Board to develop short-term rental policy

Nov 19, 2021

November 17, 2021 — The Board of Supervisors authorized $50,000 for the sheriff’s independent legal advice this week. And on Tuesday, the Board voted unanimously to appoint an ad hoc committee, consisting of coastal Supervisors Dan Gjerde and Ted Williams, to look into creating local policy around short term rentals.

Sheriff Matt Kendall previously stated his preference for the local law firm of Duncan James, but the Board was not comfortable with his selection, and chose LA firm Manning and Kass instead. 

According to County Counsel Christian Curtis, “I think there was a statement that there was no lawsuit. The lawsuit that I’m referring to is the action that is in front of the judge right now, asking that the Board be compelled to provide the sheriff with his attorney of choice.”

If the sheriff decides to pursue further legal action against the county, he can seek up to $50,000 worth of legal advice on three issues. One is the consolidation of his IT department within the county’s Information Services department; but the sticking point is a government code concerning the personal liability of an official authorizing a financial obligation on behalf of the county. Kendall fears he could be held personally liable for running up a tab during an emergency without receiving approval first. The sheriff can also call in the law firm for a second opinion about his authority on certain expenses. Because these are disputes between the sheriff and the Board of Supervisors, Kendall and  Curtis agree that it would be a conflict of interest for Curtis’ office to represent both parties. 

Undersheriff Darren Brewster expressed the desire for a three-day meet and greet with the out of town firm, but Curtis noted that Manning and Kass had agreed to bill no more than  four hours of travel time.

Meanwhile, housing remains an ongoing concern. Short-term rentals are all over the county, but on the coast, where tourism is a major industry, the rentals play a significant role in the local economy. Williams introduced the idea of putting an ad hoc committee to work on coming up with a policy.

“I see the need for the county to re-evaluate how it regulates short-term and vacation units in residential neighborhoods,” he began. “We don’t need to get into the details today. This is just to form an ad hoc to look at the issue and bring back facts and options for the full board. I want to state that my preference is not to infringe on the rights of folks in their primary residence, meaning if they have an outbuilding that’s under-utilized, say their kids use it some of the time so they can’t rent it long-term, they bring in revenue at other times of the year...I don’t want to step on their rights. But I think companies, for example a corporation in Santa Rosa buying up housing stock in our county for the sole purpose of creating quasi-hotels is a risk to our community. So I’d like to bring back options and look at how we can better balance the rights of individuals and the rights of community.”

Supervisor Glenn McGourty signaled his support, adding, “I think there’s some collateral issues on this, such as noise. This is something I wasn’t aware of, that we don’t have a noise ordinance for Mendocino County...I get complaints about people partying late into the night. If you move into a particular area with an expectation of quietness and serenity, and then having to sacrifice that for somebody who doesn’t even live full time in the area, that seems problematic to me.”

Some local people do rely on short term rentals for their personal income. John Gorman shared his thoughts on a balanced approach. “You don’t want to kill the golden goose here, just screaming, deny all rentals,” he urged. 

Recent census data show that the fourth district lost population in the last decade. Gjerde said there has also been a consolidation of local people to the city of Fort Bragg, at least in part due to short term rental policy and the increasing number of housing units converted to short-term rentals. He noted that in the 1990’s the city of Fort Bragg banned new vacation rentals in residential neighborhoods, which has drawn more people from the outlying areas into town to compete for fewer and fewer available living units. “That’s one of the contributing factors to escalating the rental prices on the coast, is the loss of rentals or just options to buy a home on the coast,” he said.

Johanna Jensen is a member of a coastal volunteer advocacy group called Housing Action Team. She shared results from a survey  her group distributed, which squared with much of Williams’ introduction. “From the employees’ survey, a full quarter of them said that they are impacted by short term vacation rentals,” she said, and read from a selection of the comments from the survey. “Some of the stories they talked about were quite heartbreaking, things like, ‘vacation homes are destroying our community, my employer has enormous difficulty employing and retaining employees because of the lack of housing, and vacation rentals are not contributing any skills or benefit for anybody, and the bed tax collected is only diverting from the established lodging industry. The number of vacation rentals on the coast is absolutely disgusting. People moving here from the Bay Area are driving prices up and local greedy landowners and homeowners are cashing out, displacing local service workers, including medical and first responders. Community is being destroyed and local government is turning a blind eye, maybe because they got theirs and are out of touch with the residents who continue to struggle.’ I don’t believe you’re out of touch,” she concluded; “that’s their comment, but I really applaud you for taking on this controversial issue.”

Supervisors voted unanimously to approve the committee to look into a policy on short-term rentals, which they anticipate will be a controversial agenda item sometime next year.

 Audio version of "Board to develop short-term rental policy"