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Airbnbs and Coastal Access: Can the California Coastal Commission Reject Local Ordinances That Ban Short-Term Rentals?

Veronika Morrison

Vol. 53

April 2020

Page 2041

California resolved to ensure public access to the coast with the passage of Proposition 20 in 1972 and the California Coastal Act (“CCA”) in 1976. However, the protections of this legislation are currently under threat. As the short-term rental service Airbnb has gained traction and popularity in coastal cities, local governments have grappled with how to regulate short-term rentals. Many cities have passed ordinances banning or placing caps on the number of Airbnb short-term rentals that are permitted, thus interfering with public coastal access. Controversially, the California Coastal Commission (the “Commission”) has asserted its authority over such ordinances under the theory that they constitute “development” in the coastal zone and are therefore subject to the requirements of the CCA. The Commission has consistently struck down these ordinances under the provision of the CCA that requires the protection of affordable access to the California coast. However, it has not provided clear, definitive rationales for its decisions. This lack of clarity has left cities, residents, and Airbnb without an established legal framework for determining what they can and cannot do with regard to short-term rentals in the coastal zone.

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