County Wrestles with Vacation Rentals

Residents Grow Uneasy as Planners Host Public Workshops

<b>HOT TOPIC: </b> Laura Burton Capps (left), now consulting for Airbnb, and Toussaint Miles (center) talk at a city workshop.
Paul Wellman

Residents of unincorporated neighborhoods are growing increasingly anxious as county planners wrangle with the ballooning question of what to do about the controversial issue of short-term vacation rentals. An effort to tackle the nuances of the burgeoning industry drew more than 100 concerned citizens to Montecito and Buellton last week for a pair of workshops hosted by the county’s Long Range Planning Division. Participants chimed in on whether short-term rentals of less than 30 days ought to be allowed in residential neighborhoods when the property owner is not present. Also up for discussion were short-term homestays, during which property owners live on-site while renting out bedrooms or guesthouses.

Both meetings catered to a stakeholder spectrum ​— ​from absentee landlords operating revolving-door party pads in once-quiet neighborhoods to ranchers offering rural getaways in cowhand cottages to managers of Santa Barbara–based vacation-rental companies. Also on hand, Laura Burton Capps ​— ​daughter of retiring Rep. Lois Capps and founder of communications firm Mission Partners ​— ​told The Santa Barbara Independent she’s doing “consulting work” with Airbnb, one of the world’s most popular facilitators of short-term vacation rentals.

The county is encouraging more public feedback through an online survey to be launched on August 28. In the coming months, a mass distillation of the issue’s wide-ranging scope will go before the Montecito and county planning commissions, with the goal of defining and regulating a red-hot market that filled county coffers with nearly $1.4 million in occupancy taxes last fiscal year. A draft ordinance is expected to reach the Board of Supervisors this spring. At this point, however, “we’re still at the concept level,” according to Long Range Planning Division Deputy Director Matt Schneider.


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