Improved enforcement of the county’s vacation-rental ordinance was a common thread in more than half of the comments made during a Jan. 16 listening-session forum sponsored by the North Coast Advisory Council.
The topic was a hot one, drawing a standing-room-only crowd of about 125 people despite the wind and rain raging outside the Veterans Memorial Building.
Vacation rentals are homes that are rented out on a short-term basis. To license a unit under the county’s ordinance for Cambria, a home must meet certain standards, such as being specific distances from other licensed units and having sufficient on-site parking.
At the end of the hour-long forum, Supervisor Bruce Gibson wrapped things up, saying he’d met recently with Undersheriff Jim Voge and Planning Director Trevor Keith about the issues, especially how deputies sent out on a problem need to document their calls “so we can start to enforce the ordinance.”
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Gibson said if there are “three verified complaints within six months” the home’s license can be revoked. “Those who don’t play by the rules can cause huge problems,” he said. “The biggest thing we can do is make code enforcement more black and white.”
Gibson also noted other steps that he hopes the county will take soon to improve code-enforcement efforts.
He, NCAC Board President Susan McDonald and others complimented attendees about how calm and succinct all the comments had been and how polite audience members were, despite obvious differences in their passionately held opinions. Gibson said people had exhibited “extraordinary civility” in expressing their opinions and listening to others.
Those views came from nearly two dozen speakers who manage, own or stay at units, from real estate brokers, several previous NCAC chairpersons and neighbors impacted negatively by nearby vacation rentals. “It’s affecting our quality of life,” said Art Chapman of Cambria, a sentiment echoed by several other speakers.
Many spoke in generalities about their support for the county ordinance, but how they think problems and conflicts could be better managed.
Some mentioned specifics, such as the difficulties of having rentals on narrow streets, the need to add staff and funding to the county Code Enforcement Division, and how enforcement officers should be more forceful, faster, with unlicensed units, charging increased fines, perhaps in the thousands of dollars.
The most-often mentioned issues were: Code enforcement; negative impacts on community life, home prices and housing stock; the need to limit the number in a neighborhood or community; commercial value; and that rentals locally and actively managed present fewer problems.
Most speakers said that, when there were problems, they’d had good response from professional property managers. But others spoke of more difficult interactions, especially with owners of unlicensed vacation rentals
While the majority who spoke were from Cambria, at least one speaker was from San Simeon, another was from Cayucos and a third from Los Osos.
Larry Bender of Los Osos, a member of the advisory council there, said his community is suffering the same kind of problems Cambria is, only there’s no special Los Osos county ordinance yet covering vacation rentals, as there is for Cambria. He said his community was “turning into one big hotel where people come and go.”
Numerous property managers and others spoke about the good side of rentals.
Real estate broker Bob Kasper of Cambria said if people know of an unlicensed unit, or if things are happening that aren’t allowed, then “say something,” by reporting the problem.
Glenda McHaffie, a third-generation Cambrian who works for a property management firm, said that, if other managers and VR owners “are not doing it properly, they need to be reprimanded, need to be held accountable.” Cambria is “a tourism economy, and we need the vacation-rental industry.” She estimated that her firm “probably has problems with less than one percent” of the units they manage, “and if there’s a problem, we take care of it.”
Broker Joe Prian advised keeping the ordinance, “but it needs enforcement meat … I agree with $1,000, $2,000, $5,000 fines” to be levied on those who don’t follow the rules.
Cambria homeowner Dennis Metz said he’s been staying at vacation rentals “for about 25 years, almost as long as my (property’s) number has been on Cambria’s water list” for service sometime in the future. Metz urged county officials about the ordinance, “Don’t change anything except enforcement.”
Taylor Hilden of Cambria seemed to speak for everybody when she spoke directly to Gibson and other county employees who had come to the meeting to listen and learn. She said, “Please, enforce the wonderful ordinance. Save our community.”