Short-term vacation rentals in residential zones has been prohibited in Hermosa Beach since 2016. But at its Tuesday meeting, the Hermosa Beach City Council approved a two-year pilot program that will allow these rentals on commercially zoned properties scattered around the city.

But the new pilot program will allow short-term vacation rentals for fewer than 30 days in existing non-conforming residential units that are located within commercial zones.

“In the residential zones, the matter is thus closed and compliance of this ban is constantly being monitored and enforced by my department with the assistance of the police department when necessary,” said Ken Robertson, the city's community development director.

While short-term rentals will still be banned in the city's residential areas, many residents expressed concerns about the potential impact in their neighborhood. They cited the creation of "commercial party houses” and talked about “changes in neighborhood character.”

“We're a small community, we're a family community and these people are not of our community,” said a resident at the meeting. “They are transient in nature and they don't have the same buy in.”

Another resident was concerned about “mini hotels popping up” in the city.

Andrew LaPoint, whose family owns property on Pier Avenue where Java Man has been a tenant for years, also operates short term rentals behind the coffee house. He said many of his guests are family members of his Hermosa Beach neighbors who do not have an extra room, or the renters want to pay “roughly half the cost of what they would pay at nearby hotels.”

LaPoint added that about 60 percent of the renters do not use cars and they are spending money in the “sometimes struggling downtown districts.”

“If there is someone there to enforce it, you're not going to have trash in the street, you're not going to have issues with people causing a problem,” said LaPoint. “I strictly enforce two people per bedroom. I don't want to deal with partiers.”

The non-conforming residential units included in the pilot program are spread out in pockets throughout the city, including along Pier Avenue, and some properties on Manhattan Avenue, Hermosa Avenue, 11th Street, 14th Street, Pacific Coast Highway and Aviation.

The program excludes properties in what the city calls C-1 zones, which are spread around the community in more residential areas. According to the city staff report, prior to 1980, the city allowed residential uses in commercial zones so there are currently 145 non-conforming dwelling units on 50 commercially zones properties in the city, excluding those in the C-1 zone.

Robertson said that “quite a few” properties are already operating as short-term rentals in these zones, including some cottages on 14th Street. He added that these zones do not allow new residential units.

“There will be no increase in the potential number of units,” Robertson said. “No one could invest in commercial property with the intent of building these types of properties. It recognizes the existing older homes that exist in those districts.”

To counter potential issues with the new program, mitigation measures were approved. Those included the requirement of permits, building inspections and assurances that occupants do not create a disturbance of any kind at the property.

Owners will also have to place signage on the house that denotes it is operating as short-term rentals, among other requirements. There is a provision requiring a 24-hour a day contact person to respond to calls within 45 minutes. Also, after three violations in a 12-month period, the operator will lose their business license.

The City Council voted 4-1 in favor of the pilot program with Mayor Stacey Armato dissenting. Armato said one of her concerns was the challenges of the city implementing the proposed regulations with a small staff.

Robertson said with the addition of a second full-time code enforcement officer, the city will be able to enforce the new pilot program. He cited that since the short term vacation rental ban was implemented in 2016, cases have dropped from 204 in 2016 to 15 so far this year. During that time period, citations dropped from 67 in 2016 to zero this year.

“Now we only have three active cases... we made great progress in significantly deceasing illegal short term rentals,” Robertson said.

Robertson added it is too early to tell how many people will take advantage of the program.

“It might not really be all that many,” he said. “A lot of people who own property don't want the hassles of short-term renters because of all the issues that go along with it in terms of property maintenance and upkeep.”

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