Issue will return to Board of Supervisors on June 6

Star Staff Report

The Santa Ynez Valley’s thriving tourism industry attracts people who want to experience the countryside and recreational opportunities such as horseback riding and bicycling.

“People have been doing farm stays since the beginning of time. Sure, it’s a little different these days where not all of them who stay actually work on the farm, but they want the same feeling of being in nature, seeing the wide-open skies and not being cramped in a small hotel room,” said Leanne Schlinger of Santa Ynez Vacation Rentals.

She and the owners of other property rental companies in the county were frustrated when the Santa Barbara County Planning Commission recommended to the Board of Supervisors in December that they ban on all short-term rentals except in areas zoned Agriculture II.

At that time, the supervisors asked county staff for more information, which they will discuss as part of their June 6 agenda. The meeting begins at 9 a.m. in the Board of Supervisors Hearing Room on the fourth floor at 105 East Anapamu St. in Santa Barbara.

“There aren’t any decisions being made at this next hearing. We are just presenting multiple options to the board for them to consider. We just need a set of rules and regulations that everyone can abide by and be accountable to,” said Jessica Metzger, senior planner in the county’s Long Range Planning office.

Schlinger says county staff members have been working with her to listen to vacation rental owners and find ways to benefit from the operations, rather than imposing a blanket ban in some zones.

“I’ve never gotten a complaint, and I think it’s unfair that a small amount of people who complain in a different part of the county get to decide what’s best for everyone. The county needs to do more research on how to regulate it and take our experiences as other businesses like mine have created and done with years of being contributing citizens to our society,” she said.

Her business heavily regulates itself with an occupancy limit, vehicle limit, and a strict noise policy, she added.

Her clients more often than not become repeat customers and spend quite a bit of money while they are vacationing, she added.

“Our county is a tourist destination. Specifically, the valley is where people come to enjoy wine and food and want to get away from it all. Agricultural properties aren’t undermined with short-term vacation rentals, they are enhanced, because the visitors appreciate what the property owners want to keep, end up contributing to the community with sales tax, gas tax, transient-occupancy tax, which the county relies on. It just seems silly they would not want the revenue,” Schlinger said.

Her attorney, Matt Allen, said that his research shows the county receiving $1.6 million in transient-occupancy tax (TOT) revenue last year from short-term rentals (STR). If county officials just spent a little time coming up with regulations and permitting systems, they could stand to make a lot more, he said.

“It’s not like the property owners are building specifically for STR. They are using existing houses that don’t have an impact like building a hotel. Especially in the valley where visitors want the country experience, the smart solution is to do a better job to get the property owners to register and pay taxes,” Allen said.

More than 1,000 people, not all from Santa Barbara County, signed a petition submitted to the supervisors in December in opposition to a ban.

“We have rented homes in the Santa Ynez Valley several times a year for the last many years as our escape from Los Angeles. We have no interest in staying in hotels on these visits, as staying in a home is an entirely different experience. if Santa Barbara bans short term rentals we’ll stop coming (and spending money at local restaurants, grocery stores, wineries and independent shops) and find another place more welcoming to visitors … Any concerns can be addressed through responsible regulation rather than an outright ban,” wrote Todd Shays of Culver City.

“If anything it allows owners to keep their property, that if some of my clients didn’t have this option would probably sell to a developer that would divide larger parcels into even more dense housing, which is what people in the valley don’t want,” Schlinger said.

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