The City of Santa Barbara won a vacation rental lawsuit, but it lost a separate lawsuit recently brought by a private property owner.

In the first case, Santa Barbara County Superior Court Judge Thomas Anderle ruled that the city’s existing short-term vacation rental ordinances are valid.

James Fenkner and a business partner sued the city because the city tried to get him to convert his Bath Street vacation rental into a hotel.

“We are pleased to have a local ruling that upholds the city’s power to enforce the law against illegal vacation rentals, especially now when permanent housing is in such short supply,” City Attorney Ariel Calonne said in a news release. 

The city will receive $5,991.92 in court costs.

In a separate lawsuit, the city was not as fortunate. The Court of Appeal, Second Appellate District, ruled in favor of property owner Thomas Felkay. A Santa Barbara Superior Court had previously ruled in favor of Felkay.

In 2006, Felkay applied for a coastal development permit to build a single-family house on his property. The city denied the permit, claiming that almost the entire lot was located on a “coastal bluff face,” and that the city’s local coastal plan prohibited all development of any kind on the coastal bluff face, according to a news release. 

Felkay sued the city in 2017 claiming that the city’s refusal to approve his CDP rendered his property worthless.

Attorney Joseph Liebman represented Felkay. Liebman also represented Fenkner in the vacation rental suit. In October 2019, the trial judge ruled in Felkay’s favor. By denying the permit, the court concluded that the city had taken all economic use of Felkay’s property, according to a news release.

Felkay was awarded $2.4 million in the original decision, and last week’s appellate court again ruled against the city, bringing the judgment to $3.6 million, which includes the value of the property and interest, and attorney fees in both cases.

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.