Sonoma County approves updated vacation rental regulations

(BCN) — Sonoma County supervisors approved updates Tuesday to the county’s regulations on vacation rental units, capping them in some areas of the county and prohibiting them altogether in others.

The regulations will prevent the approval of new vacation rentals in areas that are considered to have an insufficient density of residential housing, including parts of the unincorporated communities of Geyserville, Glen Ellen, Graton and Guerneville.

The board will have latitude going forward to establish limits on vacation rentals in certain areas that have the highest concentration of them, such as along the county’s coastline and the lower Russian River area.

The ordinance also restricts who can hold a vacation rental permit countywide. Only individual people of trusts can hold only one permit at a time, while corporate entities are barred from holding new rental permits, according to the county. “

This is not a recent issue,” said Supervisor Susan Gorin, who represents the county’s first district and noted that her predecessor on the board, Valerie Brown, worked on similar issues with vacation rentals roughly a decade ago.

“I think as we’ve moved forward, the technology, COVID [and] interest in monetizing the livability and visibility of Sonoma Valley in the entire county has overtaken our ability to really get a handle on vacation rentals,” she said. “So here we are again.”

The updates will not apply to existing vacation rental properties or those who hold valid permits, according to the county.

For about two years, county officials have been drafting an updated regulatory package for vacation rentals, often private residences that are reserved via platforms like Airbnb and Vrbo for periods of 30 days or fewer.

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The county first approved regulations on vacation rentals in 2010 and revised them in 2016. In 2020, the board placed a cap on vacation rentals in the first and fifth supervisory districts, which include the cities of Santa Rosa, Sebastopol, Sonoma and the county’s coastline .

That cap, according to county planner Gary Helfrich, was implemented in response to “concerns regarding safety, conversion of housing stock … and complaints regarding noise, parking (and) trash.” County officials have since worked on the regulatory package supervisors approved Tuesday.

The county has kept a moratorium in place since May on the approval of new vacation rental applications after Permit Sonoma, the county’s land use and development agency, saw a spike in applications after the county Planning Commission voted on March 17 to extend its public hearing on then-potential vacation rental regulations.

Permit Sonoma officials told the board in May that the agency’s staff normally receive and process roughly 10 vacation rental applications per month, but that average had risen to 50 per month after the mid-March Planning Commission meeting.

At its May 10 meeting, the Board of Supervisors approved a temporary moratorium on the approval of permits submitted after March 17, allowing Permit Sonoma officials the ability to catch up to the agency’s application backlog and giving the county the time to draft and approve the updated regulatory package.

The board subsequently extended the moratorium in mid-June. On Tuesday, the board amended the ongoing moratorium to allow Permit Sonoma to process applications received between March 17 and May 10.

According to county officials, the moratorium may remain in place through May 10, 2023. If the board chooses to do so, the moratorium could be extended an additional year.

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