Sonoma County may extend vacation rental ban

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Sonoma County supervisors Tuesday will consider extending their temporary ban on new vacation rental permits for another three months as part of an effort to maximize the number of housing units available for residents displaced by the October wildfires.

An initial 45-day restriction on vacation rental permits put in place by the Board of Supervisors in the weeks after the Oct. 8 firestorm is set to expire Friday, but county staff members have recommended it continue until at least March 5. The extended moratorium would apply to all areas of the unincorporated county except the Sonoma Coast and the Russian River. Residents along the coast aren’t required to get vacation rental permits, and the Russian River area is excluded because it relies so heavily on seasonal tourism.

Continuing to halt the sanctioning of new vacation rentals will not by itself produce the amount of housing needed after the disaster: County planning staff estimate it could result in about 192 complete units and 72 guesthouses or rooms made available for rent to fire victims or workers helping the region rebuild over the next year. More than 5,100 housing units in the county were destroyed by the fires.

Still, supervisors see vacation rentals as one area where they can free up some additional homes, or at least prevent possible long-term rentals from being taken off the market and offered to tourists instead. Already, Sonoma County has more than 1,500 permitted vacation rentals, the bulk of them in areas that include the Russian River and Sonoma Valley, and that existing supply would continue as normal.

Byron Jones, a Sonoma Valley resident who’s owned and managed a handful of vacation rentals in the area for more than a decade, said he was comfortable with the county’s restrictions.

“They shouldn’t be wide open, because it does take housing away from the community,” Jones said. “On the other hand, they do bring tourism business, which is our industry’s biggest clientele. A certain number of them are appropriate. I just think that the question is, what’s the appropriate number?”

County officials have heard concerns from interest groups that the vacation rental moratorium could reduce the tax revenue normally collected on overnight stays at those properties, but since the existing supply wouldn’t be affected, such a decline shouldn’t be an issue, according to a county staff report. However, the county may still see a revenue hit from vacation homes lost in the disaster — about 80 were destroyed in the fires — as well as vacation properties voluntarily converted into long-term rentals plus overall declines in tourism, according to the report.

If supervisors accept staff’s recommendation for a three-month extension of the permit moratorium Tuesday, they’ll have the opportunity to continue it again before the new time limit expires. State law gives the county permission to extend the temporary moratorium for up to one year. “I’m not sure when it is appropriate to ease the moratorium, but certainly we have many reports of families who are now renting vacation rentals as their semi-permanent housing until they are able to rebuild their houses,” said Supervisor Susan Gorin. “It’s not outrageous to ask speculative real estate investors to curtail their investments for a while until the market and the living patterns balance out.”

Gorin, whose district includes the Sonoma Valley, has been a strong supporter of the vacation rental moratorium, particularly for the Glen Ellen area, which she has described as “inundated” with vacation rentals. She plans to support the 90-day extension, she said.

County staff members reported 21 applications for vacation rental permits and one for a hosted rental — a room or sleeping area — received in the three weeks before the fire and two weeks afterward. Applications outside the Russian River area will remain pending until the end of the moratorium unless supervisors decide to let staff members process them.

You can reach Staff Writer J.D. Morris at 707-521-5337 or On Twitter @thejdmorris.

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