Last week the Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to approve another step in regulating short-term rentals in Eastern Placer County. While some think it didn’t go far enough, others feel it went too far. What is clear from all the feedback we have received during the seven-month process, this is only one step in further addressing the issues, and certainly not the final step. In fact, the Board agreed that continued monitoring and adjustments will be required in the future.
SHORT-TERM RENTALS ARE NOT NEW
The majority of single-family homes and condominiums in Placer County have always been owned by people who reside outside of the area. For over 50 years rental properties were primarily managed by real estate firms, and some even included rental offices at or near the entrances to the development or subdivision. Those (what we now call) short-term rentals have been a vital part of our regions’ economy for decades, and for much of that time there was very little concern or opposition to those activities within the community.
WHAT HAS CHANGED
Why has this topic now caused such divisiveness in our region as well as many other resort communities? There are many opinions, but here are some observations:
- Reduction in full-time residency – over the last twenty years we have seen a slow but very significant change in our community. Many in the generation of people who raised families here and owned/operated our core businesses retired and moved or took one of several cyclical opportunities to cash out of their primary homes and move away. For the most part, those families were not replaced by full-time residents because housing prices had escalated far beyond wages in the region.
- The advent of online rental platforms (Airbnb, Vrbo, Vacasa, etc.) has resulted in an increase in the number of units being rented and the volume of rental activity.
- Public demand for vacation home rentals versus hotel stays.
- Tremendous population growth in both Northern California and Northern Nevada has increased the overall visitation to the region. Overcrowding and demands on the region are impacted by this growth in day users. It is difficult to determine exactly how much is day use or increased overnight visitation, but the public perception is that it is all “too much”.
- A general polarization in our society with divisiveness, anger, and a lack of civility towards others.
- A global pandemic impacting almost every aspect of our daily lives.
WE ARE NOT ALONE
Changes like those we are facing in Eastern Placer County are occurring throughout the country, and many other resort communities are struggling to develop their own public policies to address these impacts of shifting population. Each community is addressing it somewhat differently based on specific circumstances. Short-term rental ordinances are being drafted or revised with tools such as moratoriums, caps, spacing requirements, and further restrictions. Placer County, like many other jurisdictions, has been adjusting to the rapid changes by documenting the impacts, researching best practices, and developing appropriate policies and enforcement.
EVOLUTION OF REGULATION ON SHORT-TERM RENTALS
Placer County started funding enforcement of STRs in November of 2016. We hired Host Compliance to track down STRs operating without paying transient occupancy tax (TOT). The goal was to get those units into compliance and into a tracking system that was needed to understand the magnitude of the challenge. This jumped TOT collections by over $3 million a year.
In the fall of 2019, at the direction of the Board, Placer County staff drafted the first ever Short-Term Rental Ordinance to address the growing complaints regarding such things as trash, noise, and parking. Along with those concerns, we began to hear an outcry about “over-tourism” including traffic impacts, crowded beaches and trails. A hotline was established, enforcement officers hired, and for the first time, citations and penalties were issued. Just three months after the Ordinance went into effect, Covid-19 arrived.
Almost immediately when the pandemic hit, migration from urban areas brought an enormous increase in day use, second homeowner occupancy, overnight visitors, and skyrocketing housing values. Besides the surge in numbers in our communities, it turned our existing housing crisis into an absolute emergency. Workers throughout the region were being displaced, as homeowners decided to cash-in on the increased housing values or use their homes in different ways. Many could work remotely, school remotely, and occupying their mountain home was a way to escape the risks of urban living during the pandemic. Not only did we have a shortage of workforce housing, but we also had a surge in population. Emergency actions were needed, and in the summer of 2021 the Board of Supervisors approved a moratorium on the issuance of any new short term rental permits.
Once the moratorium was adopted the Board set a time frame of March 31, 2022 by which time the issue had to be studied and revisions to the ordinance made. Of primary concern to many was whether there should be a cap on the number of short-term rentals allowed. The revised ordinance approved last week did institute a cap which will eliminate the growth in the number of short-term rentals. This will allow us time to study other aspects of the issue and work to expand critically needed workforce housing solutions. In addition to the cap, the ordinance also increases the safety requirements for each home, triples the fines for violations, and in general requires more from the operators of STR’s.
The final adoption of the Ordinance will be February 8, 2022, and implementation of the new Ordinance will begin April 1, 2022. County staff is planning to host a webinar to demo the new permit system and answer detailed questions. In addition, my office will organize a Town Hall meeting for early March.
ADAPTIVE MANAGEMENT — FUTURE CHANGES, REVISIONS, MEASURING SUCCESS
The full Board also joined me in supporting the establishment of a stakeholder group to research other suggestions we received, including but not limited to:
- Geographic limits or spacing requirements in specific locations.
- Limits on number of rental nights per year.
- Potential differences in regulations between regions based on current or revised zoning.
- Increasing the speed and response to issues of enforcement; and,
- Establishing measurements of success.
The above, and other suggestions made by the community, require more detailed study and analysis. Some may require significant changes in zoning, new forms and methods of enforcement and other more complicated changes. Depending upon the nature of the changes identified, requirements for additional public notification and process may be required before implementation.
Placer County staff and my office will continue to work with community members and stakeholders to study all suggestions and make refinements to both the ordinance and our processes on a regular basis, while also supporting increased opportunities for our workers to live here. With this action, we have taken the next step in the evolution of STR regulation. To some this may seem like a small step, and to others a very significant change. Finding a balance that meets the desires of all is not at all easy but working together I am confident that we will find the best solutions for our community.
Supervisor Cindy Gustafson
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