Short term rental townhalls continue

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Staff gathers public input on the impact of vacation rentals

First of two parts.

Avalon city staff held another townhall meeting on Wednesday, Aug. 30. This was the second townhall meeting on the issue. Four individuals attended the first townhall (on Aug. 22), according to City Manager David Maistros’ recent report to the council. Twenty individuals attended the Aug. 30 meeting, according to the staff report.

Maistros told the City Council this week that more than 40 people attended the attended the townhall in person and more than 20 people attended online.

Because of the length of the meeting, the Islander will report this story in two parts.

The Avalon City Council recently imposed a moratorium on issuing licenses for short term rentals. The moratorium expires on Sept. 15. The moratorium means that the city won’t issue new licenses for short term rentals. (Applications for short term rental licenses that were in the pipeline for approval will go forward.)

Short term rentals are also known as transient rentals and vacation rentals.

At the start of the townhall meeting, Maistros said the city wanted as much input from residents and property owners as they can.

“This really isn’t my meeting or the city’s meeting,” he said. “We want this to be your meeting.”

Members of the public were invited to come up to the podium and face the audience as they spoke.

Maistros gave the audience a short presentation before anyone came to the podium.

“How do we address the number of short term rentals?” Maistros asked. He said there were only a handful of options: a hard cap on short term rentals citywide or a percentage of overall homes citywide or percentage in neighborhoods.

Maistros said staff was going through Planning Commission records from about 1993 to make sure the city has an exact count of authorized short term rentals in Avalon.

Maistros said the reason staff was going back to that date was that was when the city initiated the short term rental process with conditional use permits. (The city has since that time changed from CUPs that run with the land to transient rental licenses that do not stay with a property.)

Maistros said they wanted to look at the quality-of-life issues—noise, garbage, vehicles—and the impact on long-term housing.

Maistros said he was sure everyone would agree that the more short term rentals there are, the more those houses are taken out of the pool of long term rentals.

“One does not equate the other, but I think it is an obvious conclusion that the more that are taken out of the long term rental pool, the fewer long term rental options we have,” Maistros said.

Maistros acknowledged that there both positive and negative financial impacts to the city to have short term rentals.

He said the transient occupancy (short term rental) tax is the number two revenue source for Avalon.

Maistros said short term rentals come to the city with costs through enforcement, through garbage, through impact on the landfill and other things.

Maistros said he wasn’t sure it would be practical to get rid of short term rentals. He said that would be a City Council decision.

Maistros said the online Airbnb system has changed the landscape for short term rentals.

He said a community survey will come out probably in the third week of September.

Marty Etheridge said she has had really crummy full time renters and she’s had great full time tenants. She said she opposes the fact that a lot of long term rentals are overcrowded.

She said she has a short term rental property. She said she doesn’t rent for less than a week. She said when you rent for weekends, you tend to get partiers.

She said she doesn’t allow pets because she can’t control pets that she doesn’t know.

She said she was in favor of full time rentals and transient rentals—if you’re selective.

Etheridge said she resisted paying a higher bed tax.

Carl Johnson said he wanted to examine why transient rentals enjoy different regulations than small businesses. He read from a statement he held in his hands as he spoke.

“City zoning serves as the backbone of organized community development,” he said.

He said transient rentals had become increasingly popular and offering an alternative to traditional hotels. “However, they also pose a significant challenge to city zoning regulations,” he said.

“It’s important to strike a balance between the economic benefits and potential drawbacks of permitting transient rentals in residential areas,” he said.

According to Johnson, measures exist to minimize the impact of transient rentals such as noise limits. He said homeowners can provide guests with guidelines on acceptable behavior.

He said the alternatives have been met with a lack of enforcement.

“Small businesses, particularly those that could operate virtually from a home environment are often subject to different zoning laws than transient rentals,” he said.

“For example, a delivery business, the Municipal Code requires small businesses to operate out of a commercial space which can be challenging for entrepreneurs with limited resources,” he said.

“However, the current zoning laws, having kept pace with technology advancements, rendering some of the regulations outdated,” he said.

He said small businesses are at a disadvantage compared to transient rentals, which enjoy more flexibility.

He said small businesses may have limited resources and may not be able to afford commercial space.

“By offering some flexibility in zoning regulations, small businesses can thrive and contribute to the community’s economic development,” he said.

He said you can turn your home into a business. “So why can’t I have my business operate from my house?” he asked.

He said transient rentals and small businesses should be regulated in a similar fashion. “By treating both equally, we can ensure that both are held to the same standard and that the community’s interests are protected,” he said.

Councilmember Mary Schickling said she had lived on the Island 29 years now and vacation rentals such as Etheridge’s have never really been a problem. She said most people couldn’t afford it but they wanted to have a home here so they could come to the Island and vacation here when they wished to and rent it out the rest of the time that they weren’t here.

Schickling said Etheridge’s idea of only renting for a week to cut down on the partiers was a brilliant idea.

Schickling said transient rentals have never been a problem, but with the internet and Airbnb short term rentals have exploded.

“What I don’t like and what I can’t abide by are the investors that never come here that buy up properties before they’re even on the market to turn them directly into a vacation rental are not invested in the community,” Schickling said.

She said she knew of instances where they have been combative toward long-standing neighbors. She said she thought that is where a lot of the issues are coming from that angle.

She suggested that if you want to have a vacation rental, have one. She held up one finger, apparently to emphasize the number one.

“I think one per person is good enough,” Schickling said.

Schickling said she believed limiting vacation rentals to one per person would be a good jumping off point.

She said she didn’t know about capping the number of vacation rentals.

However, she did think there should be a finite number. “Like we have a finite number of vehicles in town,” she said.

She also acknowledged that some vacation rentals have more tenants than their stated occupancy limit.

She said Avalon had a lot of over-saturation.

She said the community couldn’t put it all on city staff, but there had to be a way to police those situations.

She said she was pleased to see everyone come out.

Kate Rudden of Hamilton Cove said a lot of cities were dealing with this issue.

“It’s not just an Avalon problem,” she said.

She said it has become an Avalon problem because there are more and more issues related to the quality of life. “I think lack of enforcement has caused us to put in more regulations that are required to maintain quality of life for people,” she said.

“Some cities, like the city of San Diego, has dealt with people who own multiple properties and those people own a business,” she said.

“They own a rental business. We’re not talking about people who own a home, live there, rent it out a portion of the time for vacationers, or they own one property and they’ve had a vacation rental business,” she said.

“That’s one property. We’re talking about people who own multiple businesses,” she said.

She said San Diego taxes them for running a mini-hotel in that community.

She also suggested lowering occupancy. “If we lowered occupancy rates, what that would involve is less people in a property, but it would also require people to rent additional properties which would give the city more TOT,” she said, referring to the transient occupancy tax.

She said Avalon was concerned about losing revenue and that was one way to help with the mitigation of people living at a property.

She said that in many communities, if you rent your property for more than 90 days your business license would be $1,000 a year.

“We need the owners of the properties to provide more information for our staff,” she said. She called for photos, proof of homeowner’s insurance, and whether they have a golf cart. “We need fire sprinklers in homes that do not have sprinklers,” she said.

“We need the owner to pay for an inspection report. We also need that owner to put together a saturation map. That saturation map for the city of Avalon should be on the city website, so people can access it,” she said.

“Do they own other properties? Have they had other complaints?” she asked.

“Complaints should be held and housed in a central place for at least two yearsbecause licenses come up every year and right now there’s no central housing for complaints. Police don’t necessarily give the address to the city. They city just put our complaint form online because we asked for it,” she said.

“I would say 99% of the complaints that come through are noise related but you can’t attach a video to the complaint form so you can hear the noise,” she said.

She said the owners should represent themselves at hearings. She said often it was a real estate agent or a property management company.

She asked how a property manager can represent an owner if the owner doesn’t have a permit yet.

She wanted to address the rights of the property owners. She said Hamilton Cove was built as a second home community. “The Coastal Commission never required that Hamilton Cove have short term rentals,” she said.

She said the permit was written on June 18, 1980.

“At that time, the Coastal Commission said we want you to build affordable housing,” she said.

She said on June 4, 1980, the developer—which she said was part of Santa Catalina Island Company—came back and said we think that approximately 50% of the 165 condominium units will be eligible for vacation rentals over 30 days,” she said.

“Coastal Commission never voted on it,” she said.

“Hamilton Cove then put in their CC and Rs that you would be eligible to rent more than 30 days and then they changed that to less than 30 days to help sell these properties,” she said.

She said Hamilton Cove had exploded to 70% vacation rentals. “I wrote to the Coastal Commission and I said, we are over saturated. People call us a hotel,” she said.

Continuing, Kate Rudden said she had been impacted by the categorization of her home by Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. “I was never told we were a hotel,” she said.

She said when you change the character of a condominium association, you need to look at the entire impact that has on a community.

“These one and done parties that come out don’t service our community,” she said.