• Justin Hein

Sonoma County Extends Moratorium on Vacation Rentals

Vote extends the temporary moratorium on new vacation rental permits to May 9, 2023.

In a 4-to-1 vote, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors extended the freeze on applications for new vacation rentals. This despite the pleas of more than a dozen homeowners and rental industry professionals, all of whom argued that the moratorium would have an adverse effect on real property values, restaurants, small businesses, and jobs in Sonoma County.

Per the majority of those voting in favor, the purpose of extending the moratorium is to allow sufficient time for the Board to consider updates to the zoning code, a new vacation rental license ordinance, and prohibiting new vacation rentals in the R1 Zone and amending the vacation rental exclusion combining zone to include the option of imposing a 5% cap. It is agenda item #39, and County documents can be found here.

"Moratoriums are the nuclear option for land use," said Supervisor David Rabbitt, the only Supervisor to vote against the moratorium's extension. Rabbitt believed two years should have been far enough time to figure out a new zoning scheme, questioned how much progress had been made in the last 45 days, and will be made in the next 60 days before the new regulatory scheme is put under the microscope.

Bradley Dunn, spokesman for Permit Sonoma, said the moratorium was needed to prevent approving permits that could be in an area that is about to be rezoned, and because such a high number had been filed after supervisors delayed the rezoning decision until the report could be completed. However, a number of members of the public questioned the need for the moratorium when by the County's own numbers, the number of short term rental permits has actually decreased over the last two years from 1,932 to 1,873.

Last May, the planning commission passed a recommendation for a 5% cap of Vacation Rentals in specific zones in Sonoma County and a ban on them in all R1 zones. Using data from the Eyler report that Sonoma County commissioned, it is estimate this 5% cap would remove 726 units countywide, impact gross revenue of $21M and the total tax revenue by $2.6M per year, as these units are removed from the market. The units would likely sit empty as second homes, generating no visitors and/or little-to-no income for local businesses.

A 5% Cap could devastate many tourist-related parts of the County's economy, especially the traditionally tourist related Russian River, where 425 vacation rentals presently make up just 11% of total single family homes or 3,626 units. According to Sonoma County Tourism, each visitor to Sonoma County generates $165 per trip.

A planning commission update is scheduled for Aug. 2. Supervisor Lynda Hopkins indicated the Board of Supervisors could reconsider lifting the moratorium after that meeting, if new zoning rules are presented and then approved.

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