City leaders preparing to wade back into issue of short-term vacation rentals
Five years after adopting strict regulations for short-term vacation rentals in Palm Springs and nearly four years after voters rejected banning them, city leaders are hoping to explore what’s working and what’s not. That has proponents and opponents lined up for a familiar fight.
The exploration will come in the form of a study session on a date yet to be determined. When that date arrives, the Palm Springs City Council will be armed with data on the volume and concentration of short-term vacation rentals in the city, the number of complaints the city receives, and the number of citations issued by code enforcement officers overseen by the city’s police department.
What they’re not looking for, at this time, is more debate or an opportunity to change any current regulations. Exploring the issue is simply one of more than 50 priorities identified in a recent strategic plan that outlines what work the Council will undertake in the coming months. City Manager Justin Clifton plans to discuss what to include in the study session at a March 10 Council meeting.
For years, vacation rentals have been a divisive issue throughout the Coachella Valley. Supporters argue they are a vital component of the tourist industry, providing millions in tax revenue. Opponents say their presence, often in large clusters as seen in this map prepared by The Post last fall, degrade neighborhoods by turning homes into “mini motels.”
In 2018, Palm Springs voters rejected a ballot measure that would have seen a ban on short-term vacation rentals in the city. In neighboring communities, however, the story isn’t the same. La Quinta, Rancho Mirage, Palm Desert, and Cathedral City have all moved to phase out or more strictly regulate short-term rentals in their communities. The town of Yucca Valley recently voted to cap vacation rentals at 10% of the housing stock.
Available data shows roughly 36,500 housing units in Palm Springs, including single-family homes, apartments, mobile homes, condominiums, and townhomes. Of those, about 25,000 are occupied full-time. Many units not occupied full-time are second homes and long-term vacation rentals (often occupied in winter months by snowbirds). The rest — approximately 6.3% of the housing stock — are currently licensed as short-term rentals.
As of the last available report, there were 2,317 licensed short-term vacation rentals in Palm Springs. If a 10% cap is imposed, the city would reach its limit after issuing 1,233 more licenses.
A cap, as well as strict limits on vacation rentals in specific neighborhoods, would be a welcome compromise for some of the city’s most vocal vacation rental critics.
“The biggest problem with vacation rentals in Palm Springs is their unchecked growth,” wrote Hank Plante, a city resident who has voiced his concerns on the issue in social media posts and newspaper editorials. “The result here is entire streets becoming a majority of mini-motels filled with weekend partiers. The Post’s interactive map of STRs clearly shows their oversaturation block-by-block.
“The solution is to immediately freeze any new STR permits from being issued, and then to cut back on their number as San Diego and other cities are doing.”
While the volume of short-term rentals in the city may be alarming to some, data on the volume of code enforcement complaints and citations indicates that the city’s regulations are working.
The most recent data shows that the city received 202 calls to its vacation rental hotline during the last three months of 2021, and 75 required a response. Of those, the city issued only nine citations to licensed vacation rentals (primarily for loud music) and found four rentals operating without a license.
That data is in line with historical records, which show 94% of the registered vacation rental properties in the city have never been cited or visited by code enforcement.
That point will likely be one of several similar points brought up by Bruce Hoban and members of Vacation Rental Owners and Neighbors of Palm Springs (VRON-PS). The group mounted the campaign against the vacation rental ban in 2018, drawing support from throughout the community, including current City Council members Christy Holstege and Geoff Kors and current Mayor Lisa Middleton. Nearly 70% of voters rejected the ban.
“VRON-PS totally supports the City Council discussion this Thursday on what types of data need to be collected, and we will be contributing to the list from the initial set of the City’s written recommendations,” Hoban wrote in an email Friday evening. “We know this data will show that vacation rentals subject to the city’s strong enforcement are working.”
Hoban’s organization pointed out then — and is pointing out again now in a series of ads running on social media — that vacation rentals contribute millions of dollars in transit occupancy tax (TOT) to the city budget and that visitors staying in the rentals contribute millions of dollars more to local businesses.
Data shows that during the last fiscal year, which ended on June 30, 2021, the city collected $34.6 million in TOT. $15.4 million — or roughly 45% — came from vacation rental stays. So far this fiscal year, as the tourism economy shifts back toward where it was before COVID-19, vacation rental TOT is about 35% of the $25.7 million that has been collected.
City leaders routinely acknowledge the contributions of short-term rentals to the tourist economy, and there is no indication that a ban or a moratorium will be on the table. But there are indications some at City Hall recognize the more significant issues at hand.
In a December 2021 letter to Pacaso, a company offering shared ownership of vacation homes, City Attorney Jeff Ballinger asked that the company cease operations in Palm Springs. Ballinger claimed Pacaso’s business model created timeshares, which are allowed only in certain areas of the city.
Ballinger went a step further, however, arguing that housing stock made unavailable to potential full-time residents “feeds the affordability crisis, making the remaining houses within the City more costly.”
Pacaso has denied Ballinger’s claims, stating that its business model helps maintain affordable housing in cities by targeting high-end homes and not “homes at lower price points needed by the local workforce.”
The Council will also discuss issues with Pacaso at its March 10 meeting as Ballinger and City Manager Justin Clifton seek direction about what, if any, different approach the City Council would like to take with regard to the company’s business model.
IN PARTNERSHIP WITH
HONOR FOR TEACHER: A second-grade teacher from the Palm Springs Unified School District is among nine educators who have been honored by the California Teachers Association for their commitment to social justice and for promoting human and civil rights, both in the classroom and in their wider school communities. The CTA’s annual Human Rights Awards were presented Saturday at the CTA Equity and Human Rights Conference in Los Angeles. Among the honorees was Christina Alaniz, who received the American Indian/Alaska Native Human Rights Award in honor of Jim Clark. Alaniz, who is both Cahuilla and Serrano, still lives on the tribal land where she was raised. She was singled out for her commitment to bringing culturally relevant education to students, according to the CTA. Alaniz teaches at Agua Caliente Elementary School and has written ethnic studies curriculum and works to represent the Native community in education and social settings. She has served the past seven years on her school site council, is a member of the Palm Springs Teachers Association, a member of an anti-racist coalition, and created the district’s first Native American Advisory Council to bring together the Palm Springs and Native communities to advocate on behalf of students.
VICTIMS IDENTIFIED: Palm Springs police have released more details surrounding a trio of suspected homicides in the city in the span of two weeks but also find themselves in a familiar situation. They are asking for the public’s help to solve two of the cases. Police Lt. William Hutchinson said Friday evening that at this time, there is no reason to believe two of the incidents that occurred within a block of each other off Rosa Parks Road between Feb. 19 and 25 are related. A third incident in the 1700 block of East Arenas Road, he said, appears to be a case of domestic violence. Hutchinson said police need the public’s help to solve the Rosa Parks Road incidents. Anyone with information can call the police at 760-327-1441 or report information anonymously to Crime Stoppers at 760-341-7867. In the third incident, police said a 48-year-old woman died after being stabbed at around 10 p.m. on March 1 in an apparent case of domestic violence at her home. The suspect in the murder is a 64-year-old male who was taken into custody shortly after police arrived at the scene. Last week, he was charged with one felony count of murder and three felony counts of willful child cruelty. The victim’s family set up a fundraising campaign and is hoping for help from the community for her funeral expenses. CLICK HERE FOR MORE.
? Today’s events
Highlights of what’s happening today in Palm Springs. Find complete listings on our community calendar.
- The Mizell Center offers multiple programs and classes today, starting at 8 a.m.
- The Palm Springs Sunshine Sisters continues to collect “gently used” items for donation to Martha’s Village & Kitchen today at various locations in the desert.
- A teen art contest starts today at the Palm Springs Public Library. It runs through April 8 and prizes are offered.
- LA Phil Affiliates in the Desert is hosting a Zoom event with pianist Brian Lin, starting at 2 p.m. It is designed as a preview of April’s Waring International Piano Competition.
- The Palm Springs Architectural Review Committee meets at 5:30 p.m. this evening.
? What to watch for
- Mina Hartong hosts a free event at Mizell Center titled I’m Speaking: Reflections on International Women’s Day on Wednesday.
- The Richard M. Milanovich Legacy Hike and 5K Run at Indian Canyons on Friday is open for registration.
- The Shamrock 5K will be held the morning of March 12, starting at the Palm Springs American Legion. Registration is open now.
- Heart-to-Heart Palm Springs is selling tickets for its March 12 Military Women Appreciation Luncheon. Details are here.
- The Palm Springs Post and Palm Springs Cultural Center present their first free “Community Conversations” event on March 14.
- The Mizell Center’s Third Wednesday Speaker Series continues on March 16 with Bill Goldstein,Larry Kramer’s authorized biographer, discussing Mr. Kramer’s life and work.
- Palm Springs The Musical: Born to Sparkle premieres at Desert Rose Playhouse on March 24. It runs Thursdays through Sundays until April 10.
- Palm Canyon Theatre is staging Cyrano de Bergerac from March 31 until April 3. Its current production — Palm Springs Getaway — runs again this weekend.