Berkeley City Council discusses possible Airbnb regulations

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Berkeley City Council discusses city matters during its April 2019 meeting.

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Berkeley City Council discussed an item Tuesday that could re-regulate the rules for short-term rentals such as Airbnb to maintain neighborhood character and protect affordable housing from being converted into short-term rentals.

The council passed more than 40 items during its five-hour meeting. Those passed include one eliminating taxpayer costs from installation of telecommunication infrastructure, another giving Berkeley Police Department more than $300,000 to test untested sexual assault evidence and an item providing free menstrual products to underprivileged residents.

The council also passed an item that will allow certain businesses to operate outdoors on private property.

Additionally, amendments made to short-term rental regulations would place responsibility on the host apps, such as Airbnb, and individual hosts to pay the transient occupancy tax to Berkeley. Furthermore, the apps are responsible for ensuring the short-term rental is appropriately licensed with a zoning certificate, which must be displayed on any advertisements.

The City Council also stipulated short-term rentals are not permitted in below-market-rate units to prevent long-term affordable housing from being converted into short-term rental housing. The item was eventually referred to the city manager for additional consideration.

Later, in light of the nationwide Black Lives Matter movement and the recent municipal curfew placed in response to a potentially violent protest, the council considered an item requiring more strict regulations for declaring citywide curfews.

Among the regulations would be the requirement that the City Council declares a local emergency at a meeting while reviewing all available facts and applicable statutory requirements for declaring the emergency. This item was also referred to the city manager and the city attorney for further consideration.

“I have conducted research on mass response to protests,” said Boston University professor of law Karen Pita Loor during the meeting. “Without an emergency declaration, (the) government cannot declare a curfew. … It is vital to strictly question any curfew.”

The City Council considered another potential ballot measure that will, if passed, eliminate the “golden duplex” rent and eviction control exemption.

A golden duplex is a two-family unit that is currently owner-occupied as a principal residence and was owner-occupied Dec. 31, 1979. The owners living at the duplex now do not necessarily have to be the same owners who lived there in 1979, however. If a duplex meets these criteria, then it is fully exempt from rent control and eviction protections.

Mayor Jesse Arreguín and Councilmembers Ben Bartlett and Lori Droste had to recuse themselves from the discussion because they live in golden duplexes or housing that meets the criteria for golden duplexes. Councilmember Susan Wengraf also had to recuse herself from the discussion, as she owns a rented single-family home.

“Anyone who lives in a single-family home is potentially at a conflict of interest,” said Councilmember Kate Harrison during the meeting. “The only people that could vote on this are those who live in multi-family units.”

With only five members available to vote, the council was not able to extend the meeting time past 11 p.m., resulting in public comment continuing until the meeting deadline. The council was unable to take action on the golden duplex ballot measure during the meeting.

The next City Council meeting will be held July 30 at 4 p.m.

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that City Council passed an item to regulate short-term rentals. In fact, the item was referred to the city manager for further consideration.
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that City Council passed an item that would create higher standards for imposing curfews. In fact, the item was referred to the city manager and the city attorney for further consideration.

Contact Eric Rogers at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @eric_rogers_dc.