The Cathedral City Council on Wednesday night unanimously agreed to allow voters to decide whether to phase out short-term vacation rentals, teeing up a heated debate before a special election occurs on March 2.
Faced with the decision of repealing a previously passed ordinance to phase-out rentals or calling for a referendum, the council went with the latter, citing the quality of life issues raised by many residents and strong opinions on either side.
“We’re divided here,” Councilmember Mark Carnavale said. “This has to go to the voters for their opinion.”
A working-class community with around 54,000 residents, Cathedral City had around 400 short-term vacation rentals this year before the council passed an ordinance to eliminate them in all neighborhoods but homeowners associations. Their presence has caused significant debate including a lengthy task force report, a moratorium on new rentals, and hundreds of comments from residents on either side of the debate.
Through the referendum, voters will decide whether the city should stick with the council’s September decision to undo its existing regulations and phase out short-term rentals by 2023, or overturn those policies.
After the September vote, supporters of short-term rentals organized as Share Cathedral City embarked on a signature-gathering campaign to overturn the ban. The group is an offshoot of another group called I Love Cathedral City that sprung up earlier this year to support vacation rentals, and both argued that Cathedral City didn’t properly enforce its original short-term rental ordinance before making the decision to ban them.
They gathered 4,304 signatures, and 3,515 were verified by the county registrar of voters as of November 24. That meets the threshold of more than 10% of the city’s registered voters to trigger a referendum on whether to overturn the ordinance.
Past coverage: Cathedral City votes to phase out short-term rentals by 2023
Past coverage: Cathedral City group opposed to short-term rental ban submits petition
Because the group gathered enough signatures, the council could’ve voted to repeal the ordinance or put it to the voters. In casting his vote in support of the referendum, Mayor John Aguilar said he has concluded that short-term vacations are “disruptive to our neighborhoods and a bad idea.”
Before Wednesday’s vote, roughly 40 people spoke during a two-hour-long public hearing on what has become one of the most controversial issues for Cathedral City in recent memory.
Residents on both sides of the debate urged the council to take their side by citing the cost to taxpayers of hosting a special election. The Riverside County Registrar of Voters estimates it will cost be between $75,000 and $85,000, according to Cathedral City documents.
A heated debate
When the city decided to phase out short-term rentals by