• Airbnb (Photo - Open Grid Scheduler, flickr), Pasadena City Hall (Photo - Mike Peel).

      Airbnb (Photo – Open Grid Scheduler, flickr), Pasadena City Hall (Photo – Mike Peel).

      Future shock, at least a civic part of the phenomenon, raised its protean head during the full-house meeting of the Pasadena City Council on October 2, 2017.

      By Garrett Rowlan

      The issue before the Council was the regulation of the short-term rental market in Pasadena, with a contentious and diverse-opinioned band of residents gathered to guide the Council in considering amending a zoning code, one adopted before the rise of AIRbnb and other platforms that allowed Pasadena residents to rent out their houses. The future had arrived, and the council needed to deal with it. Currently, such arrangements that these platforms allow are out of code.

      The issue is a volatile one owing to a 13-fold increase in short-term rentals over the past few years. The debate was generally framed in terms of keeping neighborhoods traditional in spite of an atmosphere of rising expenses and property values. One resident said that Pasadena must strive to “keep the neighbor in neighborhood,” that is, maintain a comforting sameness in which one’s fellow residents are known. Others stated that people have the right to use their homes as income-generating properties, especially if those rentals are the key to keeping someone in their home. Issues such as unemployment, illness, or other considerations necessitated these moves.

      Also, the city of Pasadena has a financial stake in regulation. The collection of a Transit Occupation Tax—similar to what hotels now pay—could bring in some 700-thousand dollars annually to the coffers of Pasadena.

      But money was the source of others’ objections. A frequent refrain was that the city, though professing the need to protect neighborhoods, would be voting to amend the zoning laws strictly for money, letting a billion-dollar business (AIRbnb) to allow others to turn homes into commodities.

      Yet it was repeated that the demand for housing, the expense and impersonality of hotels, and the need for flexibility in rental accommodations creates a demand that short-term rentals fulfill. Speakers spoke frequently of housing visiting scholars to the Huntington Library, people looking for permanent residence, and family members in town to care for ill relatives.

      One thing was obvious, and that was a disdain for vacation rentals, which several speakers said was a recipe for disaster.

      Of course, there was definitional issues. What is a “hosted” and “un-hosted” rental?  A listing could say as much, but nothing short of a knock on a door could really tell if an owner was present.  Many speakers, however, stressed how they took seriously their role as “hosts,” making sure that they were there to greet the newcomers. They spoke proudly of their high AIRbnb ratings.

      In the end, the need to regulate something already established and the relative lack of complaints from the existing practice allowed a motion that passed. It stipulated no vacation rentals, no un-hosted rentals past 90 days, no caps on how many houses per district could list, and finally the need to license and regulate the listings with, it was hoped, the cooperation of the platform providers, though the evasions of an AIRbnb representative made this proviso potentially problematic.

      Other news

      In other news, both related to property considerations, one house was given a landmark designation and another the higher-level classification as a historic monument. And the fate of a piece of property on 645 East Walnut—where the old Greyhound station used to be—was left undecided, the mayor thinking it was an excellent place to build a park, while the owner wanted to develop the property. The question of eminent domain was a thorny one, and the issue was tabled.

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