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Sonoma County extends vacation rental moratorium while weighing additional regulations

The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors has extended a ban on new vacation rentals in many parts of the county for up to another 11 months while it weighs additional regulations for short-term rental properties.

In a special public meeting on Monday, the board in a 4/5 vote agreed to continue the county’s pause on issuing new vacation rental permits in most areas outside of local city limits.

Officials say the moratorium is needed to prevent a run on permits before the board makes a decision on the proposed vacation rental regulations, which are meant to alleviate residents’ concerns about noise, public safety and housing availability. The new rules could include limiting the number of rentals allowed in certain neighborhoods and prohibiting new rentals in others.

The vacation rental moratorium, which was initially set to last 45 days, went into effect May 10. When it was approved, supervisors signaled they would be prepared to extend the moratorium at least until they held a vote on the new vacation rental rules.

That vote is set for Aug. 2, at which time the board may decide to end the temporary ban as the regulations go into effect.

“Functionally, it’s going to go until we get the comprehensive ordinance,” said Bradley Dunn, policy director with Permit Sonoma, the county planning agency.

The extended urgency ordinance can last until May 9, 2023.

The moratorium does not apply to areas along the coast that are regulated by the California Coastal Commission. The coast would also be exempt from any permanent county caps on new rentals.

Supervisor David Rabbitt, who expressed reservations about extending the moratorium when it was initially approved by a unanimous vote, on Monday cast the only no vote against the extension.

Rabbitt said the primary reason he voted against extending the moratorium was because it follows a separate temporary cap on vacation rentals approved by supervisors in summer 2020. That moratorium still applies to certain parts of the Sonoma Valley and the lower Russian River area.

Rabbit described moratoriums as a “nuclear option” for addressing land use issues, and he’s concerned extending the rental permit ban could go against state limits on local moratoriums.

“That is unacceptable to me,” Rabbitt said.

The vacation rental regulations the board is expected to consider later this summer would only apply to unincorporated parts of the county. Proposals include capping short-term rentals to 5% of single-family homes in some communities where there are worries about protecting available housing stock and preserving “neighborhood character.” Some other communities could see permanent prohibitions on new rental permits.

Additionally, the board is considering a system to license vacation rentals to make it easier to enforce short-term rental regulations. The county would also launch a 24/7 hotline to respond to complaints.

According to a recent economic study commissioned by the county, there were an estimated 2,459 local short-term rentals in 2021, making up 2% of the roughly 138,945 single-family homes in the county. About 1,485 of the rentals were in unincorporated areas.

You can reach Staff Writer Ethan Varian at ethan.varian@pressdemocrat.com or 707-521-5412. On Twitter @ethanvarian

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