No Break for Sonoma Valley MAC Reunion Vacation Rentals

For some, owning a vacation rental is a way to supplement their income. But for others, such properties destroy the character of our neighborhoods.

The North Sonoma Valley City Advisory Council met on Wednesday, December 15 to discuss current Sonoma Valley vacation rental challenges and the effects they have had on neighborhoods. Although not a decision-making body, the council advises the oversight board with recommendations from the community, which the council considers in future decisions.

First District Supervisor Susan Gorin has tracked housing issues in Sonoma County for nine years and worked to create regulations for vacation homes in residential areas.

“Linda Hopkins in the Fifth District recognized that the glut of vacation rentals has really, seriously threatened the housing stock,” Gorin said.

The California Housing Partnership reported in 2021 that residents of Sonoma County pay an average monthly rent of $1,710 and that 12,715 low-income tenants lack access to affordable housing. Amid the affordable housing crisis, many in the community, and even some committee members, have questioned the effectiveness of vacation rental approvals in the face of these housing issues.

“I think it’s wrong that we allow vacation rentals to proliferate when we have a housing crisis,” council member Mark Newhouser said. “We are losing housing for workers.”

Other public concerns include the inability to enforce vacation rental rules, the number of cars renters use, and the moral question of whether it is fair to approve second homes when so many people cannot find suitable primary residences.

Although the county has implemented certain initiatives such as “Exclusion Zones,” which prohibit the formation of new vacation homes in a designated area, the cost of implementing one in your neighborhood comes at a price. Gorin said exclusion zones can cost $16,000 to obtain a permit from Sonoma County.

But some go further than exclusion zones. On Old Winery Court, neighbors organized against the Pacaso vacation home, with placards and an ambitious media campaign that caught the attention of NPR and the Wall Street Journal.

Pacaso’s business model is based on co-ownership of private homes in “brand name communities” across the country. By locking properties into limited liability companies and declaring several buyers as “second home owners” instead of “vacation homes”, the company was able to circumvent some zoning laws in residential neighborhoods. Although the pushback from neighbors sparked hearings on Pacaso in Napa and Healdsburg.

“We live on a quiet cul-de-sac where a house was purchased by Pacaso,” said Nancy Gardner, a neighbor of Old Winery Court. “For everyone in Sonoma struggling to get a home, this takes another house off the market. It’s another house that will never be owned by one family.

At the MAC meeting, Gary Helfrich, a Sonoma County planner, said he was ordered “not to talk about Pacaso” by the county.

At least one member of the public said the vacation rentals got too hot.

“Full disclosure, I own a vacation rental in the Springs,” Sonoma Valley resident David (no last name provided) said at the MAC meeting. “And no, I’m not rich – you can’t group all vacation rental owners as well off.”

David said the vacation rental has helped supplement his and his wife’s income, allowing them to live in Sonoma. However, he too agreed that limiting the density of vacation rentals would help find a competent solution for the future.

Ultimately, any decisions regarding zoning and housing should be resolved by the Board of Supervisors through legislation.

“Of course the zoning can be changed,” Helfrich said. “All zoning is legislation, but both are outside the scope of the direction we have received…And an outright ban is not something that has been recommended as a policy option for come back with.”

Contact Chase Hunter at [email protected] and follow @Chase_HunterB on Twitter.

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