Proponents of short-term rentals breathed a collective sigh of relief Tuesday afternoon as the county supervisors struck down new rules that would have banned the cottage industry in residential neighborhoods and regulated it in certain agricultural, commercial, and mixed-use areas. The proposed changes to the county’s zoning ordinance — drafted by the Planning and Development department and supported by the Planning Commission and the Montecito Planning Commission — arrived to the board after 18 months of public wrangling.
The lucrative practice of homeowners renting out extra bedrooms or entire properties for stays of fewer than 31 days has ramped up considerably during the past five years, now adding upward of $1.7 million annually in transient-occupancy taxes (TOT) to county coffers. At the same time, residents against it have become more vocal. “My charge up here is to represent my community,” said 2nd District Supervisor Janet Wolf, the only boardmember in favor of the new rules and regulations. “This is about neighborhood compatibility and the integrity of zoning.” Her supporters reiterated that noisy, high-turnover short-term rentals often degrade the quiet family ambience that home buyers expect from a residential neighborhood.
Among the four supervisors voting against staff recommendations, the 5th District’s Steve Lavagnino said, “If we ban [short-term rentals], we’ll end up with all of the impacts and none of the revenue.” He expressed frustration that he’d signed on to Measure B — a 2 percent TOT increase approved by voters in November — while county government had largely turned its back on the cash infusion from taxes on short-term rentals. “There’s just too much money on the table.”
Closing out his tenure with the board, Congressmember-elect Salud Carbajal joined fellow boardmembers Lavagnino, Peter Adams, and Doreen Farr in directing staffers to further explore several facets of a very complicated issue, from beefed-up enforcement and vacation-rental overlays along the coast to permitted farmstays and homestays, during which room rentals would be allowed in an owner-occupied residence. “This is too important to try to put to bed today,” Carbajal said. “There has to be a balance.”