First-time rules for vacation rentals begin to take shape
By Kurtis Alexander
Posted: 11/30/2010 01:30:55 AM PST

SANTA CRUZ — Owners of vacation rental homes will likely face a tiered system of regulation in which properties will be subject to new restrictions based on their location.

In the most tightly regulated areas such as Pleasure Point and the Santa Cruz harbor, vacation rentals are apt to be limited to one in every five homes and property owners will pay as much as $2,500 for a permit.

“You have certain locations where there’s problems. It almost warrants in those areas that the ordinance would be different,” said Gustavo Gonzalez, a member of the county Planning Commission. “But we want to make sure the ordinance is something that’s fair.”

The new terms for vacation rentals were put forth Monday by the Planning Commission. They’re the latest of several proposals, all of which have drawn significant controversy about how county leaders should address sometimes nuisance vacation properties in unincorporated communities, mostly by the beach.

The terms detailed in Monday’s plan, like tying restrictions to the location, are consistent with what the Board of Supervisors asked for earlier this year. County supervisors have final say on what rules govern vacation rentals, a decision not expected until spring at the earliest, though many of the Planning Commission’s ideas are likely to stick.

The Planning Commission proposal, which is still being fine-tuned, requires all owners of vacation rentals to get permits, something they currently don’t have to do.
The proposal also lays out basic ground rules for owners, like maintaining a local contact for neighbors to call should tenants get unruly as well as limiting the number of occupants and cars at each rental.

As it stands now, two people per bedroom, plus two additional people would be allowed at each rental, as would two cars parked on the street. Those numbers, however, as well as where the limits will be enforced, are likely to change as the proposal undergoes further revision.

The centerpiece of the proposal is having certain restrictions that vary with location. The proposal assigns neighborhoods to one of three designations, each of which imposes a different level of constraint on the number of rentals allowed and how difficult getting a permit would be.

The least strict designation, where permits would be given out with little review and the number of rentals would not be limited, applies to neighborhoods long considered vacation communities, like Pajaro Dunes. Several other neighborhoods are being considered for this category.

The most stringent designation applies exclusively to Live Oak, from the harbor to 41st Avenue. Vacation rentals here would face caps, currently set at 20 percent per block and 15 percent throughout the area, as well as strict permitting requirements that include mandatory public hearings.

The third designation would apply to areas not in the first two categories. The terms for operating a vacation rental in this area are still being drafted but are expected to involve a level of scrutiny somewhere between the other two designations.

The cost of a permit for all vacation rentals would be tied to the level of scrutiny required, meaning properties in Live Oak would face the highest fees. County planners say the maximum cost of a onetime permit would be around $2,500, which pays for staff time and the cost of holding public hearings.

Planning commissioners pledged to refine their proposal to ensure that permitting be the least cumbersome, and pricey, as possible.

For properties requiring little or no review, a permit would run $250, according to county planners.

“I already paid my property tax. I already paid my TOT transit occupancy tax. Why are you trying to get another $250 from me?” said Roger Montgomery, one of the speakers at Monday’s Planning Commission meeting.

Montgomery was among a few dozen owners of the county’s estimated 570 vacation rentals to mount a protest.

“I don’t think you should come in heavy-fisted,” Merry Crowen, with the Santa Cruz County Hospitality and Lodging Association, told the Planning Commission.

Others, however, were equally adamant about the need for tough rules on vacation rentals.

“I don’t want a hotel next to me,” said Aptos resident Janice Block, who described loud and disrespectful renters next store to her home just last weekend. “I’m very uncomfortable in my own house.”

A recent threat of lawsuit against the county has county attorneys re-evaluating the environmental review of the proposed regulation, which has delayed the time line for a final ordinance.

On Monday, the Planning Commission directed planners to integrate their latest suggestions into its proposal and return for a public hearing Feb. 23.

The current proposal can be viewed at