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Deck collapse adds fuel to debate over vacation rentals

The messy end of a party at a rented house in west Sonoma County — where a deck collapsed Sunday morning under the weight of a large crowd of young revelers — has spotlighted an effort by the county to regulate vacation rentals.

At least one teenager was hospitalized after the event and there were unconfirmed reports of several other injuries.

Michaela Richardson, 18, of Santa Rosa, underwent surgery for a broken bone that could lead to her losing a foot, her mother said.

"We won't know anything for four months about whether she has circulation in that bone," Jody Richardson said, referring to the talus bone, which forms the lower ankle joint, contains an artery, and can die if its blood supply is lost.

"It's a mess," Richardson said. "And the worst part of it is that I don't know what the future will be for her."

Partygoers and deputies who responded to the party estimated that between 300 and 400 people were at the Saturday night event on Sweetwater Springs Road, near Armstrong Redwoods State Park.

A public workshop was already set for Jan. 26 to review a proposed ordinance that would set standards for vacation rentals in the county, Fifth District Supervisor Efren Carrillo's office confirmed Tuesday. The ordinance would limit the number of overnight guests and visitors based on the number of bedrooms at a rental property. It also would require the lodgings to be permitted.

The move toward an ordinance was spurred last year by complaints from Sonoma Valley residents that large homes were being rented out for events that turned into disruptive, alcohol-fueled bashes.

There are an estimated 1,000 homes that fall into the "vacation rental by owner" category in the county. While largely incident-free, the homes have become known to law enforcement for a variety of less than agreeable uses.

"At one point we had a house where they were shooting X-rated movies in a residential area," said Sonoma County Sheriff's Capt. Matt McCaffrey. "But the big problem is these massive parties where they'll rent it out for a weekend."

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