The San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 Tuesday to deny an application for a new vacation rental (VR) permit on a large waterfront home in Los Osos after residents turned out in force to protest what they saw as a threat to the character of their town.
The supervisors appeared to be swayed by the outpouring of concern from the community that the rental would be located right next door to an existing permitted vacation rental.
An organized group, Neighbors for Los Osos, had circulated a petition signed by 630 locals supporting density regulations on the number of short-term rentals allowed in a given neighborhood.
These proposed regulations are supported by the Los Osos Community Advisory Council but not considered official because the town’s Community Plan has yet to be adopted by the supervisors.
That could come late this year, but many Los Osos residents don’t want to wait.
The supervisors got an earful from more than 30 speakers who showed up to appeal both a hearing officer’s approval in March and now staff support for the vacation rental application at 670 Santa Lucia Drive.
“I know Los Osos wants a setback between vacation rentals of 500 feet,” said swing-vote Supervisor John Peschong, “and that may be too much. But if this permit were to be approved, there would only be 3 feet between the two short-term rentals, he reasoned.
“They would be right on top of each other,” Peschong said, as he announced he would vote with Los Osos district Supervisor Bruce Gibson as well as Adam Hill to override the staff opinion.
‘We want neighbors, not weekenders’
Several longtime Los Osos residents turned out to object, worried about the impact of more vacation rentals on their community.
One resident said the clustering of vacation rentals was “akin to horizontal hotels, and hotels do not belong in a residential neighborhood.”
Robin McPeak said, “When too many vacation rentals are allowed in close proximity to one another, and in this case next-door, the character of a neighborhood changes. This steady stream of strangers displaces permanent residents.”
Los Osos resident Sue Morgenthaler noted, ”No other community with vacation rental regulations allows side-by-side short-term rentals,” and all have some kind of spacing between VR permits.
Despite strong community opinion on this, the county hearing officer and county staff ”completely disregarded all this,” she complained.
“If you approve this, it will set a precedent, and you have to wonder, where will it stop?” she asked.
Another resident, Judy Green, summed it up this way: ”We want neighbors, not weekenders.”
Permit applicant Amy Thoman argued that she understood community concerns but said that the density rules they were referring to have not been adopted. She said her rental “would not be party place” and would be overseen by a property manager.
“This is an upscale $2 million house, and we will not be renting it” to someone who causes trouble, she maintained.
Thoman pointed to a staff estimate that there are just 35 vacation rentals out of a housing stock of 6,200 in Los Osos.
Supervisors Debbie Arnold and Lynn Compton pointed to this small number of units in town that should minimize the negative impacts some were worried about.
Compton noted that the applicant should not be told no after they purchased the house and a denial might amount to a “property taking.” The applicant “got ambushed” by the strong reaction from the neighborhood, she remarked.
But supervisor Adam Hill appeared to get a positive opinion from county counsel at the meeting to support the idea that supervisors were not taking away any right and that they have “discretion” to approve or deny the request.
Debbie Arnold remarked that many beach houses were originally purchased as vacation units and now property owners might need to rent their units out to afford to fix them up.
But supporters of vacation rental regulation say their proliferation is driving up both home an rental prices — a subject Gibson promises to the talk about at a Coastal Commission workshop on VRs later this week.