Sonoma County Supervisors pass compromise vacation rentals revisions
Susan Gorin went to the mat for her 1st District constituents at Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting, but failed to sway a majority of her colleagues that there is a vacation rentals emergency in Sonoma Valley.
First arguing vehemently that the revisions to the county’s vacation rental ordinance should include a ban on permits in R1, single-home residential neighborhoods, then calling for a county-wide moratorium on issuing new vacation rental permits until a new ordinance goes into effect, Gorin was rebuffed on both counts.
“My district is under siege,” she said in pleading for a moratorium. “People are so angry. These are neighborhoods that have been coming to me every day for three years.…
“We’ve seen the number of permits escalate dramatically in the first district. I need this tool.”
But at the end of the five and-a-half hour meeting, the Board voted to strip out the ban on R1 permits, eliminate a two-year renewable term for vacation rental (VR) permits, drop a requirement for a use permit for vacation rentals with five or more bedrooms, and back off a proposal to ban outdoor activities during quiet hours.
The result was that Gorin found herself forced to vote against the board’s endorsement of the VR policy options, because too much she had fought for was being discarded – much as Planning Commissioner Greg Carr voted against the bill as finalized by the Permit and Resources Management Department in November, for similar reasons.
“The quality of life in our neighborhoods is significantly affected,” Gorin repeated. “I am forced to vote against this even though I’ve worked really, really hard…” Her voice trailed off and broke, as the measure passed 4 - 1.
The Board was the final step in a year-long process of revising the 2011 ordinance that allows for permitted vacation rentals in the county. A number of public workshops had been held throughout the county to gather input and ideas on policy options, in light of the soaring number of vacation rental permits issued by PRMD.
The PRMD proposals as submitted to the Board included the outright ban on issuing new vacation rental permits in R1 zoned neighborhoods – a ban approved by the Planning Commission in November, and that Gorin supported, as it would bring to a halt the soaring rate of VR permits in the First District.
Some Valley neighborhoods have been unfairly impacted over the past few years by this aspect of the “sharing economy,” whereby homeowners rent out rooms or entire houses to visitors. The desirability of the still largely-rural Valley, with its prestige wineries and restaurants, has made it a magnet for lifestyle tourists – especially since neighboring Napa County doesn’t allow vacation rentals at all in non-incorporated areas.
In particular, sections of the Springs have lost workforce and affordable housing as even modest homes are converted to the tourist-centric purpose. One street in particular, said Gorin, has 11 vacation rentals in two blocks – East Thomson Avenue in the Boyes Hot Springs area; and other neighborhoods in Glen Ellen and Sonoma Mountain have also been heavily impacted by the business of vacation rental.
In fact many of the speakers in the three hours of public comment were from the First District and, by and large, they repeated their oft-told tale of loud parties, drunken drivers and loud visitors, even tour buses and limousines winding up narrow roads late in the night.