California Coastal Commission members — caught between the agency’s mandates for public access to the coast and maintaining the character of individual community areas — opted for the latter in a recent Cambria vacation-rental decision about an oceanfront Marine Terrace neighborhood.
The county’s residential vacation-rental regulations for Cambria forbids having too many of the units too close together.
Commissioners voted 6-4 March 8 in Oxnard to not allow Clemence family heirs to establish a vacation rental at 2701 Windsor Blvd., next door to another short-term rental and within 150 feet of four others and others within 200 feet.
Those distances are the minimum separation required by the county, but a waiver can be granted under special circumstances that meet specific conditions. That was what heirs of the property owner were seeking.
At the hearing in Oxnard, Supervisor Bruce Gibson and several Cambrians spoke against the family’s proposal. According to Cambrian Barbara Crowley, more than 70 Marine Terrace residents had signed a letter opposing the permit.
Some of the seven Clemence children and relatives asked commissioners to approve the waiver because the family, which has been in the blufftop home for nearly a half-century, can’t afford to keep the home without vacation-rental income. They said the short-term rental would provide a unique oceanfront vacation opportunity for visitors.
The commission has never approved a minor-use permit that would waive or reduce the vacation-rental distance requirement in Cambria. Some commissioners and people testifying at the hearing said doing so for the Lynn Clemence-Lucas application would be a “slippery slope.”
Commissioner Mark Vargas said, “I’m not hearing enough about why this is a special case … it’s close to the beach, to the park. With that logic, what’s to stop neighbors of this property from pursuing this exemption for every single beachfront property in this town or this county? If we go down this path … it’s like a Trojan horse exemption.”
Commissioner Aaron Peskin said, “We will see a ton more of these coming out of San Luis Obispo County if we don’t put our foot down … if you let them start issuing these when there’s one right next door. I think we need to send a message … they can’t hand these out for the price of asking.”
Although Gibson, who represents District 2 (which includes Cambria), opposed the waiver — as did a diverse range of entities from the County Planning Commission, North Coast Advisory Council and Cambria Chamber of Commerce — the county Board of Supervisors had voted 3-2 in September to support the Clemence-Lucas appeal of the planning commission’s denial.
Some commissioners seemed conflicted about their options, wanting to honor commitments for both coastal access and neighborhood character.
Gibson’s testimony at the hearing appeared to sway some commissioners away from approving the Clemence-Lucas application. He said that Cambria’s supply of rental housing hasn’t increased in years, and that creating more vacation rentals has “a negative effect on housing affordability. The conversion of homes to short-term rental immediately puts pressure” on the market, especially on the low end of the scale, where it’s “not uncommon to find three families in one single-family residence … as long-term rents rise, they get less secure in their situation.”
He added. “This is absolutely not the place to grant the exception” to vacation-rental rules … “the mere proximity to a park is not enough to make this property unique.”
Gibson asked commissioners to “stand with neighborhood character and housing affordability.”
Council staff had indicated that the application met the county’s standards for a waiver.