Humboldt County is on the verge of passing a formal ordinance regulating short-term rentals such as Airbnbs and Vrbos in unincorporated parts of the county, though the final decision was delayed for a month on Tuesday.
The Humboldt County Board of Supervisors, after a voluminous Q&A period with Humboldt County Planning and Building Director John Ford and planner Cade McNamara, booted the ordinance out to their March 5 meeting.
Much of the supervisors’ discussion centered around possible exceptions to the cap, definitions of specific types of short-term rentals such as farm stays, transferability and the Big Lagoon Estates community near Trinidad which is requesting inclusion.
“They’re (Big Lagoon residents) worried that … if the cap isn’t applied here that essentially all of these homes are going to convert to short-term rentals and there’s also an older demographic in this community and they’re worried about the turnover rate and the conversion of these into interim use,” McNamara said.
The ordinance aims to formally regulate the roughly 600 to 800 short-term rental units in Humboldt County’s unincorporated regions, imposing a cap of 2% of available housing stock in the Humboldt Bay region and 5% everywhere else, though homestay units would not be included in the cap because they remove available housing stock for long-term renters. The two-year permits would cost $135.
Second District Supervisor Michelle Bushnell asked if there could be exceptions to the cap. Her district does not face the same housing crunch present in the rest of the county given its historic reliance on cannabis cultivation, an industry currently in a tailspin due to several factors such as statewide overproduction. In 2023’s third financial quarter, Garberville, in Bushnell’s district, saw some of the highest foreclosure rates in the country.
“If we don’t offer options, and people get into a really sticky situation with their mortgages, they’re going to do it anyways,” Bushnell said.
The ordinance as written would not allow a permit to be transferred to a next-of-kin if the holder dies, a topic the board touched on but did not seem to gather a significant consensus.
On the Big Lagoon Estates community, McNamara said the public comments largely expressed the fear over the entire community becoming swallowed by short-term rentals, meaning few locally would remain to serve on the water board, likely increasing rates.
Two and a half hours into the discussion with several items remaining on the agenda, when it became clear that the board was not going to pass the ordinance as written, 1st District Supervisor Rex Bohn expressed frustration about the extent the board saw fit to pick the ordinance – which was passed unanimously by the Humboldt County Planning Commission – apart.
“We should have a little faith (in) our planning commissioners, because we got some pretty bright people. I don’t think they want us to dive into do they have a chicken or not? … I mean, even a farm stay can allow something, but it doesn’t mean we can say you can’t stay here unless you come milk a cow,” Bohn said.
The separate ordinances for the Humboldt Bay region and inland parts of the county can be read in full at https://bit.ly/47WTYX4
Jackson Guilfoil can be reached at 707-441-0506