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Saturday, March 23 , 2019, 3:01 pm | Mostly Cloudy 62º


Letter to the Editor: Proposed Santa Barbara County Vacation Rental Ban a Short-Sighted ‘Fix’

I was born in Santa Barbara on one of the only days it actually snowed. It’s true.  January 24, 1957. The story goes something like this — my parents lived and worked in Isla Vista: my father was building the UCSB campus and my mom was taking care of my two brothers.

Santa Barbara is a unique place that is rapidly changing. There is more traffic and many of our beloved landscapes are vanishing. Still, people flock here to visit ... every day of the year.

Many come to visit their kids who are enrolled in local schools and universities. Many come to enjoy our weather, beaches, culinary experiences and growing local wine industry. The Funk Zone is now a destination. Many people come for medical reasons — whether as patient or visiting nurse.

Many years ago, I served as the chair of the Santa Barbara Events and Festivals Committee and was responsible for canceling the Fourth of July fireworks. Under my watch, I realized that the “party scene” near Leadbetter Beach and the harbor had reached density that, coupled with bad behavior, made the tradition that I and many others had enjoyed for many years, no longer safe or fun.

The result of the that decision had reverberating effects, and in retrospect was, perhaps, an over-reaction to an issue that also provided many benefits to our community. Over time however, reasonable regulations were put into play that allowed for the celebration (fireworks and all) to go on.

As they say in show biz, “The show must go on.”

I have followed the short term rental (STR) battle for a few years now and see that there is much to be learned about world peace and being good neighbors from this process.

Calling vacation rentals STRs reminds me too much of STDs, so I will refer to these guest stays as vacation rentals.

Visiting nurses come to Santa Barbara in droves because we do not have enough local nurses to care for our families, neighbors, friends and, yes, visitors.

Benedictine friars open their homes to visiting strangers and this is how we get to know one another.

People have been coming here for a variety of reasons for many, many years.

On Dec. 6, the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors will hear testimony from the public on a recommendation from the Planning Commission to all but BAN all STRs in the County of Santa Barbara. I would like to clear up a few facts:

» Vacation Rentals do NOT take business away from the hotels

» Vacation Rentals are NOT impacting the availability of affordable housing locally

» Vacation Rentals do NOT create more neighborhood nuisances than other residential properties

While the Kardashian wedding fiasco may have exacerbated the whole dialog, the current dialog about vacation rentals by both the City Council and the Planning Commission is, in my opinion, very short-sighted.

We are all visitors here ... having taken the lands from the native Chumash who lived and worked here very happily for many years before the Spanish conquistadors and Father Junipero Serra arrived on the scene and all but obliterated their peaceful, sustainable ways of life.

We are all capable of being hypocrites. Take Rob Pearson for example. He runs the Santa Barbara Housing Authority and probably does a reasonable job of doing so. However, he is also a staunch opposer of vacation rentals in both the city and the County of Santa Barbara because he believes this is the underlying reason for the current affordable housing shortage in our fair town. But, do you know that his daughter owns and operates a vacation rental herself?

I have sat through numerous meetings at the Planning Commission on this issue and heard the arguments from people on both sides of the fence. They say fences make good neighbors, but is that really the case when neighbors on either side do not see eye-to-eye?

I believe there are a number of reasons vacation rentals should be allowed in our fair land ... and the possibility of world peace is very high on my agenda.

When we know our neighbors and take the time to find out more about them, we are less likely to be at war with them. Borrowing a cup of sugar may have gone out of fashion ... but when was the last time you knocked on your neighbor’s door just to say “hi, what’s up?”

At the various meetings on this subject that I’ve attended, many people spoke about how renting to visitors has enriched their lives and put much needed money into the pockets of out local economy. People visit. They eat at local restaurants, attend cultural events, shop and buy local wines, paintings and other things.

These days, I’m channeling my inner everyday Gandhi and remembering when I had the good fortune to sit with Desmond Tutu and make a documentary film with Oscar Arias (former president of Costa Rica). They both said the only way to world peace is to make friends with the enemy. It’s a big challenge. But we are up to the task.

I would also like to offer my perspective as a Film Producer ... When a responsible production company rolls into a town, neighborhood or an area wanting to fulfill a director’s vision by shooting “on location,” there are numerous opportunities for walking through a neighborhood and getting to know the neighbors ... some are invited onto the set, some are paid off, some are offered dinners out — the multitude of solutions are often as creative as can be imagined. The key point is that timely, clear communication and dialog often results in a situation where everyone gives a little to get a lot.

If the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors goes along with the recommendation of the Planning Commission, we will lose close to $6 million in county bed tax revenue. Can you imagine how that money could be spent fixing our roads and enhancing educational opportunities for our youth?

I can and it is a beautiful thing ... so, couldn’t we just learn to get along?

Charlene Huston
Santa Barbara

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