Downtown Palm Springs. Photo by Patrick Pelster (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Downtown Palm Springs. Photo by Patrick Pelster (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
There’s a war going on in Palm Springs over where you’ll be allowed to stay for your next quick weekend vacation in the desert sunshine.

It’s not just about Airbnb.com, but that monster international Internet firm that enables private residences to be rented out as quasi-hotel rooms pretty much started it all.

Palm Springs city government enacted a new law to crack down on short-term vacation rentals, but a lot of residents objected and a petition to repeal the ordinance apparently  reached the requisite number of signatures by Friday’s deadline, potentially forcing Palm Springs to either rescind it or put it before voters on a future ballot.

The referendum from Citizens For A Better Palm Springs needed roughly 2,600 signatures to qualify (representing about 10 percent of the city’s voters), and the group’s efforts yielded more than 3,600 signatures, which were submitted to Palm Springs City Hall Thursday. The signatures will need to be verified over the course of the next month.

The ordinance approved by the City Council in November placed a number of new restrictions on Palm Springs’ burgeoning short-term rental industry, including limiting rentals to 32 times per year for homeowners and reducing how many rental properties an individual can have within the city, among other guidelines.

Brady Sandahl, a local realtor and co-founder of Citizens For A Better Palm Springs, said the city’s ordinance was “an overreach.”

Sandahl, who does not own a short-term rental, said he hoped the City Council would work with residents to better strengthen the city’s 2014 vacation rental ordinance, which did contain several measures for enforcement on noise complaints and other disturbances, which Sandahl said were effective “96 percent of the time.”

City officials said the explosion of rental properties — from 960 in 2009 to nearly 2,000 at present, according to a staff report — has led to a scarcity of affordable housing, as well as an increase in noise violations, disorderly conduct, traffic congestion, vandalism and illegal parking.

The new ordinance would create a Vacation Rental Enforcement Department tasked with issuing citations and handling complaints on a 24/7 basis. Sandahl said enforcement was one area where the City Council and vacation rental owners saw eye to eye.

However, he objected to what he said the ordinance would have done to the property owners who make up Palm Springs’ short-term rental industry, as well as the local economy.

“You slice out the property owners, and you’re slicing out jobs, you’re threatening the TOT tax,” Sandahl said.

The referendum push led city officials to announce plans during a Wednesday press conference at City Hall for a ballot measure, described as a “safety initiative,” which would require short-term vacation rentals to comply with the same health, safety, building and insurance requirements that small motels and hotels are required to follow.

Councilmembers Geoff Kors and J.R. Roberts, who make up the City Council’s vacation rentals subcommittee, will ask their colleagues to approve placement of the measure on a future ballot.

“Unlike those putting forth the referendum, we only have one motivation — to do what is in the best interest of our city and residents,” Roberts said at the news conference. “Our city government’s primary responsibility is our residents and to ensure public safety.”

Kors said the referendum’s passage would “gut the entire ordinance including rules relating to enforcement, building and safety, auditing to prevent ongoing tax evasion, closing down of illegal vacation rentals, suspending homes with repeat violations, and much more. This referendum will allow corporations to continue to buy dozens, if not hundreds, of homes in our neighborhoods and convert them to full-time tourist lodging, forever changing our neighborhoods from being primarily for our residents to primarily for tourists.”

–City News Service

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