Thursday, June 21 , 2018, 11:24 pm | Fair 61º

 
 
 
 

Local News

No Decision Yet on Santa Barbara County’s Short-Term Rental Regulations

The debate over short-term vacation rentals isn’t over for Santa Barbara County, as the Board of Supervisors decided not to adopt a proposed ordinance, and instead asked staff to come back with more information about permitting and existing units.

Short-term rentals would be allowed in certain mixed-use zones, commercial zones and AG-II zones under the proposed ordinance, but banned in residential, industrial and other zoning districts.

The details were hammered out after many meetings held by the county Planning Commission and the Montecito Planning Commission, but Tuesday was the first discussion of the issue at before the Board of Supervisors.

It showed.

The supervisors were not in agreement for the future of short-term rentals, even though most of them voiced some support for regulation over an outright ban in some zoning areas.

The board voted 4-1 to have staff come back with more information.

Second District Supervisor Janet Wolf dissented, saying, “There’s just no doubt in my mind that STRs remove housing from the housing market.”

Fourth District Supervisor Peter Adam said the ordinance was “like killing a fly with a 10-pound sledgehammer.”

The county received $1.7 million in transient-occupancy tax revenue from 535 registered short-term rental operators in 2015-16.

A search of online sites such as VRBO and Airbnb shows many more, and Fifth District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino said future plans need to include going after that tax revenue.

He signed the argument for November’s Measure B, which increased Santa Barbara County’s TOT rate to 12 percent, and said that eliminating STRs (and their TOT revenue) “makes absolutely no sense.”

Lavagnino said the county needs to create a position to track complaints and manage STRs, as well as start a permit process for operators.

There’s no enforcement to make people pay TOT now, but that would have to change, he said.

Third District Supervisor Doreen Farr said the number of STRs seemed to explode over the last three or four years.

She talked about three kinds of STRs – homestays, homes where the owner resides part of the time, and full-time whole-house vacation rentals.

The number of complaints seems to increase if property owners don’t reside at the home at all, she said.

“For me, I’m most sympathetic to what I’d call mom and pop operations – longtime residents, property owners, struggling to make ends meet in a very expensive area and have turned to STRs to stay in their home,” she said.

She said the county will have to beef up enforcement, whether there is a ban or not, do public education, and significantly increase penalties for violators.

“It’s too easy now for some people to rent out property in a way that does negatively impact neighbors,” she said.

Carbajal also supported more work on the ordinance.

Wolf said she was incredibly frustrated by the lack of support to move forward, saying, “This board studies things to death.”

The issue will come back to the board for a policy discussion and then any ordinance changes would be reviewed by the Planning Commission, according to county staff.

Board discussion came after the supervisors heard hours of public comment from short-term rental operators opposing the ordinance and neighbors asking for the ban.

Operators, realtors and residents argued that the short-term rental industry brings irreplaceable economic impact to the area. Operators, including many who said they own STRs in the Santa Ynez Valley, said they have been renting without complaint for years – all while paying transient occupancy tax to the county.

Santa Ynez Vacation Rentals president Leanne Schlinger said STRs give an experience that can’t be recreated at a hotel – visitors can connect with nature and cook together – and the industry works well when units are managed responsibly. 

On the other side, residents complained about the noise and parking issues short-term rentals bring to their neighborhoods, particularly when the properties are rented out for weddings or other special events.

County staff said the growth of the short-term rental market is affecting the housing supply for local residents by taking long-term rental properties off the market.

Some operators said as much during public comment, telling the supervisors their short-term rental visitors were better than the long-term renters they used to have.  

Noozhawk managing editor Giana Magnoli 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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