Tuesday evening was an important night at City Hall. The council debated a proposal to do away with most short-term rentals, one of the prime targets being the multibillion-dollar company, Airbnb. By the end of the long evening the ordinance passed unanimously. So soon, and under certain conditions, residents in Santa Monica will be allowed to rent their property to short-term guests but only if they stay on the premises with them.
I had hoped to write a blow-by-blow account of the televised debate, but the problem was on the same night the Clippers were on TNT. They were playing the reigning NBA champion Spurs in a best-of-seven series. Remote at the ready, I kept flipping back and forth. So if this column seems more discursive than normal, you’ll know why. (And demand my remote be confiscated.)
Being a dedicated journalist, if only in my mind, I felt obligated to cover the Airbnb story. But, speaking of “crucial,” the loser of the Clippers-Spurs game would be one game from elimination!
If you missed it, the game came down to the last seconds. (Spoiler alert, albeit two days later: The Clips lost by four points! In fact, on Thursday, but unfortunately after my deadline, they will either have won in San Antonio, forcing a Game 7 in L.A., or their season is bye-bye.) But Game 5 was something special.
I almost pulled a finger muscle flipping back and forth between Staples Center and City Hall, between slam dunks and yada-yada. The thrilling basketball game was the best I’ve seen in years. The council meeting? Kevin McKeown is doing a great job as our new mayor and the council is diligent, but “thrilling?” Uh, not exactly.
Part of this hopefully temporary literary schizophrenia might be because I write two very different columns. Laughing Matters has appeared every Friday for the past 450 Fridays. (Suddenly, I feel very tired.)
But I also write The Snide World of Sports, which sometimes only feels like I’ve done it for the past 450 weeks. (Tomorrow’s “Big Fight or Big Hype” is on the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight.) So let’s hope this is a one-time combination of sports, humor and politics. In any event, I’ve only got 417 words left to tie it all together. Yikes!
All kidding aside (dangerous segue for a humor column), the council may have reached an artful compromise Tuesday night. It’s estimated that there are 1,700 short-term rentals within city limits being offered by renters and landlords through websites like Airbnb.
The ordinance reiterates that full-unit vacation rentals are illegal in Santa Monica. A resident using Airbnb to offer a legal home-share would need to obtain a city business license and collect a 14-percent hotel tax that would be passed on to the city. And that’s good, or at least one would hope it’s put to good use.
The ordinance will require sites like Airbnb share information with the city regarding the Santa Monica properties using the site, and that is good. And, from the testimony at the council meeting, many residents using Airbnb are prospering and finding it gratifying to provide a service to tourists of different cultures from all over the world. And that’s very good.
But, dear readers, this is definitely not the Santa Monica I moved to 40 years ago. Our streets are crowded, congested and noisy. If you think it’s overdeveloped today, tomorrow will likely be worse — and there’s no end in sight. Where I live, with all the comings and goings of affluent tenants, sometimes it feels like a corporate hotel.
What used to be a sleepy, idyllic seaside community is now a bustling metropolis where commercialism is in the air everywhere. From the myriad hotels to the crowded Promenade to the double-decker tour buses and the mobs that descend upon us on the weekends, Santa Monica feels like a combination of Disneyland and a giant swap meet.
Airbnb is to tourism is what Uber is to secondary transportation. Apparently, hordes of people don’t want to stay at hotels or use taxis anymore. Santa Monica is such a coveted worldwide tourist destination that many locals are cashing in by renting out their houses, guest houses, apartments (and couches?) for a night. Sometimes I think the entire city is turning into a motel.
But back to the ordinance, which does provide some exceptions for time-shares (because they have multiple owners, not renters); home swaps (since no money changes hands); and rentals over 30 consecutive days. A final version of the ordinance could be voted on by the council on May 12. (Or, as I think of it, during the second round of the NBA Playoffs.)
Jack Neworth’s sports column, The Snide World of Sports, will appear in tomorrow’s weekend edition. Jack can be reached at facebook.com/jackneworth and twitter.com/jackneworth and at firstname.lastname@example.org.