More than two years of public debate peaked Tuesday afternoon as the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors weighed in decisively on the always-contentious issue of short-term rentals (STRs). On the table was a recommendation by county staffers with the Long Range Planning Division to permit STRs in commercial zones where other transient lodging is already allowed but ban them from residential neighborhoods, where homeowners — with assistance from Airbnb, VRBO, and other online platforms — can lucratively rent their properties to out-of-towners for stays of fewer than 31 days. The burgeoning cottage industry, which has brought in roughly $1.8 million in transient occupancy taxes to county coffers this year, has also disrupted once-peaceful family neighborhoods and cut into Santa Barbara’s notoriously limited vacancies for long-term renters.
“It’s clear that [STRs] have conflicted with our housing market,” said 1st District Supervisor Das William, one of three casting the majority vote in favor of a ban. “Our community is desperate for more housing. That’s been my driving concern.” Joining Williams, 2nd District Supervisor Janet Wolf stressed the importance of maintaining the integrity of existing zoning, which designates residential areas apart from zones that permit motels and bed-and-breakfast inns.
Supervisors wrangled openly about the details of so-called homestays, during which a homeowner living onsite markets extra bedrooms as short-term rentals. Proponents have long contended that troubles associated with parking and parties are nonexistent when an STR provider lives on the advertised property. Detractors reiterated complications associated with enforcement. Said 5th District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino: “We can’t even enforce our ban on [cultivating] a Class I narcotic that’s [prohibited] by the federal government.”
“I’m taking this personally,” Lavagnino added, explaining that he was part of an effort to pass Measure B last fall, which bumped transient-occupancy tax (TOT) from 10 to 12 percent. “And now we’re voting to kick away $1.8 million [in TOT]. This is the first time we’ve looked at a revenue source and said we don’t want it anymore. And we’ll pay extra money [on enforcement] to ensure that we don’t collect it. The frustrating part about it is that you are still going to have your noisy neighbor.”
“This will be impossible to enforce,” added 4th District Supervisor Peter Adam, who sided with Lavagnino in voting against the ban. “You’re going to see some really creative evasions.”
Staffers proposed that homestays be limited to three bedrooms per property and operate under a revocable permit issued only to a homeowner who can prove — with utility bills, for example — that the homestay in question is indeed his or her primary residence. However, a long-term tenant, in place of the owner, can serve as the homestay host and can live in a guest house — or in today’s hot-topic parlance, an ADU, or auxiliary dwelling unit — detached from the primary residence. The county is also going to require STRs to abide by a nuisance plan that’ll include a 24/7 complaint hotline and an increase in enforcement staff that would work weekends, as well. Multiple offenders would lose their permit, and only one homestay permit would be issued to a property owner, even if that person owns several properties.
Supervisors also voted in favor of essentially grandfathering in STRs in the Miramar Beach area and expanding that exception eastward to include oceanfront neighborhoods along Padaro and Santa Claus lanes, between Summerland and Carpinteria, where STRs have been a historic use. County staffers will also be hammering out the details of allowing homestays on larger agricultural parcels, so long as the business has a so-called farmstay component that requires guest to interact in some fashion with the ranch or farming operations. A finalization of the effort is expected sometime in December.