Sonoma County supervisors on Tuesday rejected a blanket ban on new vacation rentals in unincorporated residential neighborhoods, saying they would instead create exclusion zones to address concerns about loud parties, excessive traffic and trespassing.
With Supervisor Susan Gorin dissenting, the board voted 4-1 against the Planning Commission recommendation that would have reversed the fastest-growing segment of a market fueled by popular websites like Airbnb and VRBO.
The board also rejected a new four-bedroom cap on vacation rentals requiring a use permit and said no to a proposal that would have restricted outdoor activities after 10 p.m.
“The fear is any potential outdoor activity would trigger an infraction,” said Chairman Efren Carrillo, whose district includes the Russian River resort areas. “I don’t even want to go there.”
Gorin, whose district includes the touristy Sonoma Valley, favored the outdoor restrictions as a way to stem a rising number of complaints each year about noise.
“In the still of the night, sound carries,” Gorin said. “I think it’s a matter of respect.”
In addition, the board rejected a proposal to require vacation rental owners to renew their permits every two years. Some worried the interval could be used to increase fees. Now, a vacation rental permit costs $695, up from about $200 a few years ago, Supervisor James Gore said.
County planning officials billed the two-year renewal as simply an online “check-in” that would be completely automated.
But a majority of the board said problem rentals would be weeded out by another new provision of the vacation rental ordinance — a three-strikes policy for disturbances and other violations.
“Let’s go get those who are the problem folks,” said Supervisor David Rabbitt of Petaluma.
The board adopted other standards such as a requirement that property owners or their agents live within 30 miles of the rentals. And they agreed to allow residential homeowners to rent rooms to vacationers if they remained in the house.
The actions were the culmination of a 14-month effort to update a policy first put in place in 2011. Since then, the number of vacation rentals in the county has skyrocketed from 350 to more than 1,000 and bed taxes have swelled to more than $5 million.
With that rise, complaints from neighbors also have increased. Also, affordable housing advocates argue vacation rentals deplete the number of units available for working families.
Commissioners held a series of contentious public hearings to seek input, ending with the list of recommendations. About 50 people, both for and against the recommendations, spoke to supervisors Tuesday evening. Rental property owners and tourist industry association leaders dominated the group.
“We want to seek a balance between the economic concerns we heard and those from the neighborhoods,” said Tennis Wick, director of the county’s Permit and Resource Management Department.
Supervisors agreed with the need to be fair but differed over the method. Most said an outright ban was inappropriate and favored setting up specific zones where vacation rentals would be prohibited.
The exact locations are expected to be decided in future public hearings over the next six months, planners said.
You can reach Staff Writer Paul Payne at 568-5312 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @ppayne.