Sonoma County Board of Supervisors Approves Overhaul of Vacation Rental Regulations

The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors approved a series of sweeping changes to local regulations for vacation rental homes during a four-hour meeting Tuesday on the long-simmering issue.

In a 4-0 vote, the council passed rules that will expand the areas where rentals are prohibited, set caps on rentals in other areas, change policies governing rentals on the coast and allow applications of pending permits to continue throughout the process.

The council also approved a new vacation rental license program that will standardize requirements for all vacation rental license holders outside of cities.

Some of these requirements include quiet hours from 9 p.m. to 7 a.m. – a one-hour increase from the current 10 p.m. start time – a guest cap set by the number of rooms, standards of parking and other rules such as outdoor burning limits such as campfires.

Some of the new rules, such as guest caps and parking requirements, will not apply to vacation home owners who acquired their license under the county’s existing rules. Other standards, including new quiet hours, will apply to all rentals in county-governed areas, said county planner Gary Helfrich.

Public reaction to the proposed regulations has been mixed. Some full-time residents felt the county should do more to regulate existing rentals, while a few residents involved in the vacation rental industry said they agreed with the rules outlined in the new program. and others felt they were too restrictive.

The changes are intended to address residents’ concerns about the impact of vacation rentals on noise, public safety and the housing stock — issues that have long dominated the county’s vacation rental debate and have recently driven the council to extend a moratorium on the issuance of permits for new holiday rentals. .

Sonoma County resident David Applebaum said the changes favor vacation rental owners.

“This is an opportunity to start from scratch, to be bold,” Applebaum said. “Instead, we pamper the owners of these vacation homes.”

The board backed a request from Supervisor Lynda Hopkins who asked county staff to investigate higher fees and tougher penalties for vacation home owners who violate county rules and to explore ways to limit light pollution.

Hopkins called the current $100 violation fine a “slap on the wrist” for rental operators with nightly rates in the four figures. She suggested the county raise its fee to $1,000 and allow the ability to revoke a license for up to five years.

The council also approved a measure that limits permits to the ‘natural’ human owner of the property, meaning a company cannot apply for a permit.

Approved regulations are to take effect in 30 days and will apply to unincorporated Sonoma County.

In 2021, there were approximately 2,459 local short-term rentals in the county. Of those, about 1,485 were in county-governed unincorporated areas, according to a recent economic study commissioned by the county.

Rentals help support a local tourism economy valued at around $2 billion a year, and vacation rental owners pay lodging taxes that help support local services.

The county already prohibits vacation rentals in neighborhoods intended for medium- and high-density housing. Tuesday’s council vote extends that restriction to low-density (R1) areas, which typically include residential areas that aren’t in a town center but are still connected to utilities like sewers, staff said Tuesday. from the county planning department.

The council also agreed to set caps that would limit rentals to 5% to 10% of existing housing stock in other low-density residential areas. The intent behind the move is to prohibit or limit rentals in areas where they could be “harmful” to neighborhoods, according to a county staff report.

County staff should study these areas, gather community feedback, and submit recommendations to council.

Sonoma Valley and Guerneville both have high concentrations of vacation rentals in R1 zones, but the new ban is not expected to have much impact on Sonoma Valley due to exclusion zones already in place, a said Helfrich.

Guerneville, where the local economy relies heavily on seasonal tourism, is a different story.

“The impact would be greatest in the community of Guerneville,” Helfrich said.

Hopkins, who represents West County, in turn said she supports a more nuanced approach to zoning restrictions, particularly in Guerneville. She explained her goal was to ensure neighborhoods that historically host vacation rentals aren’t disrupted and to protect other neighborhoods that don’t have that history from being overrun by rentals — a suggestion backed by his fellow board members.

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