Something Smells Fishy

The almost-forgotten “red herring” means something that misleads or distracts toward a false conclusion. Santa Barbara’s Planning Commission tossed such a smelly fish when it claimed outlawing vacation rentals would reduce the county’s affordable housing crisis. That crisis has been years in the making. The county turns down affordable housing proposals for political reasons: Citizens in coastal communities, like the 2nd and 3rd districts, do not want the growth and fear a loss of property values. And, ethically, the approach of f orcing builders to offer 10 percent of units at affordable prices means other occupants subsidize those buyers.

The birth of a new tourist industry, short-term vacation rentals, provides tax income for municipalities and business for merchants, important especially in light of the lost revenue from construction, oil, and their related inf rastructures.

Vacation rentals don’t affect existing hotels and motels because they bring a different type of tourist, one who stays longer and includes families and friends who want a more informal arrangement. Short term rentals add to tourist facilities; they don’t subtract.

The revenue is large, increasing 21 percent in 2014 and 31 percent in 2015. The growth curve shows 2016 could increase by 41 percent. The income from tax and rental payments alone is over $22 million. The combined tourist income to the county is conservatively estimated to be $40 million this year.

Planning and Development has not yet been asked to analyze the financial impact of banning vacation rentals. Is this reasonable? Localized zoning ordinances mitigate localized problems; why isn’t this solution being utilized now? Worse, why throw red herrings at the problem?

[FY 2012-2013 $888.722; FY 2013-2014 $1,074,620; FY$1,410,695. Source: S.B.County Tax Collector]

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