Christine Shepard

Do we really want the county Board of Supervisors to scare visitors away from our little beach town?

The economy of Santa Cruz County is in dire straits with an unemployment rate over 10 percent, a county budget millions of dollars in the red, and foreclosures among the highest in the state. Tourism, our largest source of jobs, continues to struggle. Why then would supervisors propose an ill-conceived ordinance that will have devastating effects on our local economy?

Supervisor John Leopold, with no objective data and a single petition from a small group of wealthy, politically connected beachfront property owners, has proposed an ordinance that will profoundly impact every homeowner, business and resident in the county. The ordinance will give unprecedented power to the Planning Department and will ban many homeowners from ever renting their home on a short-term basis. More importantly, this ban will lower property values across the county. If you own a home within 200 feet of a vacation rental, “Leopold’s Law” won’t allow you or future owners to rent it on a short term basis. Unless of course, you live in a “Special Consideration Area” created by Supervisor Ellen Pirie to protect her district from the grips of Leopold’s Law.

But wait, there’s more. Many local business owners and employees have expressed worries about the “unintended consequences” of the ordinance and we agree. Vacation rentals bring more than $20 million into
the county every year, including $1.4 million in taxes to fund social services and much needed Sheriffs deputies.

In addition, a recent Santa Cruz visitors bureau study found that vacation rental guests spend 12 times the amount as day visitors $775 per stay vs. $63. Fewer overnight visitors means a big loss of income for local stores, restaurants and cafes. With this loss in revenue, unemployment will only increase as many locals are employed by tourism dependent businesses. Leopold’s Law strikes at the very heart of the county’s economy at the very worst time.

Make no mistake; we support safe and quiet neighborhoods. Homeowners already conduct strict screening and require contracts to protect their homes and ensure that guests are respectful of neighborhoods. Unbelievably, Supervisor Leopold has not produced any data showing that short-term rentals are any more disruptive to a neighborhood than long-term rentals or owner-occupied homes. Thus any ordinance designed to control issues such as parking, occupancy, and noise should apply equally to all homes and their occupants.

Instead of scaring tourism away and spooking vacation rentals to close their doors, we should be welcoming them with open arms. Santa Cruz has a rich tradition of welcoming guests from around the world. For more than 100 years, the beaches have been a haven for families seeking to escape the heat and play in the waves. Without vacation rentals, there are simply not enough visitor accommodations to attract families looking for safe and affordable vacations. Homeowners that share their homes with these visiting families play an essential role in supporting our local economy and provide valuable coastal access.

Join us, along with others who have raised concerns about the ordinance including the owners of Shadowbrook restaurant, Crow’s Nest, Chill Out Cafe, and Bailey Properties and leaders in the Santa Cruz Housing Advisory Commission, Aptos Times, KSCO radio, Scotts Valley City Council, Aptos Chamber of Commerce, Santa Cruz Realtors Association, Santa Cruz Senior Coalition, Santa Cruz Business Council, Capitola Village and Wharf Business Improvement Association — and more groups every day — in asking the supervisors to reject this harmful ordinance and all of its “unintended consequences.”

Attend the Housing Advisory Commission meeting on Wednesday and the Planning Commission Meeting on Nov. 10 to make your voice heard. Get the facts, read the letters and sign the petition at

Christine Shepard is a member of the Good Neighbors of Santa Cruz County, a nonpartisan group of more than 200 county citizens, property and business owners.