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Santa Rosa’s new draft rules for vacation rentals dissatisfy owners, neighbors

Rules for vacation rentals in Santa Rosa

Santa Rosa’s proposal would overhaul the way vacation rentals are regulated. The draft ordinance is available for review and public feedback at srcity.org/str.

Current regulations do not require a permit to establish a short-term rental in Santa Rosa.

Most other cities in Sonoma County, including Healdsburg, Petaluma, Cloverdale and Sonoma require permits, and some, such as Healdsburg, do not issue permits for homes in certain residential neighborhoods. Rohnert Park has banned short-term rentals of entire homes but allows rental of single rooms.

Sonoma County has established a patchwork of limits on short-term rentals, with tighter prohibitions for some areas. The Board of Supervisors in 2016 banned the new rentals within a number of “exclusionary zones” around the county, including Glen Ellen, Kenwood, Fitch Mountain, Agua Caliente and Boyes Hot Springs. Another cap is place for around 3,500 homes along the lower Russian River and in the Sonoma Valley.

Santa Rosa officials this week unveiled a draft set of rules for short-term rental properties in response to the concerns of police and fire officials and waves of complaints from neighbors living next to properties that host frequent parties.

A subsequent public meeting and interviews with involved parties suggest that neither the city’s vacation rental owners nor the neighbors who say some such properties have upset life in their quiet neighborhoods are satisfied with the draft rules.

The reaction didn’t surprise city officials, who said total consensus wasn’t possible when it came to regulating an issue as contentious as vacation rentals, which have proliferated over the last decade through popular websites such as Airbnb and Vrbo.

“We’re trying to make everybody happy which is probably impossible here,” said Shari Meads, a city planner.

Owners of short-term rental properties criticized the ordinance as both heavy handed and in some cases unenforceable. They also bemoaned what they said was a lack of input from those in the industry, though an online city survey that fielded 2,369 responses.

The rule-making process was a “bad faith effort” conducted without transparency, one opponent, Eric Fraser, said at a Wednesday public meeting on the draft rules.

A number of property owners said the rules were unfair to those who have managed short-term rental properties with care for their neighbors, and could stifle an industry that offers another income stream for some, in a region with a high cost of living.

But for those residents who have watched homes on their streets converted to party sites for visitors, the new rules couldn’t come soon enough. If anything, the regulations need to go further, the said.

“The draft ordinance is a good start,” Rick Abbott said. He has dealt with a neighboring property that hosts frequent large and noisy gatherings on his quiet street in the eastern Santa Rosa hills.

“The standards it sets address many of the issues creating nuisances in our neighborhoods,” Abbott said of the city proposal. However, enforcement mechanisms were weak, he said, and the rules should be accompanied by a moratorium on new short-term rentals until more permanent regulations are set.

After lagging behind other Sonoma County cities and the county in regulating vacation rental properties, city officials announced this summer they would use an accelerated policy making process to pass an “urgency ordinance” regulating the properties.

Santa Rosa City Council will take up the draft rules Oct. 12. Five of seven council members will need to vote in favor for passage.

The draft ordinance is available for review and public feedback at srcity.org/str.

Officials have repeatedly reminded parties on all sides that the urgency ordinance is just a first step and will be followed by a lengthier process to craft permanent regulations.

The ordinance would create a new "Short-Term Rental Permit,“ allowing the city to regulate and track which properties are legal rentals.

Earlier this year a technology company alerted city officials that the actual number of short-term rental properties in Santa Rosa may be more than double the number of officially registered properties. If the number is accurate, officials say, the city is missing out on as much as $1.2 million a year in revenue through lodging taxes and business fees that aren’t being collected.

Short-term rental properties would also have to comply with occupancy limits that cap the number of guests at 10 per property. Parties are curtailed by rules allowing only four “daytime guests” who can visit between 8 a.m and 9 p.m.

The draft ordinance would also impose quiet hours on vacation rentals from 9 p.m. to 8 a.m.

The ordinance requires a contact for the property to be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. To the alarm of a number of vacation rental owners, the ordinance would require that person to correct any issues reported to them by neighbors or officials within 45 minutes.

“That’s just ridiculous,” Allen Thomas, a Santa Rosa resident who owns and manages three short-term rental properties in the city. “What if you’re in an airplane or in the hospital?”

On the whole, Thomas said the ordinance would not dramatically impact his business and would hopefully fix the concerns of neighbors dealing with less responsible rental owners. But he was frustrated by the city process.

“I’ve paid lots and lots of (lodging) taxes to the city of Santa Rosa and after all that I didn’t get a voice at the table,” he said.

You can reach Staff Writer Andrew Graham at 707-526-8667 or andrew.graham@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @AndrewGraham88

Rules for vacation rentals in Santa Rosa

Santa Rosa’s proposal would overhaul the way vacation rentals are regulated. The draft ordinance is available for review and public feedback at srcity.org/str.

Current regulations do not require a permit to establish a short-term rental in Santa Rosa.

Most other cities in Sonoma County, including Healdsburg, Petaluma, Cloverdale and Sonoma require permits, and some, such as Healdsburg, do not issue permits for homes in certain residential neighborhoods. Rohnert Park has banned short-term rentals of entire homes but allows rental of single rooms.

Sonoma County has established a patchwork of limits on short-term rentals, with tighter prohibitions for some areas. The Board of Supervisors in 2016 banned the new rentals within a number of “exclusionary zones” around the county, including Glen Ellen, Kenwood, Fitch Mountain, Agua Caliente and Boyes Hot Springs. Another cap is place for around 3,500 homes along the lower Russian River and in the Sonoma Valley.

Andrew Graham

City of Santa Rosa, The Press Democrat 

As Sonoma County's largest city, Santa Rosa, its policy and politics, crime and its economy affect the lives of North Bay residents both inside city limits and beyond in ways both obvious and unseen. I aim to document those impacts and give voice to city residents.

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