Bicycle Tour – Santa Barbara to San Diego (September 2022)

I live in San Diego and often bike in the local area – Mount Helix, Bayshore Bikeway, Mount Soledad are some frequent rides – but had been wanting to venture a bit further. My friend Dylan and I decided to bike from Santa Barbara back to San Diego to take in part of the California coastline. It was a very fun weekend and I wanted to share some photos and notes from the trip for others interested in biking in Southern California.

Just south of Carpinteria, CA near the Rincon surf break and Mussel Shoals

Trip Overview

We took the Amtrak Pacific Surfliner from San Diego to Santa Barbara leaving San Diego (Old Town) at 4:10 PM on a Friday. It was scheduled for about 6 hours and ended up about 15 minutes longer than that. It cost $44.20 a person and bicycles were included in the cost. The train was pretty full and standing room only in basic class for about half the trip. We ended up sitting in the dining car which was awesome as it had tables and couches facing the ocean. It also had overhead windows so there was a lot of light.

We arrived in Santa Barbara at 10:25 PM and biked about 10 miles South to Carpinteria. Although we would have liked to have a morning in beautiful Santa Barbara the hotel rates were huge and we could get a small start on our estimated 230 mile trip ahead. The ride from Santa Barbara to Carpinteria was really chill – very little traffic and riding on a frontage road along Highway 1.

We stayed overnight in Carpinteria and our next hotel stays were in Torrance and Oceanside. We had considered camping but couldn’t locate solid information on campgrounds that offered hike / bike sites we could bank on. Hopefully we can do that in future at the many state parks along the coastline. It was nice staying in hotels for an evening pool and hot tub, as well as a nice shower and comfortable bed.

Highlights

  • Los Angeles Bike Paths – From Santa Monica to Redondo Beach in Los Angeles was awesome. Really wide bike path right on the beach and has recently been doubled in size on the north end. Awesome.
  • Seal Beach to Newport Beach – another great section of bike paths right on the water. Very low stress and enjoyable. Tons of people walking, biking, etc.
  • Lots of good coffee and pastries – a must for any morning bike ride. Prospect Coffee in Ventura was really good.
  • Century Club – I ride a decent amount but had never done 100 miles in a day. Got that done on day one. Nice accomplishment.

Lowlights

  • Malibu – just really not fun. North of Malibu is low traffic Highway 1 with a wide shoulder / bike lane. Lots of other bikers too which was fun to chat a bit. One group was going from San Francisco to Los Angeles and camping along the way, sounded really fun. When you hit Malibu you go to 5 + lanes and lose the shoulder, plus have a lot of sports cars zooming around. 25 miles or so of gritting teeth and intensity. Not recommended but not a good way around it if you want to stay coastal.

Suggestions and Tips

  • North to South – we originally planned on going from San Diego to Santa Barbara and train home, but on input from others took the train first and rode South. Good for two main reasons – less headwind typically as you are going South and East, and you are also on the coastal side of the road going South so have a bit better view and more breezes.
  • Backup gear – as with any longer bike ride having spare tubes, pump, multi-tool, etc. is a must. We had two flats on the trip but not a big deal with supplies in hand.
  • Early starts – We left about 6:30 AM each morning which was nice, cool weather and also quieter on the roadways. We ended most days about 4 PM so had some time to relax and enjoy a good dinner.

Short Term Rentals in San Diego – The Newest Rebuke

Tomorrow, December 3, 2020, the San Diego Planning Commission will consider a proposal to greatly reduce and regulate the short-term rental industry in the city. This item will likely move to the City Council for consideration in 2021.

The relevant Agenda for the meeting (STR issue is Item 1) can be found here: https://www.sandiego.gov/sites/default/files/dsd_pcagenda_20201203.pdf

This Agenda item is based on the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) created between UNITE HERE Local 30 (a labor group) and Expedia Group. (MOU below)

You can add a comment or sign up to give live testimony via the Planning Commission website. Below is my short comment, opposing the MOU and supporting the many thousands of hosts in the City of San Diego.

The view from a recent Airbnb stay in Northern Wisconsin.

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This amendment / action would reduce the number of short term rentals in San Diego by approx. 65% and harm thousands of property owners during a period of economic turmoil. I urge the Planning Commission to oppose this amendment / action.

I agree with requiring a license number for each unit rented on a short-term basis, and requiring the posting of this license number on any online platform. I also agree with enhanced enforcement of noise and other nuisance laws, including an escalating fine scale for repeat offenders.

Short-term rentals are immensely popular (and have proven to be more resilient than hotels and other accommodations in the current Covid climate). I hope the Planning Commission will embrace short-term rentals and support this long established opportunity for San Diegans for the years to come by opposing this item. Thank you.

Mount Laguna Morning Hike

The Laguna Mountains lie about 45 miles straight east of Downtown San Diego. Reaching a maximum height of 6,378 feet they have a very different climate from the nearby beaches that San Diego is better known for. The many campgrounds in the Lagunas are our favorite places to camp near our home.

This week I took our older kids and some friends for a morning hike at the Wooded Hill trail in the Lagunas. It had rained a bit in San Diego over the weekend but we didn’t expect a snow covered scene when we reached the higher altitudes. It was a gorgeous morning, about 50 degrees, and with both evergreen trees and some oaks starting to change to fall colors.

We walked about 2 miles in 2 hours, taking time to throw snowballs, climb boulders, and enjoy the sunshine at the summit of the trail. (Strava recording in images below with more details along with some scenery photos.)

On the return journey to San Diego, about 50 minutes total drive time each way, we stopped at the absolutely fabulous Grand Ole BBQ y Asada in Flinn Springs (the Eastern edge of El Cajon). With current Covid restrictions the lawn games weren’t available but it was wonderful to sit in the 70 degree sun with a light breeze and enjoy the best barbeque in San Diego County. If visiting San Diego or live here, highly recommend a trip and the brisket or beef ribs.

San Diego has great beaches and wonderfully temperate weather for which it is mostly, and rightfully, known. The broader area has a wide variety of plants and land forms to explore and many like Mount Laguna deserve more love.

Short-Term Rental Properties – A Few Useful Tools

So you want to operate a short-term rental for your vacation home, in-law flat, previous home, or other property? Sites like Airbnb and VRBO have made the idea of second home or investment property a reality for many. These sites make the marketing and management of a property much easier than in the past. However, there are a number of additional tools and considerations to take into account.

We recently stayed at an Airbnb in South Lake Tahoe. It was great and a day at Angora Lakes was a highlight of our trip. (Photo is of Fallen Leaf Lake.)

Here a few recommendations for getting your short-term rental up and running smoothly.

Open a Checking Account (and potentially Credit Card) – If you are running a rental property, you are operating a business and will need to report the earnings and expenses on your tax return. Open up a checking account at a minimum to make tracking your net income easier. You may also want to open a credit card to earn rewards or cash back, depending on the amount of activity you have.

Check (And Modify As Needed) Your Insurance Policy – You may need to get an additional or different insurance policy for the property. There are a number of insurance providers that offer policies for short-term rentals, I use Foremost. Additionally, you may want to add an umbrella policy or consider setting up an LLC to address liability exposure.

Utilize Additional Tools – I currently use the following add-on tools for my Airbnb listings.

  • BeyondPricing – This tool adjusts the nightly rate to account for prices in the area, occupancy rate, seasonal factors, etc. There are a number of similar tools but I’ve been happy with BeyondPricing. The company charges 1% of gross for the service but I’ve found that just being able to pick up higher rates for large events like Comic-Con or conventions pays for itself.
  • Smartbnb – I really like this tool for managing multiple properties and team members. You can set up automated messages for check-in, check-out, etc. You can also set up text reminders for your housekeeper, manager, or other service providers.

Utilize Service Providers – Depending on your situation and goals, it may be well worth it to hire a property manager for your short-term rental, especially if you don’t live in the area. Guests often need in-person assistance for various needs, repairs, or other reasons. You may also want to consider a housekeeper unless you’re typically in town and have a flexible schedule to clean yourself.

Hosting on Airbnb for over a decade has been a great financial help for my family. I hope these suggestions are helpful to you and if you’re looking for more specific advice please contact me and let me know. Cheers!

A sample of Airbnb listings on the website

Transient Occupancy Tax in San Diego – Airbnb Overcharging Visitors

Airbnb has collected and remitted Transient Occupancy Taxes (TOT) for hosts in the City of San Diego since July 2015, making collection of these taxes easier for both hosts and the City Treasurer.  Per the City TOT FAQs, TOT is charged for the following stays:

“If you are renting a room for less than one calendar month, the rental is subject to the TOT.”

The exact rules of the TOT can be found in the San Diego Municipal Code (SDMC) §35.0101.  Here the City states there is a TOT:

“It is the purpose and intent of the City Council that there shall be imposed a tax on Transients”
And to whom that tax applies in the definition for Transient:
“Transient” means any Person who exercises Occupancy, or is entitled to Occupancy, by reason of concession, permit, right of access, license, or other agreement for a period of less than one (1) month. A month is defined as the period of consecutive days from the first calendar day of Occupancy in any month to the same calendar day in the next month following, or the last day of  the next month following if no corresponding calendar day exists.”
This definition does not rely on a strict number of days to qualify as a month – it is dependent on the number of days in each month.  A stay of 28 days (or 29 or 30) in February (of a non Leap Year) are not subject to TOT  but a stay of those durations in July would have TOT since July has 31 days.

The City of San Diego TOT is 10.5% for small short-term rental operators, those with less than 70 rooms.  An additional TMD assessment used to apply to small operators but now applies to large operators only, effective September 1, 2016. Rates and additional information available on City website for TOT.

Airbnb has not correctly implemented the definition of a calendar month in collecting the TOT in San Diego and instead is applying the tax to any stays of 30 days or less.  Per an email from Airbnb this week the company is collecting “10.5% of the listing price including any cleaning fee for reservations 30 nights and shorter”.

The Airbnb site can be used to see how the TOT calculation is being applied by entering dates and then clicking a property to see the reservations details, where the TOT is listed as a separate line as “Occupancy taxes and fees”.  Below are a few sample results showing the TOT being charged when it should not be.  The erroneous TOT charges are for hundreds of dollars each. I also called the TOT help phone number at the City (619-615-1530) to confirm that TOT should not be applied to these specific date scenarios.

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I’m a big fan of Airbnb both as a host and as a guest.  Having the company collect and remit TOT for hosts is a nice convenience, as previously short-term rental hosts on the platform had to complete and file a monthly return to report TOT.  The incorrect application of the TOT rules and resulting overcharging of customers is not right and needs to be corrected.  I’ve reached out to the company a number of times requesting this and either due to a difference of understanding or other reasons a correction has not been made. I’m hopeful that this article may result in corrective action being taken.

15 Empty Cars or A Beautiful Public Plaza? Little Italy Opts for the Latter with Piazza della Famiglia

Little Italy continues to grow and become a better place to visit and live.  The most recent addition to the neighborhood is Piazza della Famiglia – a 10,000 square foot public plaza with apartments above and 16,000 feet of retail and restaurant space surrounding.  This plaza was formerly a short block of Date Street but per an agreement between the developer, H.G. Fenton, and the City of San Diego the street was vacated and a beautiful public space was created, paid for by private dollars.

The plaza isn’t fully open yet but a few of the businesses are and when I stopped by today on a sunny, gorgeous day around noon there were people chatting and having coffee, a family walking their baby in a stroller, and a number of passersby traversing the plaza on foot and bicycle.  There’s currently a small tent set up with leasing information for the two apartment buildings that H.G. Fenton built next to the plaza – Vici and Amo – which add 125 units to the area.

Here are a number of photos I took of the plaza.  The Little Italy Farmer’s Market (every Saturday and the best in the region if you ask me) will soon return to Date Street and the scene is going to be better than ever.

It’s awesome to see the neighborhood and the City choosing a public space over a handful of mostly free parking spaces (metered during part of the day) that previously occupied the plaza space.  For a comparison I checked out the two closest similr streets, which are similar size – Cedar and Fir.  When I stopped by Cedar had 10 total vehicles parked and Fir had 20, including one person moving from one meter to another and a parking enforcement vehicle looking for ticketing opportunities.  Needless to say, these streets that are devoted to cars and parking had zero persons enjoying the square footage occupied by the empty traffic lanes and parking spots.

Fir Street – 20 empty cars

Cedar Street – 10 empty cars

Which would you prefer for your neighborhood? 15 empty cars on a block, or a beautiful public plaza with shops, fountains, tables, and a place to sit and enjoy life? This sort of opportunity is available in spaces across San Diego, if we choose to embrace it.  More likely we’ll see massive amounts of additional free street parking across the city, as soon to come to North Park, due to the City making it easier than ever to quickly give over more public land to parking.  I’d prefer more plazas, trees, and life – hopefully you’ll join me in working for the same.  And don’t forget to check out the Little Italy Farmer’s Market – a great start to the weekend for locals and visitors alike.  I’d recommend taking a bike-share bike, hopefully by the time you visit the local business association will have stopped sabotaging those programs in Little Italy.

Want To Be An Airbnb Host in San Diego? Good Luck – You’re On Your Own

The City of San Diego continues to discuss options for regulations and rules around short-term rentals on sites like Airbnb.  Short-term rentals are rentals for less than a full calendar month and have been the topic of discussion at a number of City Council and committee hearings over the last few years.

I recently received an inquiry from a San Diego resident that would like to rent out one or two bedrooms in the home they live in – sharing a room or home with guests is often referred to as “home-sharing”.  Home-sharing is frequently brought up in the short-term rental debate with both sides typically saying there is no issue with this type of activity.  (However, home-sharing is the only type of short-term rental I’m aware of that the City of San Diego took to court, and ultimately the judge decided that this type of activity is not allowed under current rules and issued a fine to that host.)

The prospective host in this case was looking to do the right thing and get clarity from the City before hosting on Airbnb.  They contacted several City departments regarding how to fill out the right information for the Transient Occupancy Registration Certificate( “TORC”), if a Business Tax Certificate is required, what taxes they need to pay, and if there are other regulations they need to follow for lawfully renting out rooms via platforms such as Airbnb. 

 

On the response to the prospective host, the city was clear and straight-forward in providing the process to register for the TORC, what kind of taxes the host would need to pay, etc.  The Transient Occupancy Tax (i.e. hotel tax) is not part of the debate and proposed short-term rental rules – it is already in place and collected (and in the case of Airbnb remitted for all hosts on the platform each month by the platform itself).

However, in regard to other requirements for operating an Airbnb, the prospective host was directed to consult the Development Services Department (in charge of Land Use and Development). Surprisingly, when the host reached out to Development Services they were told  that since there are no official regulations or rules around short-term rentals, this kind of activity is currently not allowed in San Diego.  That’s when the host reached out to me, as part of my efforts with the Short-Term Rental Alliance of San Diego (STRASD) – seeking clarity the city couldn’t provide and how they should proceed.

The contradiction between the responses from different City departments is confusing but accurate.  Yes – you can register and pay the taxes for this sort of activity.  No – you can not engage in this type of activity in the first place.  This is the current status of short-term rentals in San Diego, at least for home-sharing situations.  It still seems that whole-home short-term rentals may be on firmer ground, although the current City Attorney has declared all short-term rentals illegal. [Note: the previous two City Attorneys held a different position, that short-term rentals were not illegal.]

This sort of lack of clarity is harmful to potential hosts like the one highlighted in this post – a San Diego resident seeking to improve their economic position and do so in a straight-forward and compliant manner in the type of short-term rental that is roundly approved of and supported.  We need clarity to support residents like this and should encourage this type of widespread entrepreneurial opportunity to give citizens more options and ability to chart their own desired course.  Hopefully in the months ahead we will see clarity that gives certainty to current and potential hosts and guests and that supports the opportunity that platforms like Airbnb and others gives to many thousands of San Diegans.

A screen shot of some home-sharing options currently available on Airbnb (taken 4-19-2018)

Out and About – Recent Podcast Interviews on Short-Term Rentals

I was recently included on two podcast I regularly listen to, both on the topic of short-term rentals.  I have been using platforms like Airbnb for about 8 years to welcome people to San Diego and have had a great experience.  As with many other cities around the globe, San Diego has been debating the proper place for short-term rentals (rentals of less than 30 days or a calendar month) in recent years.  I’ve become involved in that political debate locally and follow the issue broadly as well.

The Voice of San Diego podcast is a great resource if you’re interested in local issues and longer interviews with people that make an impact here.  I was part of a four person panel discussing potential new rules for short-term rentals in San Diego.  The podcast was held shortly before a full City Council hearing on the topic which was expected to result in new rules for the city.  Instead, the all day hearing resulted in nothing new and the issue remains up in the air.

Check out the Voice of San Diego podcast on short-term rentals here:

https://www.voiceofsandiego.org/topics/news/vosd-podcast-great-vacation-rental-debate/

I was also recently on Get Paid for Your Pad – a podcast focused on short-term rentals with news and interviews of hosts from around the world.  This show is a great resource if you are a current host, considering hosting, or just interested in the topic.  Host Jasper Ribbens, from The Netherlands, does a great job of including perspectives from hosts from different cities and nations and covering a wide variety of news items from technology to new rules that impact the short-term rental industry.

You can find my interview with Jasper here:

EP212: The Power of Under-Promising and Over-Delivering

Hope you enjoy the podcasts and if you’d like to connect about short-term rentals in San Diego or elsewhere please reach out anytime.  Cheers!

A photo from a recent bike ride along Sunset Cliffs. #SDlove

Short-Term Rentals in San Diego – Economic Impact Analysis Report (Oct 2017)

Last month a press conference was held to release a study done on the economic impact of short-term rentals in San Diego for HomeAway / Expedia by Xpera Group.  The report follows a similar study commissioned by Airbnb and done by National University in October 2015.  Both full reports are included on this post for anyone interested in this issue.

A few highlights from the new study:

  • Total of $500M of impact in City of San Diego ($300M direct spending, $200 induced and indirect spending)
  • 3,00 jobs in City of San Diego
  • Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT or “hotel tax”) estimated to be $19M or more in 2017, a 200% increase over 2015 when the TOT from short-term rentals total $9.6M
  • In 2016, City of San Diego TOT was $202.8M of which $15.6M was from short-term rentals, a 7.7% share.
  • “Short term lodging guests tend to be much younger than hotel guests and have a higher percentage of females than hotels.”
  • Short-term guests typically stay longer than hotel guests, “roughly half of short term lodging room nights coming from trips of seven days or longer”
  • 7,436 total short-term lodging listings in City of San Diego, estimated (as of June 2017).  11,530 estimated for San Diego County.
  • In 2016 San Diego County had 30.4 million visitors, 17.4 million overnight visitors.  That would be an average of 47,671 overnight guests per night in the County.

The short-term rental issue continues to be a hot topic in San Diego and a good explainer for the current status can be found here on Voice of San Diego (from Nov 1, 2017).  A full City Council hearing is expected to be held on December 12 although a recent hearing was cancelled on short notice in October so we’ll see how the December hearing plays out.

a photo of my Airbnb listing in North Park

Short-term rentals in SD – Economic Impact Analysis – Xpera Group – October 2017

Short-term rentals in SD – Economic Impact Analysis – National University – Oct 2015

A Lovely Stroll Through Banker’s Hill

Banker’s Hill is a hilly, pretty neighborhood just North of Downtown San Diego and to the West of Balboa Park.  It has a wide variety of old mansions, new condos, restaurants, churches, and everything in between.  It has a quiet vibe but I would guess this will shift in the next couple of years as there are quite a few new housing units being built and one would expect supporting businesses – more coffee shops and restaurants, gyms, professional offices, etc. – to open to cater to the new residents.

I’m often in Banker’s Hill and have established a route I like to walk or run that has a good mix of nature trails in canyons, park space, and residential areas.  I typically put a podcast on my phone and then go out for a break from work and listen to something interesting.  I wanted to share my route with others that might be interested in exploring Banker’s Hill a bit more.

Here’s a map of the route I generally take although I frequently shift portions of the route.  Start just East of the intersection of 6th & Laurel at the statue of Kate Sessions.  Head north on one of the sidewalks (or walk on the grass) through the western portion of Balboa Park to Spruce Street and head West.  This will bring you to the Spruce Street Bridge which you can cross and then take the meandering Curlew Street down to the bottom of Maple Canyon, which you can use to complete the loop and then cross the Quince Street Bridge to finish up.  I finished this route today at the new James Coffee location at 2870 Fourth Ave, Suite 107, San Diego, CA 92103.

Overhead map and elevation chart

Following are a few photos from today, there are also a number of wonderful buildings (new and old) to look at.  Hope you enjoy the area and this route!

Kate Sessions – mother of Balboa Park

Spruce Street Bridge

A photo from the Western portion of Maple Canyon

This house is mostly hidden and located in Maple Canyon. It has a great assortment of plants and a rustic look.

Quince Street Bridge crossing Maple Canyon. New construction underway in background.