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County planners and board of supervisors to discuss vacation rentals

By Chris Rooney

Time is running out for public input as the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors works toward firming up regulations on vacation rentals. A Sonoma County Planning Commission meeting, hosted by Permit Sonoma, is scheduled for Thursday, Jan. 20, at 1 p.m. The planners intend to provide recommendations to the supervisors, who are expected to take action before the end of the month.

“We know we’ve got a lot of room for improvement,” said county planner Gary Helfrich during a public forum (via Zoom) in November of last year.

The meeting agenda will be posted online three days prior to the meeting. While the meeting welcomes Zoom participants, those wanting to weigh in via email should send feedback to [email protected] org.

The upcoming session follows a Nov. 18, 2021, forum that tackled a number of issues stemming from an increase in property owners renting houses to tourists through platforms such as Airbnb. Property owners who have invested in these rentals want to continue generating revenue, but residents say these properties are sometimes mismanaged, creating noise and traffic problems.

Overseeing the occasional property owner renting out houses is one thing, but there has been growing concern that is becoming a cottage industry. For instance, a San Francisco-based firm called Pacaso operates “fractional homeownerships” that allow up to eight buyers to share ownership in a house, which then serves as a vacation home akin to a time-share rental.

Among the regulations being discussed are the number of people allowed to reside in a rental at any given time, what type of licensing should be required, and ways to hold property owners and property managers more accountable for renters who disturb the neighborhood. To stave off investors who want to operate a string of rental properties, there is also discussion regarding limiting the number of rental licenses an individual is allowed to hold.

Among the favored ideas for new regulations is a proposed 24-hour hotline for residents that would allow a faster response to renters violating rules, creating noise, and parking in an unsafe manner.

In a parallel action, in December 2021, the supervisors decided to continue a moratorium on property rentals in burn zones.

“Immediately following the fires, the Board of Supervisors adopted an urgency measure prohibiting new vacation rentals countywide in order to make more housing available to fire survivors,” stated a county staff report. “In its review of this action on January 23, 2018, the Board chose not to extend the countywide prohibition because so many existing vacation rental owners had leased their properties to fire survivors. Instead, on October 23, 2018, the Board amended [local ordinance] Chapter 40 to prohibit new vacation rentals within the burn area only, to prevent the loss of residential lands and existing housing stock to visitor-serving uses.”

The measure was “intended to reduce speculative investment in and development of lots in the burn area 5

for the purpose of creating new visitor-oriented use,” the report explained.

County officials also recognized that the region’s housing availability was an ongoing issue.

“Sonoma County remains in a housing crisis,” the report stated. “Permit Sonoma staff continue to receive frequent inquiries from investors interested in purchasing a lot within the burn area and developing a short-term vacation rental rather than a long-term residential unit. With affected neighborhoods still struggling to rebuild, staff recommends continuing the ban on new vacation rentals in the burn area. Existing and previously permitted vacation rentals are not restricted by this ordinance. Hosted rentals would continue to be allowed, including in rebuilds, and investors could still purchase lots to build as residences.”