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A screenshot of city council members and city attorneys deliberating over the ordinance at the council Zoom meeting last Monday. 

Dozens of passionate residents turned out this week to weigh in on the city’s proposals for a short-term rental ordinance designed to curb what many Malibuites see as a growing commercial sector in town that comes at the expense of residents and neighborhoods.

Monday night’s virtual Malibu City Council meeting—held, like all city meetings over the past six months, via Zoom—included many of the same elements as previous short-term rental debates: frustrated neighbors who claim they live next-door to party houses, beleaguered property owners who swear they’ve never had an issue with their short-term tenants, many self-fashioned experts advising the best way forward. But what was missing from the forum was a trademark of heated Malibu debates: the crowd making itself heard while council deliberated. The decision, which came down just before midnight Tuesday morning, was among the first major policy moves made on the “new normal” Zoom platform.

In the end, council voted, 5-0, to ask staff to make a handful of adjustments to the proposed ordinance, the draft of which had already passed with unanimous planning commission approval. 

 That sentiment has been shared by many throughout the process of creating the ordinance that was being discussed Monday. But short-term rental hosts counter that problem properties are few and far between.

“The majority of hosts are very responsible and they don’t permit parties of any kind,” another resident who is also an Airbnb host, Masifa Meme, told council later in the public comment portion of the hearing.

While some residents have accused the city of prioritizing cash—tax revenues from STRs earn the city seven figures of income annually—council members said they were focusing on weighing the needs of all residents.

Council Member Rick Mullen summed up the feelings of most city council members: “For me, it’s not about the money ... it is about community, it is about the mission statement but it’s also complicated.”

The draft of the city’s proposed “hosted” STR ordinance states that, for single-family residences with guest houses or second units, the property owner (“host”) must be present on the property overnight each night it is rented out, and only one unit can be listed for rental on the property. For multi-unit buildings, up to two units may be rented out as STRs. 

One of the most highly contested changes to the proposed ordinance presented by city staff was the addition of a “designated operator”—a person chosen to stand in for a property owner in the event the owner is out of town or otherwise cannot act as host.

“We’re creating a big old loophole... we can’t keep making all these accommodations,” Council Member Jefferson “Zuma Jay” Wagner said, adding that changes just take up more time to get the ordinance enacted. “Every delay we create, longer term, is success for Airbnb and Homeaway and VRBO.” 

Mullen initially agreed, positing that a property owner may say to themself, “We’re going to rent it out with our designated operator and the wife and I are gonna get in the RV and cruise the United States.”

“Is that what we want?” Mullen asked.

“No! It’s not what we want!” Wagner replied.

But, although Mayor Pro Tem Skylar Peak called it an “enforcement nightmare,” council eventually determined a “designated operator” could be used by a property owner for up to two cumulative months’ worth of rentals per year. That change was made to allow residents to lease out their properties short-term while they go out of town. After all, council reasoned, property owners lose their permit to operate a short-term rental if they are found to be out of compliance with the city’s rules.

Other changes to the ordinance included changing the overnight hours hosts need to be on the property from 8 p.m.–6 a.m. to 9 p.m.–6 a.m. (to allow hosts time to go out to dinner) as well as allowing duplexes to be rented out as long as the host occupies the other unit in the home.

In the interim

According to staff estimates, it could be years before a “hosted” STR ordinance hits the books, since it must pass California Coastal Commission muster. So on Monday, council also moved forward on an interim “enforcement” ordinance, which “imposes regulations to address nuisance issues and impacts on neighborhoods,” according to a city staff report. It requires a point of contact to be available 24/7 during the rental period and establishes maximum occupancy rates. “Under this system, if a permit is denied or revoked for falsification or the accrual of citations, the short-term rental of property must cease immediately and shall not be permitted again for 12 months. Any short-term rental of property during this period would result in additional penalties, including an extension of the period rentals are prohibited for an additional six-month period for each violation.” That interim ordinance will now go forward for second reading before being adopted. Council voted, 4-1, in support of the interim ordinance, with Wagner dissenting.

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