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Moratorium on vacation rentals extended

Supervisors await new regulations

By Chris Rooney

As the Sonoma County Planning Commission fine-tunes its updated zoning regulations, the Board of Supervisors voted to extend a moratorium on vacation rentals that was about to expire.

In a 4-1 vote at a June 13 meeting, the supervisors extended the moratorium on new permits for vacation rental homes for up to a year.

“This extension of the moratorium of vacation rental permits throughout the county allows staff and the community more time to thoughtfully work through some of these issues to further regulate and protect our neighborhoods, as well as help our owners [and] managers understand how to better market and manage their units, while inviting guests who respect neighbors and community,” said First District Supervisor Susan Gorin.

County officials approved a moratorium on May 10, but it was backdated to March 17 because there had been a significant increase in permit applicants following a public meeting that signaled tighter regulations on rentals were about to be adopted. That moratorium was for just 45 days, but agreeing on new zoning rules and a firm county policy for the industry has taken longer than anticipated.

The Planning Commission has been wrangling with regulations that would allow property owners a chance to use their homes to turn a profit while offsetting some of the concerns expressed by neighbors of rentals, including noise, traffic, parking, and debris.

“Overconcentration of vacation rental permits, irresponsibly managed rentals, loud parties or gatherings, [and] protecting neighborhood character all have been a focus of our … team each year since I was elected in 2012, and previously the work of former Supervisor Valerie Brown,” Gorin said.

The planners are looking at limiting the number of permits each person can hold, as well as curtailing the number of rental properties in specific neighborhoods, with the goal of preserving a region’s character.

Both sides of the debate have weighed in during past meetings, but those favoring vacation rentals were more vocal at the June 13 session, as the moratorium stoked some fears. Lost in the shuffle is the fact that the new zoning rules are likely to be delivered to the supervisors in early August and, if they are quickly adopted, the moratorium could readily be lifted.

Of about a dozen callers into the meeting, just one was in favor of the moratorium.

“A moratorium hinders all of the small businesses that rely on visitors to support the local economy, jobs, in restaurants, bookstores, cafés, and other destinations. As residents of the county work to overcome the harsh effects of the COVID pandemic shutdowns, the last thing we need is to shut down a driver of our economy,” the Sonoma County Coalition of Hosts said in a prepared statement. The organization has been doggedly fighting for the rights of property owners wanting to rent homes. “Placing a moratorium on vacation rentals negatively affects average folks, in their time of need.”

A planning commission update is scheduled for Aug. 2.

The moratorium does not apply to areas along the coast, as they are regulated by the California Coastal Commission. The coast would also be exempt from any permanent county caps on new rentals.

Supervisor David Rabbitt was the lone dissenter, saying he feared the ban could be at odds with state regulations on vacation rentals.