Letters to the Editor
Big problems when homes are transformed into transient lodging
For the last year, my Glen Ellen neighborhood has gone from a rural residential haven to a non-stop fun zone for drunken tourists. Single family homes, converted into transient lodging units, are now operating throughout our residential neighborhoods – all day, every day, without onsite management or adequate county policing. As a result, we have experienced a dramatic uptick in noise, traffic, and drunken tourists’ misadventures day and night, every weekend, holiday, and throughout the warmer months.
I live behind one such property. Nearly every weekend tourists show up, begin drinking, the party grows, the outdoor conversation gradually increases in volume and profanity, continuing into the night. Yelling and screaming, glasses breaking, loud music, blasting car horns, auto exhaust fumes, and the smell of chlorine from the pool waft upward and into our home, making it nearly impossible to enjoy the simple pleasures of home, including a good night’s sleep. Our neighbors, the new property owners, live on the East Coast. The “hotline” required by the county is sometimes disconnected, sometimes set to go to a recording advising the caller that “the person you are trying to reach is not accepting calls at this time; please try your call again later.” My calls to elected officials and the Sonoma County Planning Department (PRMD) have likewise done little good.
Along the way I have learned the following, and want to share it with your readers:
1. There is no appeal process for neighbors concerned about applications for use changes from residential to vacation rental businesses. In fact, there is no requirement to notify neighbors of the proposed change in use prior to approval.
2. Likewise, there is no PRMD oversight to assure full compliance with all filing requirements, and applications are approved prior to completion of the application process! In our case that meant that when the business owners failed to notify neighbors of the home’s conversion to a commercial establishment catering to transients 24/7, or to maintain a working hotline, the problem was ignored until PRMD was notified by neighbors, this following a series of all-night parties on the premises last summer.
3. PRMD has few staff assigned to investigate complaints of code violations. I was told by a PRMD manager that they have a backlog of thousands of complaints of one sort or another. So responding to neighbors’ complaints of excessive noise and other vacation rental issues are not going to be addressed any time soon.
4. PRMD is only available to respond to calls from Monday through Thursday, which means there is no real oversight from the county during weekends.
5. Likewise, calls to law enforcement seldom help because callers are typically informed that there is no noise ordinance. Last summer, many calls were made by various neighbors when one party continued until dawn. Even after law enforcement showed up (twice), the party continued. This is no way to live.
6. There is nothing in this program to protect residential neighborhoods. For example, a PRMD manager informed me that there are no restrictions on the number or ratio of transient occupancy conversions that the county might permit in a given neighborhood. Also, they have no idea how many vacation rentals exist in Glen Ellen or elsewhere in the county.
7. Further, as illustrated above, since enforcement is minimal at best, the prospect of collecting the Transient Occupancy Taxes (TOT) driving this program seems worthy of investigation. After all, if our safety and peace are being sacrificed for tax revenue, I want evidence that those property owners are ponying up (as has been a problem in the recent past).
8. This program is all about money flowing into the County’s General fund in the form of TOT revenue, and the real estate industry’s unrelenting lobbying for this program as yet another of their cash cows, regardless of the deleterious effects on neighborhoods.
My final thought is simple: this program asks far too much of residents and must be revised immediately. Another year of this insult is not acceptable. Let’s do what we can and must to save Glen Ellen and Kenwood neighborhoods from the greedy intentions of others.
Deborah C. Nitasaka
I feel fortunate my parents chose Sonoma County to raise their growing family when my father retired from the U.S. Navy out of San Diego in 1961. My siblings and I were able to live in a modest home in the area called Montgomery Village in Santa Rosa.
Mom and Dad hailed from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where polka is “King.” As a family of six children we could pack ourselves into the station wagon and make a drive into the Valley of the Moon to spend the day at Little Switzerland. I have such fond memories of these family outings with the music, dancing, good food and fun activities for children.
Now, as a grown woman with daughters and granddaughters, I can no longer create new memories at Little Switzerland.
I am glad every so often I can drive to the Moose Lodge on Broadway in Sonoma and get a good workout on a Sunday night trying to keep up with the Polka masters out on the dance floor there.
My point is this: The only thing certain in life is change. Sonoma and its outlying communities are changing, much like other areas throughout Sonoma County. Truly, who amongst us “old timers” could have envisioned gaming casinos gracing our rural landscape, much less the friendly city of Rohnert Park?
Please keep the conversations going amongst yourselves in Sonoma regarding your community and “growing pains.” Some of us even remember when there was a swimming pool at Sonoma Valley High School. This pool was a wonderful asset to the most important part of any town, its children and its youth.
Theresa M. Schulz