What is it with the Los Angeles City Council?
Despite being the best paid city officials in the land, they cannot – or will not – get in front of a growing problem; not even up to speed. Do they have an aversion to doing their jobs, or are they just easily paralyzed by a challenge? It makes me wonder if the council members get tangled up in their underwear while getting dressed in the morning.
Think back – while other cities managed to regulate the growth of medical marijuana outlets, Los Angeles suffered through an explosion of thinly-veiled, illicit distribution establishments, estimated at around 1,000, before Mike Feuer stepped up and enforced the restrictions the voters approved under Measure D.
The unregulated proliferation never would have occurred had the City Council issued sensible regulations and enforced them back in 2007, and responded to neighborhood complaints. Instead, it was the wild west, with dispensaries opening up as fast as saloons did in the Deadwoods of the frontier, except there was no Wild Bill Hickock around to keep order.
Well, once again, the City Council is sitting on its hands.
This time, our officials are deliberately ignoring long-established zoning laws.
Just as medical marijuana dispensaries sprouted like mushrooms, residential units are being converted to boutique hotels across many parts of the city.
I am not talking about homes where the owners are renting out a room to a college student or a newly-landed aspiring actor – a perfectly legitimate activity. What is in play now are complete transformations of properties from single-family homes (including condos) to non-owner occupied, short-term rentals. These units are advertised on popular travel websites by the night, week, etc. Visa//MC/Amex accepted – even the Discover Card.
Full-time residents never know who might be going in and out of these “hotels”, therefore, making it difficult to determine if there is suspicious activity on their blocks. Late-night arrivals and undue noise from parties are also among the complaints. These may sound like minor problems, but who can blame the regular residents when their rights under city zoning laws are being violated and their concerns are ignored. When they purchased or leased their homes, they assumed the properties were located in residential neighborhoods, not on Airbnb Boulevard.
Short-term rentals also take apartments off the market, adding to the housing woes of local residents. The numbers are hotly debated, but there can be no doubt the transition from long-term use has the potential to push rental costs upward.
The City Council apparently has two opposing factions on this issue, both small, and some members who just do not care. There is talk of drafting an ordinance, but the problem will just spin further out of control the longer it takes….. and become even more difficult to resolve. This is inexcusable in view of regulations passed by San Francisco and New York, which can serve as off-the-shelf models for a Los Angeles ordinance. If you follow the links and read the summaries, you will see that they are not all or nothing, but, most importantly, consider public safety as well as residents’ interests. It now appears Santa Monica is taking steps to curb the growth.
The State Assembly is in the very early stages of formulating bills, but what’s to stop the city from introducing an interim ordinance?
The owners of the short-term rental properties are becoming increasingly organized, and their enablers – firms such as Airbnb – are lobbying city officials. Airbnb has some serious money at its disposal, considering it is on the way to being valued at $20-billion. Plenty of spare change there to buy a few council members. That can’t happen, or can it?
While the council drags its feet, one would think, at a minimum, that zoning laws would be enforced. Many, if not most, of the short-term rentals have undergone some degree of structural modification. Some may even lead to violations of occupancy caps or pose safety hazards. Many are certainly not paying the city business tax, and perhaps not income tax. So, then, legitimate residents are allowing themselves to be screwed for free! We would make lousy sex workers.
The only way to counter the growing resources of the short-term rental industry and the negligence of our City Council is to bombard our officials with complaints, by mail, phone, e-mail and in person. Next time you attend a neighborhood council or association meeting, don’t just sit back and allow your council member or his/her staff representative to reel off all the good little things they have done for your community, pin them down on this issue and others they conveniently ignore. We pay them enough.