Tears and shouting accompanied the decision of a very conflicted City Council to deny vacation rentals at one of Seal Beach’s oldest homes.
Residents and city leaders debated the issue for hours in front of a packed City Council chamber Monday.
For some, the council’s decision violated principles of property rights and inclusiveness. Others saw it as a victory for those wishing to protect Seal Beach from discourteous outsiders whose parties and noise threaten Old Town’s quality of life.
During public comments, one speaker talked about the late Whitney Houston, about her alleged gun-toting bodyguards who stayed at the home and the fear that caused.
The property owner said in that instance Houston was a long-term renter.
Another speaker, a 17-year-old student from Rossmoor, said that the council shouldn’t interfere with the people’s right to “life, liberty and property.”
Still another speaker said she thought the co-owners were running a drug rehab clinic … which she immediately took back after loud comments of “No,” from the property owners.
At the center of the debate is a 2,750 square foot piece of property at 413 Ocean Avenue owned by a husband and wife. The couple, both psychologists, rent the property about nine months to long term renters -- those who stay for 30 days or more -- and for about a month and a half, they rent it to short-term renters– those who stay for less than 30 days at a time.
In October, the city’s Planning Commission voted 5-0 to give the owners a permit allowing vacation rentals at the property.
According to the owners, the house was built in 1910, about five years before Seal Beach incorporated.
Neighbors filed an appeal, asking the City Council to overturn the Commission’s decision.
Kurt Schulzman, one of the neighbors who filed the appeal, said short-term property rentals at the site affect property values, parking and quality of life of the surrounding neighborhood.
“It puts a tremendous burden on the people that are there,” Schulzman said.
Schulzman added that short-term rentals don't allow enough time for the surrounding residents to learn about their neighbors and that leads to an unsafe environment.
“We don’t know who comes and goes,” Kurt said. “(With long term property renters) you know who they are and how long they’re going to be there.”
Property co-owner Perry Guthrie said he and his wife had followed city guidelines to the letter.
Guthrie said it's not an "unregulated party house.”
“In reality, 413 is wonderful,” Guthrie said. “They (commenters) give a distorted perception that this is a motel or hotel or a party house and that is not so.”
According to city staff, since at least 2007, there are no police reports indicating that the neighborhood has suffered from “excessive noise, crime, or littering”
After Councilman Gordon Shanks made a motion to overturn the Planning Commission decision, both the Mayor Pro Tem and the Mayor said they hadn’t made up their minds on how to vote.
Mayor Michael Levitt then asked the property co-owners if they would consider only renting their home out for long term renters.
“I’m trying to make it easy on you,” Levitt said. “Because a vote could go against you.”
During the mayor’s comments, one of the vacation rental supporters yelled out “How can that be legal?”
Co-owner Lenore Schwankovsky said she was confused by Levitt’s request, and said that it was possible to rent only long term, but that it would hurt them financially.
And she said they wanted to go through the city’s process because she and her husband had qualified according to the laws of Seal Beach.
“We qualify so much that we’re probably the most qualified ones,” Schwankosky said.
During public comments Devon Guthrie, an opera singer and daughter of the co-owners, said she wanted to speak for her parents.
“I am very happy to be here tonight to make a statement on the integrity and character of my family,” Devon Guthrie said.
She said that her parents plan to retire and live in the home and that she plans to live there when she retires someday too.
The 3-0 decision by the City Council left her in tears afterward.
“I’m extremely disappointed,” said Melissa Gomez, who helps manage the property. “I thought we had all of our ducks in a row."
Councilmembers Ellery Deaton and David Sloan recused themselves: Deaton said she lived within 500 feet of the property, and Sloan said he was "a close personal friend" of the property owner and would recuse himself “out of an abundance of caution.”