Sonoma County Reduces Russian River Vacation Rentals in Sonoma Valley

A county-wide cap on the number of vacation rentals allowed was lifted, with Sonoma County supervisors voting on Tuesday to focus on key areas along the Russian River and in the Sonoma Valley – both areas with the highest concentration of such properties outside of the city limits.

The change, targeting areas where vacation rentals range from 10% to 43% of the housing stock, would apply to a single neighborhood in the Sonoma Valley and a long stretch of the lower Russian River, affecting more than 3,500 owners of Rio Nido in Monte. Rio.

County officials and many neighbors say the concentration of rentals in these areas poses a threat to residential character, neighborhood stability, public safety and quality of life. An extension of the cap in those areas until August 2022 will give the county time to collect data and develop policy to address these concerns, officials said.

“My biggest goal is for this… to give us time to have this conversation about focusing,” said supervisor Lynda Hopkins, who represents the Russian River area. She said the county would have time to develop a policy more suited to the needs of the neighborhood. “I believe there is pressure right now for this sort of thing.”

But Supervisor David Rabbitt, whose Southern County District has far fewer vacation rentals, called calls to the neighborhood’s values ​​and character subjective. He also questioned whether the land use policy was even the right way to address neighbors’ concerns, including poor tenant behavior.

Yet Rabbitt joined his fellow supervisors in approving the measure, which will cap vacation rental permits at 299 in specific areas along the Russian River and limit the number of vacation rentals in a neighborhood of 30 homes to 13. includes Theodor Lane in the Sonoma Valley. , where short-term rentals have proliferated just outside two areas where they are already off-limits.

The targeted ordinance replaces a hard cap of 1,948 vacation rentals in county-governed areas that was first approved in August. This limit is expected to expire on December 31. The number of vacation rental permits still hovers near that number, county officials said. The expiration of permits on existing rentals allowed the county to continue issuing new permits within the cap.

Sonoma County staff plan to ramp up awareness in the coming months, including town halls, digital surveys, targeted mapping and a series of meetings with first responders, local advisory groups and leaders of the industry – a commitment that will help lay the groundwork for future vacation rental policy.

At her last board meeting, supervisor Shirlee Zane noted that the dilemma had traced almost all of her tenure. The county has responded with exclusion zones for rentals and the debate has even sunk into the burgeoning burn zones of the county, where vacation rentals are banned during reconstruction.

The issue emerged as a major political flashpoint in 2010 after a patio collapsed at a vacation rental home in the Guerneville area where crowds of young people were partying. A teenage girl was seriously injured and it was later discovered that the bridge had been built without the proper permits.

“Ten years of managing vacation rentals,” Zane said emphatically. “Does it ever end?” “

Residents and real estate interests looked into the appropriate regulatory approach, but almost all agreed that a slight increase in enforcement of existing rules should be a major component of any future policy proposed by the county.

Some residents along the Russian River have expressed concerns about the impact of the regional cap on vacation rental operators’ sources of income and retirement money. Others said brakes on the proliferation of vacation rentals were needed to preserve the neighborhood’s character.

The complaints, particularly from residents along Theodor Lane, have intensified pressure on supervisors to take action. Reports included issues with loud parties, limousines full of revelers, and the recent delivery of three hot tubs along a narrow stretch of road in the Sonoma Valley.

“Why do the rights of these real estate investors trump those of local residents? Asked Leigh Cavalier, an owner in the area. “I’m so sick of it I’m ready to sell. You people have to do something.

Rabbitt, however, said the behaviors couldn’t be addressed with a cap and urged fellow supervisors to look at the problem more broadly – beyond land use and zoning.

“This shows that Sonoma County should not use land use regulations to control people’s behavior,” Rabbitt said, adding that the county should look at unintended consequences and take a holistic approach.

Board chair Susan Gorin, who represents Sonoma Valley, said she is committed to addressing these concerns.

“If we can find a better way to enforce the law, I’m all ears, I totally agree,” Gorin said. “I want to give our neighborhoods back to our neighbors. It’s my aim.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been updated to correct the spelling of the name of Sonoma Valley owner Leigh Cavalier.

You can reach editor Tyler Silvy at 707-526-8667 or [email protected].

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