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Planning Commission mulls short-term rental resolution

Screenshot of a zoom meeting of the November 3 Planning Commission meeting where the item "6a. Short Term Rental Transient Occupancy Clarification" was discussed.
Mendocino County YouTube channel
Mendocino County YouTube channel
Screenshot of a zoom meeting of the November 3 Planning Commission meeting where the item "6a. Short Term Rental Transient Occupancy Clarification" was discussed.

The Planning Commission intends to review the zoning ordinance for inland Mendocino County in the new year.

November 4, 2022 — The Planning Commission Thursday discussed a resolution that seeks to clarify the interpretation of how a single-family residence can be used as a short-term rental.

The four commissioners present did not make a decision, since Commissioner Marie Jones, who is half of an ad hoc committee that prepared a report on the issue, was unable to attend the meeting. The committee was convened in December of last year. The report was not attached to the agenda.

The resolution states that if the entire house is rented out for less than a month and the owners don’t live there, that qualifies it as a vacation rental, which the commission finds is not an allowable use without a major use permit. Some commissioners signaled that they were not inclined to require a major use permit for homeowners renting out a room or two in the homes they live in.

Chair Alison Pernell said the resolution is a stopgap measure, not a dramatic overhaul of the county’s vacation rental policies.

“We are not writing a new ordinance,” she emphasized. “We are not changing an ordinance. This is a resolution that will affect how staff interprets vacation rentals, because we are working with an antiquated zoning ordinance that existed before the current proliferation of vacation rentals. There’s really one of two places in the current zoning ordinance where that can be interpreted through. One is transient habitation, one is room and board. Prior to this discussion at the Commission level, vacation rentals have been run through room and board, and so the discussion now is, where is the best location in our ordinance to run vacation rentals through? This Commission does anticipate reviewing an updated zoning ordinance for inland Mendocino County sometime in 2023, which will more permanently address this issue.”

Though it took no action, the Commission heard public comment for about an hour, from people who rely on income from short-term rentals to those who fear that those rentals are dissolving the communities where people settle in and form an interest in the community.

Stephanie Gold, who is on the board of the Anderson Valley Housing Association, called in to voice some of the frequent concerns of housing advocates.

“The AVHA is always monitoring housing stock availability for rentals,” she said. “There’s a real crisis in AV when it comes to long-term workforce rental availability. In fact, we did a housing needs assessment survey recently, and there were multiple responses from people who had lost their housing because their homes had been turned into short-term rentals. We understand that there are some people in the Valley who rent out a spare room or a small cottage on their property for additional income, and that’s one kind of situation, but there are also many properties owned by people who don’t live on the premises who have turned them into short-term rentals because it’s more lucrative, and perhaps that could be approached differently, where it would be limited more vigorously to address the workforce housing shortage.”

Jo Bradley said that her work with the Mendocino County Tourism Commission has led her to believe that illegal rentals are having an outsized effect on workforce housing — and the county general fund.

“I would suggest that we tighten up what we’re doing to get these places into compliance and then start looking at it,” she opined. “We have this problem on the coast, but those problems are also inland. And in the capacity of the jobs that I have done for the Tourism Commission, I am finding a lot of them. They’re in Anderson Valley, they’re up the 101 corridor, and then obviously on the coast…we need the ToT (transient occupancy tax). That’s the money that goes right into our general fund, and that’s fine if people are paying. I think if we were able to round up all the illegals, we would find that we have a better income, and you would then be able to say yes or no and make your decisions with a little better information.”

But Spencer Brewer said getting legal isn’t easy under the current system. He told the Commission he’s been an airbnb host on a private road in Redwood Valley for 12 years, ever since the music industry crashed and he converted his recording studio into a rental space.

“Over the years, we’ve paid well over five figures in taxes,” he related. “I have tried three times to get a business license, and all times were denied. Because first, Building and Planning had a moratorium on this type of license, until the ordinance was reviewed and voted on by the Board (of Supervisors). The next two times, they asked for me to do a major use permit, because of the ordinance not being updated on a county-maintained road, which is one of the issues at hand right now. This has not been addressed, but at the August first, 2017 meeting, where this issue was initially brought up, several of us addressed the Board of Supervisors, and a vote was taken at that time that a major use permit was not needed to operate a short-term rental. And the language and the rules were then kicked back to Building and Planning to create a review and create a new ordinance. Seems like that particular vote at that time has not been addressed. In cases such as ours, we fall through the existing cracks, where we send in our ToT every quarter. We pay our taxes, yet we cannot get a business license, and we are being asked to spend $7500 for a major use permit on basically an outdated ordinance on the books.”

The Planning Commission will take up the resolution again at their next meeting on November 17.

Local News
Sarah Reith is the lead reporter for KZYX News. She joined the KZYX News team in 2017, and covers local politics, water, law enforcement and the arts in Mendocino County.