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Roundtable: Wildfires, Short-term Rentals, Oceanside Mayor

December 15, 2017 12:57 p.m.

Roundtable: Wildfires, Short-term Rentals, Oceanside Mayor


Peter Rowe, The San Diego Union-Tribune

Maya Srikrishnan, Voice of San Diego

Alison St John, KPBS News

Lori Weisberg, The San Diego Union-Tribune

Related Story: Roundtable: Short-term Rentals, Wildfires, Oceanside Mayor


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

MS: More than 10 hours of debate and nothing to show for it. San Diego city Council members say they can't govern when it comes to short-term rentals. Another week of fires burning in Southern California. The Lilac Fire is contained in the lessons learned and risks building and fire prone areas. Oceanside's mayor announces he will step down after public battle with his help. The Roundtable starts right now.

MS: Welcome to our discussion. Joining me at the Roundtable is Lori Weisberg , Peter Rowe , Maya Srikrishnan and Alison St John. With her weather and seaside location San Diego has been a popular tourist destination for century but the headaches of being so popular. The ease of online sites hooking business to homeowners has turned many neighborhoods and to many hotels. City councils finally going to sit down rules on this, this week.

LW: What happened was because this has gone back to 2015. There's been multiple hearings and so there had been for -- four council members come up with a compromise. Look likely benefit Councilman would join them and there would be a majority that would allow short-term rentals to exist your round. There's some limits on investor properties. One councilmember David Alvarez you could see he backed away from the memo and the compromise plan that he had supported and then that's when it fell apart. Then arrival proposal by Barbara started showing a willingness to compromise and inviting David Alvarez to see if he could find language and others so she backed away from some of her provisions. It was requiring no more than 90 days a year to rent out. And cut down to such force language. After three votes and three failed boats, they adjourned.

MS: Is amazing here so here is Scott Sherman. Chris Cate says after nearly 3 years since my office provided initial proposals, today's action proves we can't govern.

LW: That was a blunt statement. A councilmember faulted the present chief. He that she should of got them to power through a get some language they could agree on but I don't think they could have.

MS: Give us an idea of the scope how many short-term rentals are there?

LW: There's a big debate over that. There was a report released in the last couple weeks that has the best I've seen. Within the city of San Diego, there about 9000 home rentals. About 9000 but most are rented 57% for 30 days or less during the year so I think the focus is on the ones that are your round and disrupting neighborhoods. It was all about the party houses on the noise and notes about the short-term rentals taking the housing stock off the market.

MS: A real pressure on the housing crisis. Who was complaining and why?

LW: Well, someone tell you that maybe they rent out their home on their gone or have a second home and they want to be able to use it sometimes but they can rented out.'s expensive to maybe sell it or -- they say is a profitable way to make money while there are people are visiting. On that side also there's a criticism that there are commercial investors and they are converting them to short-term rentals. And then neighborhoods that feel like they turn their -- them into many hotels.

ASJ: Was there any talk about phasing it in more gradually?

LW: All the time that I've been covering it, that has not come up. The problem is that the city attorney ruled that because they're not defined anywhere in the code, they are illegal. But there's not an inclination to enforce up.

MS: They don't have the manpower.

LW: No, they don't. They don't have the money to enforce it but if they had adopted these regulations, they would have required a fee which the calculations say they could pay for 12 more code enforcement officers.

PR: Was there any indication what was driving Alvarez? Going into the meeting he seemed to be back in a proposal and then throughout the meeting it became clear that he was backing no proposal.

LW: No one will say on the record. There was a sense that maybe because he has a close alliance with organized labor was for a more restrictive proposal. There was some discussion that maybe he was backing away because he did not want to lose is poor of labor. I did ask him about that and he said I have no idea where you are getting that.

MS: I want to get to asking about Kevin Faulkner but before we do, it's remarkable hearing that we had this moment of frustration between David Alvarez and Barbara Bree. Let's listen to that.

[Clip] A human being is not apparently explicit enough. So that's. Corporations or individuals by law. That's not the intent. I understand that. If you can't give us that then I guess we can't do anything.

MS: So that’s kind of it, where is the mayor?

LW: There were criticisms during the hearing. They said the mayor provided staff to help draft proposals and he's been there but now he is really going to personally get involved and talk to the stakeholders and talk to the council members and see if there's some area for common ground but he will not be tied to a deadline. So --

MS: Or a particular policy. In your story he doesn't really put forth anything.

LW: I don't think he's going to say where he stands. I think that's not where he want to get involved. I think he thinks he can bring everybody together especially on the Council to come up with some proposal that he thinks will get five votes.

MS: No deadline on this. At some point they will bring it up again. We will see what happens. We learn the hard way the fires are roared through son Eagle County in 2003 and 2007 killed three dozen people destroyed thousands of homes and hundreds of thousands of acres of financial hit was in the billion so what have we learned? It like in the Lilac Fire to a final exam.

PR: We did pretty well. Folks are impressed and there were a number of obvious improvements among them communications, coordination, if you were called back in 2003 part of the problem was the fire started as a tenant due in the East in the back country and start moving west in the ease we had a quilt of a lot of small independent fire agencies that did or did not communicate very well with each other. So those are primarily most now are underneath one county fire authority. Even the independent ones are all communicating. I was talking to achieve from San Diego fire rescue the other day and he said that all of the chiefs meet once a week. Once a year all of the firefighters train together, the communication system is unified. Sold the orders kind of come out of one place and they go to all the different agencies. Another thing that was impressive this time around was the increased use of air. It wasn't the first time it's been used but we've never seen such a extensive use of helicopters and other --

MS: They were grounded because of certain rules and regulations enforced by the state.

PR: That is correct. Part of it was there were no agreements to allow the pilots to fly after sunset.MS: I remember interviewing fire officials and they said they do these and night all the time.

PR: Even now the helicopters that were operating at night and they did over 140 missions that first night, but before they took off, they had a no go checklist reviewing the weather, the winds, hazards in the area. It's a dicey thing to be flying at night.

MS: Tell us about that in terms of the weather.

PR: This was something that SDG&E talked about. They have about 170 many weather stations. Primarily in the backcountry. They can get second by second reports of temperature windspeed and humidity. All of those are important.

MS: You can predict the behavior of the fire and what to do.

PR: Sure. There are a lot of charts showing where the fires going to go. The strategy that was uses they found with the ignition point was and call that the heel and they looked at the way the fire was spreading. They looked at it like it was a body. What we will do is attack the flags and the size of the body and attempt to get up to the head and pinch the head off. So you build this structure of the fire trails around the sides and then get up to the head.

MS: It gave them the blueprint to do that.

ASJ: The maps were so useful. I was watching the evacuation map and had my bag packed waiting to see when it would reach me. It was so much more efficient than 2007. You can see which streets were evacuated. It wasn't just the phone calls.

LW: It's been a job. I guess they're saying -- I remember looking at the TV and I was talking to a colleague and then the next thing you know it got bigger and fire officials were saying no matter how good you are the winds were so fierce that that made it --

PR: This is true. I had one fire officials say when you have 50 mile an hour winds, try to get in front of that is like trying to keep a hurricane from hitting Florida. It is dangerous to put units in front of the fire. That's why they're trying to get up eventually when the weather allows.

MS: I want to shift to building in these areas. Of firefighter Corey Iversen killed and that Thomas fire up north. Our hearts go out to the family. You wrote about proposals now about 6000 homes to build a wildland urban interface. Start with the long-term growth plan.

MSrikrishnan: Though the county has planned for development in a way that is supposed to be more sustainable and key people closer to transportation to help with traffic. Also supposed to keep people out of high wildfire areas. There are several proposals that come forward for massive master-planned developments that are in areas that have high wildfire risk. So what the developers need to do if they're going to build is building the infrastructure to be able to respond to fires because when you are in the transition place of where there is housing and backcountry and vegetation that is where fires are more destructive. In cities there's very little spread and not a lot of vegetation. There's a lot of people but there's also places for fire to grow. So the very beginning phases is like a curve and it could be really dangerous and then once it hits a certain mask, it will get safer. These developments are going to be testing that.

ASJ: I'm thinking about this because it does faces with this decision about building out. I think we’re going to have to do both but if we build out, how much in the way of fire resources do we need to be safe and the key thing is evacuation routes.

MSrikrishnan: That was the problem during another fire. If the wind blows a different way in the fire takes a turn then all those people could be in danger.

ASJ: If there's a new project will they get the evacuation maps right?

LW: There's a general plan. Are used to cover development and I remember it's been years to do this general plan in this fight over trying to concentrate the density in the centers and not buildout but why go to the trouble of this planning and then throw that out the window with these plans that you say would require no change.

MSrikrishnan: To be honest that is cheaper when it's zone for fewer homes so there are developers who specialize in building massive developments to try to levy that cost and that's how we end up in the situation. County and city officials throughout the county have failed with the housing crisis. They kind of feel some pressure to approve these developments because they -- 6000 homes are a lot and that would make a difference. You have to balance the trade-offs.

ASJ: The housing crisis is of very real issue as well. I think it's inevitable that will be doing both but it's the infrastructure. I think it's for San Diego is falling down and everybody has a right to say traffic is terrible. In the case of a fire, that becomes an issue.

MS: With this extreme weather and the climate change so we can expect more of the same.

MSrikrishnan: I think Bill said that this was his 20th fire in 23 years and we can expect them to keep coming. It's how respond to the fires and put people --

MS: A lot more to cover on that. We will move on this the time to set politics and conflict over issues aside and simply dwell on the human side of public life. Now is that time that the city of Oceanside mayor retired -- resign.

ASJ: He's been in Oceanside for years. He was in the police department for more than 30 years and then selected to city Council. He's managed to keep a good reputation and be a popular mayor which is why I think he has managed to keep the position his in spite of the fact that since may he's hardly been present and city Council at all.

MS: What is the other health issue?

ASJ: He had a stroke in mid-May. He's had strokes before but he was able to recover pretty quickly but this time it was taking them a lot longer to get back to that point where he could communicate. So the question is could he serve that role of being in charge of the meeting? So the city Council gave him a couple of leaves of absence and that came to an end. Next week is going to be the end of the road so he finally came back to the city Council last week and it was obvious that it was not easy for him. There were a lot of people who were happy to see him, but there was one point where he interrupted the business to say something that wasn't really relevant of the discussion. You have to ask yourself how much was he able to keep up with discussion? I think that is what convinced him I'm going to have to quit.

MS: He made a public appearance at the housing project.

ASJ: Yes, that's after he had already submitted the letter. The goodwill towards him and the community is very strong. I think a lot of people say that they are glad that he's going to take the time now. He is 69 and he's gonna focus on his own health.

MS: How is this impacted the with the city's been running for the past six months quest test?

ASJ: Oceanside has a reputation. I think many people say is like a dysfunctional family. Many are -- it's key to have that fifth vote that the mayor provides.

MS: Explained that.

ASJ: The mayor is like the executive and in the smaller cities if you have five votes, the mayor is the fifth vote. So if you are divided city Council and left with four votes, there are issues where you can never reach an agreement because of the of a 2-2 split then you can come to a decision.

PR: Is a now going to be a special election?

ASJ: They have to decide the former city general manager left with a standing ovation so two good candidates for the sake were not going to appoint somebody. We need to open this out and let the citizens have their say.

MS: What is a state laws and question mark

ASJ: They have 60 days but they have a motivation to act sooner because if they don't decide by February 7 to have an election in June, that would be the time. A lot of people are hoping someone will be elected. Event said I'm willing to do what the citizens want to do.

LW: As he recovers, do you have any sense of whether he might still be in public life some way?

ASJ: He has a very strong connections especially with the mobile home parks, which there are a lot of affordable houses in Oceanside. I think a lot of people in that community are worried about his departure. So there's a lot of affection for him and I think you will find that he gets all the affection support that he always had.

MS: An issue coming up is marijuana.

ASJ: Next week Oceanside is going to be voting on the ordinance which it would make Oceanside one of the few cities that would actually start to regulate marijuana rather than just banning it. Again, 2-2 vote is likely but it might pass.'s going to be interesting to see.That does wrap up another week of stories at the KPBS Roundtable. I would like to say thank you to my guess Maya Srikrishnan, Lori Weisberg and Alison St John. All the stories we discussed today are available on our website I am Mark Sauer, thank you for joining us today.