it difficult to enforce.

Almost every supporter of home-sharing who spoke was willing to submit to regulation and pay taxes if the practice were permitted. But opponents argued that any potential revenue from permitting the practice would be outweighed by the problems associated with them.

“What the city might make in income from [Transient Occupancy Taxes] and the like is really not worth the tradeoff we’d have to make in terms of quality of life,” said Rob Saemann, vice chairman of the city’s Planning Commission, which had previously recommended banning short-term vacation rentals.

The growing popularity of home-rental websites, combined with Hermosa’s location as a beach and nightlife destination, have led to complaints from residents that short-term rentals threaten quality of life by fraying neighborhood bonds and encouraging disruptive behavior. Councilmember Stacey Armato said that during her recent campaign for city council, 90 percent of the people she talked to favored banning the rentals, and more than 300 residents signed a petition to that effect.

Throughout the night, home-sharing supporters attempted to paint a different picture of the practice. Many of the speakers described taking in only families or tenants traveling for business, and some said the money earned went to caring for a sick relative.

But the dense character of Hermosa Beach creates issues for the city, said Mayor pro tem Hany Fangary. He compared Hermosa to Malibu, which permits the practice but is far more sprawling. (According census data, Malibu has a population density of 640 people per square mile, while Hermosa contains approximately 14,000 people per square mile.)

“We are a different landscape in Hermosa Beach, and I think that our rules should be based on what we have here,” Fangary said.

Other residents argued that the rise of the sharing economy compelled the city to change how it looked at quality of life issues.

“I’m a pretty conservative person, and two years ago I never thought I would be riding around [Los Angeles] in some stranger’s car,” said Dr. Diane Ferguson, who uses the money from renting out part of her home to help pay for her daughter’s college tuition.

Councilmember Justin Massey, however, said that while he took supporters’ arguments seriously, he had less faith in the websites that facilitate the rentals, noting that the city had yet to hear from any of them even though they clearly knew of the city’s plans. One supporter of short-term rentals said she was unaware of Hermosa’s pending decision until Airbnb contacted her and urged her to attend the meeting.

Looming over the debate about the ordinance was concern over the response of the California Coastal Commission. Hermosa is seeking the commission’s approval of the city’s Local Coastal Program (LCP), which governs land use decisions in the coastal zone.

A resident notified commission staff about Hermosa’s pending ordinance, prompting a staff member to write a letter to Hermosa’s planning department saying that prohibiting short-term rentals could impact access to affordable lodging, a priority established by the state Coastal Act.

But City Attorney Michael Jenkins and council members were skeptical that the ban would derail the city’s LCP. Duclos, a former Coastal Commissioner, pointed out that the letter reflects the opinion of a staff member, rather than a policy decision by the voting commissioners. He also said that many of the available listings were far from affordable, some fetching thousands of dollars per week, and that studies have shown home-sharing tends to boost rents by removing units from the long-term market.

“For members of the Coastal Commission staff to suggest that short-term vacation rentals have anything to do with affordable lodging in the coastal zone is incomprehensible,” Duclos said.

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