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Vacation rental caps remain for Springs and Russian River


By Liz Watson

The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to extend its 2017 urgency ordinance to cap vacation rental permits only for certain neighborhoods to August 2022, pending further in-depth study. Theodor and Falcon Lanes in Agua Caliente, as well as locations in lower Russian River neighborhoods—both with high ratios of vacation homes to total housing—are included in the extension. The vote was taken at the Dec. 15 Board of Supervisors meeting. New vacation rentals in most of Glen Ellen and Kenwood have been restricted by the X Vacation Rental Exclusion Combining District since the county supervisors approved the most recent comprehensive ordinance in 2016.

Supervisors heard staff recommendations for identifying and extending the county’s Vacation Rental Cap through August 2022. To date, county planning staff have reviewed 2,800 homes and reached out to 3,647 individuals, the majority in Russian River’s District 5. The focus and extended cap in District 1 covers a single neighborhood in the Springs. The county has 1,948 existing, licensed vacation rentals on its books.

The decision to continue restrictions and to review short-term rentals in higher-density areas in the county was actively supported by Theodor and Falcon Lane full-time residents, who cited the 2016 VR Ordinance and subsequent high concentrations—up to 43%—of short-term rentals in their neighborhoods.

Describing the process as a “heavy lift,” County Planner Gary Helfrich said the department’s process is beset and hampered, in part, by outdated concept policy facts and data, outdated county mapping, and the need for greater contact with residents, emergency services and other related public providers, and stakeholders. Outreach has been, and is expected to continue to be, slowed by pandemic restrictions.

During public comment, the Board heard from about 15 residents, most from Theodor Lane. These residents cited close proximity of houses, the concentration of rentals, and the frequency and duration of use. One letter summarized the issues: “We are now at a 33% density of Theodor and Falcon Lanes,” stated a letter signed by 35 neighbors. “Many of us invested our life savings into this quiet, lovely neighborhood. To have this happen has been heartbreaking and infuriating…” The letter was addressed to Supervisor Gorin and county planning Vacation rentals ‑ from page 3

staff. “Please put a 20% cap on vacation rentals in our neighborhood to protect our peace and our investment….”

Board Chair Gorin responded to the letter’s plea, stating, “Absolutely, we still have some work to do … and multiple discussions to modification of the ordinance.”

“We effectively have a cap on the vacation rental permits in those [exclusionary burn zones in Glen Ellen and Kenwood] areas,” Gorin added. Sonoma County Planner Helfrich confirmed those caps.

Going forward, the county fact-finding process and August 2022 extension in both districts will run concurrently. However, data collection will be conducted separately, staff noted.

The “heavy-lift” study, interview, and public hearing portions conducted through this year will include outreach to residents and various agency personnel, as well as data from county agencies, including public safety, fire, and police call logs. Interviews with those who provide services which may be impacted by traffic, trash, noise, and other related public services are key to accurate and pertinent reporting, staff said.

Staff and board members agreed that additional analysis is warranted, in addition to:

• Improved availability and quality of data

• Impacts of vacation rentals on area housing • Development of vacation rental concentration metrics and thresholds • Additional community and stakeholder outreach and engagement • Allowance of new permits due to expiration or change in ownership, cessation of use, or revocation within specified areas Quality of life issues, cited repeatedly among full-time residents, will be included in interviews, surveys, meetings, and outreach, county staff confirmed. Caps on previous areas studied have been repealed and applications are being accepted for vacation rental permits in areas outside of the study.