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Assemblyman Todd Gloria and Councilwoman Barbara Bry, who face off for San Diego mayor in November, called each other out over short-term vacation rentals Wednesday following an inewsource investigation of pandemic parties at a downtown high-rise.

Gloria issued a statement about the wild parties at Pinnacle on the Park, blaming Mayor Kevin Faulconer and councilmembers for their inaction on the citywide rental controversy. 

“The residents in and around Pinnacle at the Park should be upset,” Gloria wrote. “The City has failed them. Instead of passing sensible short-term rental regulations that provide clear rules of the road and an appropriate mechanism for enforcement on bad actors, the City has failed to advance meaningful legislation.”

He vowed action, if elected.

Why this matters

More than 780 people in San Diego County have died from the coronavirus, and officials continue to stress social distancing to stop the spread. But that hasn’t stopped people who are looking to party.

Last week, inewsource published a story about Instagram-worthy units posted to short-term rental sites that have brought all kinds of debauchery to Pinnacle. Multiple residents have woken up to find used condoms outside their apartment or soiled toilet paper steps from their front doors. A woman said she and her 12-year-old son have witnessed nude photo shoots and people filming pornographic scenes on Pinnacle balconies.

Calls to the San Diego Police Department about loud parties and related disturbances at the high-rise have nearly tripled in the first eight months of this year compared to all of 2019, with most occurring in the past four months as the county began relaxing COVID-19 lockdown orders.

Gloria said if the City Council doesn’t enact a short-term vacation ordinance, he will tackle the issue within his first 100 days as mayor. 

“Let’s be clear: the City Council could pass short-term rental regulations today. However, there are those like my opponent who would rather do nothing on this issue so it can remain a talking point on the campaign trail — even if that comes at the expense of neighborhoods. That’s not leadership,” Gloria said.

Bry responded, telling inewsource her opponent has blocked short-term regulations as a member of the City Council and state Legislature, and the “dark-money PAC supporting his campaign” has received at least $40,000 in contributions from vacation rental companies. 

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“He is the last person residents should trust” to take up meaningful short-term rental regulation, Bry said in a statement Wednesday. Gloria contends Bry has mischaracterized his history on short-term rentals.

Bry has said if elected she would crack down on anyone operating a short-term rental in a residential neighborhood.

“We have companies like Hilton, Hyatt, Marriott as well as mom and pop owners of smaller hotels who have invested tens of millions of dollars in San Diego,” Bry told inewsource in a recent interview. “And my goal as mayor is to enable them to succeed and to shut down short-term rentals.”

Pinnacle on the Park, in San Diego’s East Village, is shown on a Friday night, Sept. 4, 2020. (Zoë Meyers/inewsource)

Short-term vacation rentals have been a contentious subject for years. San Diego City Attorney Mara Elliott has said vacation rentals are illegal in residential areas, which city officials aren’t currently enforcing.

Airbnb previously told inewsource the company had removed 12 listings at the high-rise complex this year. After the inewsource report was published last week, Vrbo said it removed all six of its listings.

There are ongoing criminal investigations into activity at the Pinnacle high-rise, and Faulconer has directed the Police Department to take a closer look at potential public health violations, spokesman Gustavo Portela said. In 2018, Faulconer proposed short-term rental regulations that were adopted and later rescinded by the City Council.

The City Council has tried and failed to regulate San Diego’s booming short-term rental market. The latest attempt came from Councilwoman Jennifer Campbell, who worked out a memorandum of understanding between a couple of the largest stakeholders. 

Unite Here Local 30, the hotel and hospitality workers union, and Expedia Group, the parent company for Vrbo and HomeAway, have agreed to a set of rules for short-term rentals in San Diego. It would reduce the number of rentals allowed to operate, create a registry for operators and establish a “good neighbor policy” to familiarize guests with parking and other rules of conduct. The agreement also outlines strict enforcement guidelines and a fine structure for violations. 

However, the agreement leaves out one of the most recognizable short-term rental brands — Airbnb. Campbell said she hopes to get that company on board as well.

“I think they’ll have to compromise as Expedia did and realize that they’re not going to be able to just have a complete takeover of the city of San Diego,” Campbell said in a recent interview with inewsource

Airbnb released a statement about the agreement last week, saying its hosts were left out of the discussion and that the proposal could hurt San Diegans as well as tourists.

The proposed cap on short-term rentals would “eliminate a critical source of income at a time when they need the income more than ever. It will also hurt small businesses, many that are barely holding on, and make it harder for families to visit and access San Diego’s coastal communities,” said John Choi, Airbnb’s Senior Public Policy Manager.

The Planning Commission is scheduled to consider the agreement Oct. 8, Gloria said. 

Faulconer supports this latest proposal because it creates a funding mechanism that will give the city the appropriate resources to enforce the new rules, Portela said.

Gloria said the agreement is a step in the right direction, and he thinks the terms will improve with more public input. Bry said it was concocted without input from residents and businesses, and it will turn into an “enforcement nightmare.”

“These uses are already prohibited in residential neighborhoods. We just need a mayor who will enforce the prohibition,” Bry said.

Corrections and Clarifications

This story has been updated to accurately reflect Bry's statement about Gloria's actions in the state legislature.

Type of Content

News: Based on facts, either observed and verified directly by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Cody Dulaney is an investigative reporter at inewsource focusing on social impact and government accountability. Few things excite him more than building spreadsheets and knocking on the door of people who refuse to return his calls. When he’s not ruffling the feathers of some public official,...