Op-Ed: Say No To Permitting Short Term Vacation Rentals

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: clerk@santabarbaraca.gov, rrowse@santabarbaraca.gov, ksneddon@santabarbaraca.govmjordan@santabarbaraca.gov, ogutierrez@santabarbaraca.gov, algutierrez@santabarbaraca.gov, efriedman@santabarbaraca.gov, mharmon@santabarbaraca.gov.

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 2097AB 2097prohibit[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.

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Written by Anonymous

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  1. This sounds like the same person who got angry about too tall hedges and went around reporting all the homes around the city with too tall hedges that the City had to open enforcement cases on them all. Too many rules for staff to police every single incident, but I’m willing to bet every property in the city has at least one violation of the extensive zoning , design standards, or building codes. People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. It sure would be nice to be able to rent out one’s home for awhile and then go back to living in it for awhile without having to ask permisssion and jump through a million hoops every single time you want to leave town.

  2. Money.
    City turned a blind eye to STRs because they are collecting taxes on them.
    So the City collects money on illegal activities knowing it’s illegal.
    Sounds about right for government.
    They know about them & collect hush money until neighbors complain often enough.
    Then they tell the property owner their bribe money is no longer any good.
    City screws the residents, screws the property owner and collects money on illegal activities.

  3. What does this mean?
    “Require that City Staff bill all property owners for the full cost associated with bringing illegal STRs into compliance”
    So the OP would have owners pay to have their properties fulfill their compliance rules, and then the City would double bill them for it? That makes no sense. Grasping at straws. Why is the OP so bitter about STRs – like STRs is a concentration camp?

  4. My neighbors allow their friends to housesit for them every time they leave town. Sometimes it’s housesitting, sometimes petsitting, sometimes house swapping, and sometimes they collect STR money. How is the City expected to enforce that? I think STRs should be allowed in the designated zones. I’m pretty sure it’s pretty impossible to enforce. These enforcement suggestions sound over-the-top goverment over-reach.

  5. UCSB would need 4 dormzillas to accommodate their current student enrollment on campus.
    The housing crisis is not STRs fault. 1400 STRs is minuscule compared to 16882 dorm beds lacking at UCSB alone. The City Council should stop the whiplash reactions and roll up their sleeves to develop a comprehensive housing plan to address the issue that brings together all the major players.

  6. This from a Noozhawk article recently concerning a proposed housing development:
    The smaller studio, one- and two-bedroom units are designed to be affordable because of their size and attractive to “young professionals” who want to live in small spaces and walk, ride bikes or take the bus to work. The policy, however, has been meet with criticism because the units are rented out at market rate, except for a 10% inclusionary housing requirement.
    “We can only provide so many 510-square-feet, one-bedroom units in Santa Barbara,” Commissioner Ed Lenvik said. “There are not that many single people, or even couples without children and dogs to eat all that space up. People need housing, but they need housing they can live in and stretch out a little bit.”
    It is people who are in decision-making positions making wildly out-of-touch statements like this that are part of the problem.

  7. Be honest, this is not about “students” versus “vacationers”. In fact there are huge numbers of “student tourists” whose families have money enough to send them to Santa Barbara on the pretext they are studying. We need to suppress the market for such transient party goers. Recently SBCC was particularly problematic in their efforts to attract out of state enrolees as they paid higher fees than locals. They wanted to build dorms on campus to house these folks. This was stopped with the defeat of Measure S but the urge still remains. Anything that attracts such residents should be curtailed least we continue to have exploitative landlords and speculators controlling our housing market.

    • “We need to suppress the market for such transient party goers.“
      What does that mean?! How do you suggest we curtail people from liking SB and wanting to live here?!!… “Anything that attracts such residents should be curtailed least we continue to have exploitative landlords and speculators controlling our housing market.”

  8. Bitter much? Sounds like sour grapes after OP’s lobbying for commercial parking standards effectively halted legal STRs from being permitted in the City causing owners to go underground. The City can benefit from the TOTs if they were made legal. Try wagging a finger at SBCC and UCSB for the cause of housing problems – not just STRs to blame. I bet there are more units being rented by students than STRs in town. Why not allow STRs in commercial zones? That is why they are zoned commercial.

  9. It’s interesting to see how the state has increasingly taken away local control over development. The ADU laws took away the authority of local governments to regulate the construction of ADUs and even voided any CC&Rs that would prohibit the construction of an ADU and renting it out. Now it seems the state is moving in the same direction with vacation rentals. I suppose local governments, especially those like Santa Barbara’s, have stymied development for generations and driven the cost of housing to unprecedented highs. Perhaps the state is not entirely wrong to strip away our city’s authority. In any case, I am truly surprised to see Santa Barbara residents who overwhelmingly voted for governor newsom rising up to fight his radical agenda and restore local control. If that’s what the people of Santa Barbara want, it seems like they should have voted for someone else.

    • Who is that someone else? Last election, the CA GOP nominated a talk radio host that no one ever heard of to run against Gov. Newsom. I would totally vote for a moderate fiscal conservative, and they would have a good chance of being elected. But the GOP keeps running radicals that only their base supports instead of someone with broader appeal. Also, if they aren’t sycophants to the ex-Potus, they’re toast. As the saying goes with addicts, I believe the GOP needs to hit rock bottom to realize their mistakes and get better.

    • Chillin, I think that saying applies more to california than anything else. As the cost of living spirals out of control, basic infrastructure is falling so far behind that the state’s ability to provide a reliable supply of water and electricity is starting to come into question, and a growing drug fueled population of the living dead takes over more and more public spaces, Californians continue to steadfastly vote for more of the same punishment. It also reminds me of the definition of insanity. Perhaps the impending economic downturn will finally force california to change once the stock market driven budget surpluses turn to deficits.

  10. It’s very simple. If there is a desire to “reclaim” rentals for permanent residents, give landlords incentive. Make renting to long term tenants an attractive rather than terrifying option. Short term rentals proliferate when landlords are running scared . Scared to rent to long term tenants due to anti landlord rhetoric and ever proliferating draconian punishments/rules enacted against them by the city council. The solution, for many of them, is to just rent short term. Then they don’t have to pay five months rent to the tenant as a penalty if they ever need to reclaim their own property, and they also don’t have to worry about an inability to ever evict a problem tenant who destroys their property and wont pay rent.

    • Exactly, 5392! For every sob story about expensive rent, there is a landlord with an investment property who got stuck with huge expenses when a tentant refuses leave, pay rent, or trashes their property. It is very costly to have to remodel a house after a long-term tenant vacates. STRs get maintained regularly and cleaned meticulously after every guest. Rules for guests are an easy fix, but there are equal amounts of rowdy tenants as rowdy guests.

What happened on Manitou Rd Saturday?