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Monday, January 21 , 2019, 3:13 pm | Fair 63º


Santa Barbara County Planning Commission Takes on Short-term Vacation Rentals

Commissioners propose changes for Board of Supervisors to Consider

The Santa Barbara County Planning Commision on Wednesday seemed to be leaning toward some sort of prohibitions on vacation rentals, such as those offered by Santa Ynez Vacation Rentals, above. The matter was delayed until the panel’s Dec. 9 meeting. Click to view larger
The Santa Barbara County Planning Commision on Wednesday seemed to be leaning toward some sort of prohibitions on vacation rentals, such as those offered by Santa Ynez Vacation Rentals, above. The matter was delayed until the panel’s Dec. 9 meeting. (John Harvey / Santa Ynez Vacation Rentals photo)

Santa Barbara County should impose some sort of ban on short-term vacation rentals in unincorporated areas, the majority of the county Planning Commission indicated Wednesday.

But with the scales unofficially tipped 3-1 in favor of at least prohibiting the growing practice of renting a room or home for fewer than 30 consecutive days in most residential zones — and with commission vice chair Larry Ferini absent — the group decided to delay the matter until Dec. 9.

Commissioners took on the short-term vacation rental issue for the first time, looking at whether the popular rentals should be allowed in county areas from the Santa Maria Valley down to Carpinteria.

Planning staff asked for direction to draft a zoning ordinance, since right now the term “short-term vacation rental” doesn’t exist in county books.

The county has been requiring rentals to register to pay transient-occupancy taxes regardless, collecting nearly $1.4 million in such levies in the 2014-15 fiscal year, according to County Treasurer-Tax Collector records.

Commissioners, along with those on the Montecito Planning Commission, which meets to discuss the subject Nov. 18, won’t have the final say, however.

The recommendations they come up with will go to the county Board of Supervisors sometime next spring for final decision.

“I would say we consider both a ban for certain areas and regulation of short-term rentals in certain areas where we can define by zone or character of neighborhood,” Commissioner Michael Cooney said, giving Miramar Beach and Padaro Lane in Carpinteria as possible examples of allowable areas.

His two suggestions for regulating the more than 400 short-term rentals have gone back to staff, who will clarify enforcement plans and resources, the impact of rentals on affordable housing, neighbor nuisance plans and more by the next meeting.

County staff shared the comments and research derived from public workshops on the subject, where opinions were as split as they were Wednesday.

Commissioners had four options: allow short-term rentals with restrictions, prohibit them in zones that don’t currently allow traditional lodging uses, clarify that home stays are a separate use from rentals, or don’t make any changes.

Planning assistant director Dianne Black said regulations would be very difficult to enforce, which was something commissioners should consider.

Commission chair Cecilia Brown pointed out the county wouldn’t have as many resources as cities such as Santa Barbara, which is in the process of enforcing a zoning code ban of short-term rentals in the city’s residential neighborhoods.

Commissioners heard two hours of public testimony, with Brown grilling some rental owners about their parking or neighborhood situations.

Many rented rooms a few times a month for the extra cash or to be able to stay in and keep up their homes.

Even those who were calling for a ban, drudging up horror stories that brought one rental neighbor to tears, admitted they had no idea how the county could enforce it.

Santa Ynez Vacation Rentals owner and president Leanne Schlinger advocated for adopting a permitting process with standards similar to those her business has for its 40 valley rentals.

The managing company founded 10 years ago has rentals on private properties ranging in size from 10 to 1,000 acres, she said, with a 24-hour contact person for concerns.

“Enforcement is obviously a sticky issue, but, at the same time, merely establishing standards… provides some kind of ground rules we don’t have right now,” said Andrew Nelson, who lives near a rental above Santa Barbara off Highway 154. “The biggest problem for me is who are you going to call?”

Commissioner Daniel Blough was sympathetic to noise and parking issues, but said he would prefer a more detailed licensing process.

“I would hate to see us do something crazy like completely disallow it,” he said. “I think we can solve the problem of the bad apples.”

Brown and Commissioner Joan Hartmann were more concerned about character of neighborhoods and rentals in residential zones, saying the impacts were too great.

“Over the long run, I think we’ve got to find a compromise,” Hartmann said. “Over the short run, I’m deeply distressed with where we find ourselves. It seems right now it’s allowed everywhere.”

Cooney and Blough seemed to believe short-term rentals could be allowed in some places, with Blough suggesting that professional vacation rental companies work with staff on draft regulations.

Noozhawk staff writer Gina Potthoff can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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