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Vacation rental update in front of supervisors on July 22

Vexing rules wending their way toward resolution

By Jay Gamel

Vacation rentals … how many, where, what for … have been questions kicked around since at least 2006 with no easy answers in sight. The county’s Board of Supervisors will consider extending a 2020 cap on short-term rental permits, an issue of importance to would-be vacation rental property owners, real estate and rental agencies, and members of the wine industry who market to the tourists they house.

The caps were imposed via an emergency ordinance passed on Sept. 22, 2020, with approximately 1,950 licenses in place. New applications can be taken as existing licenses are not renewed or are withdrawn. At the time the caps were imposed, there were over 400 advertised vacation rentals that had not registered with the county to pay the special Transient Occupancy Tax, known as TOT. Rentals shorter than 30 days are considered ‘short-term’. They are often referred to as “vacation rentals,” since many are marketed as such through various online agencies. Short-term rentals are subject to ministerial permits, special taxes on rents, and a slew of regulations on operations. Prior to the quarantines of 2020, they were often a point of contention with neighbors complaining of late, loud parties in residential neighborhoods. The emergency ordinance cited the loss of over 5,000 homes in 2017 and more in 2020, which exacerbated the housing shortage endemic to Sonoma County to the point where adding to the shortterm rental stock became a further issue.

The number of residential homes converted to short-term rentals shot through the roof after 2010, causing concern that neighborhoods in small communities, like Kenwood and Glen Ellen, were losing permanent housing to what amounts to commercial use of the housing stock.

Supervisors will discuss the extension at their July 20 regular meeting.

Sonoma Valley residents got a look at the current proposals May 26 at the Sonoma Valley Citizens Advisory Commission meeting. The commission is an advisory body with no power to pass ordinances, but they did have input on the plans moving forward.

The short-term rental cap extension was presented as a workshop at the SVCAC, and no up or down vote was taken. Several suggestions were made, including having Permit Sonoma code enforcement people working on weekends when most complaints occur.

The county agenda specifying the time of the workshop will be published at least three days before the meeting.

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