County vacation rental ordinance sent back to drawing board

By SHANNA MCCORD Posted: 10/07/2010 01:30:28 AM PDT

LIVE OAK — County leaders lost the initial battle to crack down on vacation home rentals after the Housing Advisory Commission rejected a proposed ordinance Wednesday that would have capped the number of rentals, limited the number of people who could stay in the homes and mandated permits for operating vacation rentals.

Commissioners voted 7-2 against recommending a proposed vacation home rental law to the county Planning Commission after a lengthy public hearing that drew a crowd of more than 150 to Live Oak Elementary School.

Commissioners Marsha Keeffer and Dean Lundholm supported the proposed ordinance. Commissioners Don Dietrich, Michael Lussier, Anthony “Bud” Carney, Sheri Damon, Raeid Farhat and Carlos Rico voted against due to concerns that it was overreaching, poorly written and could hurt tourism, the area’s No. 1 industry.

“I’m strongly opposed to this largely because of the current state of the economy,” Farhat said. “Too much money comes from the transient occupancy tax. Tourists use our businesses and eat at our restaurants.”

Keeffer said the ordinance would have gone far in protecting neighborhoods from rowdy renters who party late into the night and have little regard for taking care of their surroundings.

“Neighborhoods are negatively impacted by certain vacation rentals,” she said. “These are unregulated commercial enterprises. Regulating vacation rentals is absolutely necessary.”

Assistant Planning Director Wanda Williams said planning staff would rework the ordinance and present a revamped version to the commission at its Nov. 3 meeting.

The proposal split the audience between people tired of living next door to loud party houses that change tenants frequently and those who say such a law would violate personal property rights and drive away tourists.

“I live near seven of these vacation homes,” said Pleasure Point resident Sam Sexton. “I’ve had to call on six out of the seven of them because of the constant problems with parties. So, essentially I live next to a Motel 6.”

Several property owners spoke about the desire to rent their homes to vacationers out of financial needs while many said it’s simply an issue of private property rights.

“There might be one or two bad apples in the bunch,” real estate broker Randy Brown said. “You can’t allow them to ruin the whole basket. Let’s not penalize everybody for one or two bad apples.”

County planners have identified about 570 vacation rentals across Santa Cruz County.

The ordinance considered, initiated by Supervisor John Leopold, would required an administrative use permit and registration for payment of the transient occupancy tax, also known as the hotel tax, limit tenancy to one per week, restrict occupancy to four people in a bedroom and require all parking to be on site. A contact for the rental property must be within 15 miles of a rental and advertising the rental for weddings or corporate events would be banned.

Several areas dominated by beachfront vacation rentals would have been exempt, including Pajaro Dunes, Oceanview Drive in La Selva Beach, Beach Drive, Rio del Mar Boulevard, Cliff Court and Las Olas Drive in Aptos.

Existing vacation rentals currently in lawful operation could be exempt from the parking restrictions and wouldn’t be limited on distance to other vacation rentals. New vacation rentals, as proposed, could not be located within 200 feet of another rental.

The California Coastal Commission would also hold a public hearing and vote on the ordinance before it could go into effect.

A workshop the housing advisory commission held to address the issue on Sept. 21 drew such a large number of people that the meeting was continued to Wednesday.