By Matt Valenti
[Editor’s note: This editorial first appeared in the Voice of San Diego on Aug. 31. View the original article at bit.ly/vosd-valenti.]
The sky is falling.
Or so it would seem, if you believe the claims the vacation rental industry is making.
They’re upset about the compromise ordinance passed by San Diego’s City Council. Brainchild of Councilwoman Barbara Bry, the ordinance is the final result of years of back and forth between the two sides of the issue.
The mayor and many others have praised the compromise. Housing advocates have breathed a sigh of relief. We can’t make headway on the housing crisis when we’re currently losing two housing units to vacation rentals for each three new ones we build.
But Airbnb and the vacation rental industry aren’t happy. They want investors to be able to continue to buy multiple homes and take them off the housing market to put them on the mini-hotel market.
And they don’t want you to know that Bry’s ordinance actually legalizes the kind of home-sharing they claim they’re trying to protect. The ordinance allows all San Diego homeowners to list their spare room as a vacation rental all year long, and their entire home for up to six months a year.
That’s not a “de facto ban,” it’s a reasonable regulation. The beauty of Bry’s ordinance is that it puts the “bnb” back in Airbnb.
It’s also exactly what the residents of San Diego overwhelmingly expressed they wanted. And a bipartisan majority of the Council agreed.
But the industry wants to continue profiting from San Diego’s overstretched housing stock. So they’re sending out an army of paid signature-gatherers, who have been repeatedly accused of being untruthful about the true purpose of the referendum.
And they’re rolling out a multimillion-dollar media campaign, with the theme, as I said, best summed up as “the sky is falling.”
The latest variation on this theme, put forth by an industry spokesman from Virginia, is that the new ordinance will stifle innovation and discourage entrepreneurship in San Diego.
It’s a silly argument. San Diego is doing what cities like New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles are also doing. We’re preserving our residential housing for the residents who live and work here, while providing ways for residents to use their own home to make a little extra money. That’s good for the economy all over. And it’s especially good for innovation.
I know because I worked for nearly a decade in the local biotech industry. The groundbreaking research performed in laboratories all over San Diego starts at UCSD and an ecosystem of small research organizations. The students and scientists working in these labs struggle to afford to live in San Diego as it is. Like everyone else, they need affordable housing. The same goes for the lab technicians, the office staff and the employees of the small businesses that serve them. And of course, entrepreneurs and the founders of new start-ups are well known to be short of cash, but still need a roof over their head.
San Diego can’t afford to risk our world-renowned biotech industry, or green tech industry or any other innovative, job-creating part of our local economy. And a lack of affordable housing creates exactly that risk.
In fact, the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce recently released a report warning that the housing crisis is driving employers away.
The reality is that vacation rentals simply don’t contribute nearly as much to the economy — not to mention to the culture and community life of our city — as the loss of housing takes away.
After all, tourists are good for the economy. But they’ll never be a replacement for residents.
—Matt Valenti is an attorney, former San Diego City Council candidate, and board member of the community advocacy group Save San Diego Neighborhoods.