By Anna Marie Gott
This is an open letter to the City Council of Santa Barbara. If you agree with this letter please sign this change.org/sayNotoSTRs petition or send a letter to the City Council at: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com.
Mayor and Councilmembers,
I am writing to voice my opposition to the proposed Short Term Vacation Rental (STR) Permitting Program recommended by City Staff and to inform you of a new Bill that Governor Gavin Newsom signed Thursday. This Bill will eliminate parking requirements for both housing and commercial development.
Last Thursday Governor Newsom signed AB 2097. AB 2097 “prohibit[s] a public agency from imposing any minimum automobile parking requirement on any residential, commercial, or other development project…located within 1/2 mile of public transit…” Moving forward a city may only require parking for a housing development IF specific findings are made within 30 days of the receipt of an application. However, the required findings will be near impossible to be made. – There are no circumstances where commercial development will be required to have parking.
This means that commercial developments like: hotels, STRs, restaurants, event centers, and other parking intensive uses can be developed without any parking.
Why do I call out STRs on this list of uses for commercial development? On Tuesday City Staff is proposing that the City Council create a STR Permitting Program (Item #11) and to remind everyone that the only reason a slew of homes have not been permitted as STRs is solely due to the required parking requirements of the current hotel conversion ordinance. More importantly, it is to remind everyone that with the passage of AB 2097 the City can no longer require parking for STRs. (Prior to the passage of AB 2097 one parking space per bedroom was required under the Conversion of Residential Units to Condominiums and Similar Uses ordinance which most property owners could not meet.)
Why is City Staff recommending a STR Permitting Program? – It is NOT because we have an abundance of residential housing units. – But because the City Staff has utterly failed to shut down the estimated 1,560+ illegal STRs, from 1,119 unique residential units, operating in the City.
To say that City Staff is tone deaf would be an understatement. The City needs housing. Period. The City does not need residential homes removed from the housing market.
Year after year residents have heard that housing is a priority of the City Council. However, the City Council has failed year after year to make substantive changes to City Ordinances or to strengthen any procedures that would swiftly return residential units back to housing. The result of this laisse faire oversight has been an increase in the number of illegal STRs while the number of available residential rental units decreases.
Simply put, the City Council’s laissez faire attitude towards STR enforcement has only served to encourage property owners to illegally convert residential units into illegal STRs. Why? The financial penalties of operating an illegal STR simply do not incentivize property owners to return residential units to the rental market.
While illegal STR operators face no real consequences for removing residential housing from the rental market there are very real consequences to residents and the workforce when this number of residential housing units are removed. This includes:
1. Skyrocketing rents,
2. Low residential vacancy rates,
3. Renters being priced out of the market and forced to move,
4. Employers’ inability to hire or retain talent due to lack of housing or housing costs,
5. Increased no-fault evictions as residential units are converted into STRs,
6. Increasing public nuisance issues from STRs operating in residential neighborhoods,
7. Increasing number of speculative and second home ownership, and
8. Decreasing number of first-time buyers in competitive markets where new owners plan to use the homes as STRs.
Our residential housing market has been decimated by illegal STRs. Yet City Staff is recommending that a STR Permitting Program be created. Does permitting 1,560 illegal STRs make sense? Can the Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT) from permitting 1,560 STRs replace the estimated 1,119 residential units lost to STR use? – This answer to these questions is a resounding NO.
Instead of hearing about a STR Permitting Program, why isn’t City Staff telling the City Council what policy and procedures it needs to eliminate illegal STRs?
In lieu of creating a STR Permitting Program I urge the City Council to take the following actions as it relates to STRs:
1) Prohibit the conversion of residential housing to commercial use as a hotel (STR) in all zones except the coastal zone,
2) Develop better enforcement tools, like those found in other jurisdictions (Lake Tahoe and San Francisco), in order to eliminate illegal STRs that returns residential housing to residential,
3) Require that proposed ordinance changes triggers the City’s ability to subpoena transaction records from sites like Airbnb and VRBO in order to collect past TOT and bring property owners into compliance (i.e. 30 day rentals),
4) Require that City Staff bill all property owners for the full cost associated with bringing illegal STRs into compliance, and
5) Consider requiring development plans for permitted hotel conversions in the coastal zone in order to require parking minimums for hotel conversions.
It seems to be time for the City to make immediate changes to our ordinances to combat the removal of parking requirements for commercial uses under AB 2097. How? It might be time to require impact fees for commercial development/uses in order to provide public parking facilities throughout town. It might also be time to consider down-zoning commercial development and uses with a goal of having property owners seek development agreements from the City where the City could then require parking for development.
Op-Ed’s are written by community members and local organizations, not representatives of edhat. The views and opinions expressed in Op-Ed articles are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of edhat.
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