Marin County supervisors have set a special hearing to consider moving forward with controversial new regulations on short-term rental properties.
The ordinance recommended by the county’s Community Development Agency would limit people to operating a single short-term rental. The ordinance would cap the number of short-term rentals allowed countywide and include separate limits for a number of western Marin communities.
The ordinance also would require operators to meet a number of other county requirements such as having a county-approved septic system and adequate parking.
The regulations would apply to western Marin and other unincorporated areas of the county.
“We’re trying to manage the number of short-term rentals so that we can ensure that there are places for people who need housing,” said Sarah Jones, director of the Community Development Agency.
The public hearing is scheduled for 5 p.m. Thursday in the supervisors’ chambers at the Marin County Civic Center and online.
Many residents in coastal areas in western Marin complain that a shortage of housing, made worse by short-term rentals, is hollowing out their communities. Others coastal residents, however, say they depend on revenue from short-term rentals to be able to continue living there.
A survey over the summer that generated 2,467 responses found a fairly even split over whether there should be a limit on the number of short-term rentals allowed in the unincorporated areas of the county. The yes vote was 41%, the no vote 45%.
The county started regulating short-term rentals, offered through services such as Airbnb and VRBO, in August 2018. A moratorium on new short-term rentals in western Marin has been in place since May 2022 and is due to expire on May 23.
Under the proposed ordinance, most people operating a short-term rental now would be allowed to continue doing so in perpetuity. However, they would have to apply for a new license that would be issued by the Community Development Agency and meet new agency requirements before being issued a license.
There would be one exception. People operating a short-term rental from a multi-family dwelling or condominium would be allowed to continue operating for two more years but no longer. After two years, the license automatically would be revoked. That would affect 69 short-term rentals, 32 of which are in the coastal zone.
Also, under the proposed ordinance an accessory dwelling unit or junior accessory dwelling unit created or legalized after Jan. 1, 2020, could not be used as a short-term rental.
The Community Development Agency recommends capping the number of short-term rentals countywide at 1,083. For nearly all communities, this would mean freezing the number of short-term rentals at the number that existed in May 2022 when the moratorium was announced.
Separate caps would be set for a number of coastal communities, including Bolinas, Inverness, Point Reyes Station and Marshall. The caps would also reflect the number of short-term rentals operating in these communities when the moratorium was announced.
An exception would be made for Dillon Beach and the Seadrift area of Stinson Beach. Dillon Beach would be allowed up to 204 short-term rentals and the Seadrift area up to 148. Collectively, that would amount to 155 more short-term rentals than the areas have already.
In recommendations issued after holding three lengthy public hearings, the Marin County Planning Commission advocated for exempting the Dillon Beach and Seadrift areas entirely from the limits.
The two communities have historically had a high concentration of vacation homes. Dillon Beach was developed as a second home community, is located far from job centers and lacks crucial services, such as a grocery store.
In its staff report to supervisors, however, the Community Development Agency expressed concern that many more residences in Dillon Beach and Seadrift could be converted to short-term rental use. Currently, 197 of the 704 residences in the two communities are being used to host short-term rentals, leaving the potential for up to 507 more.
The planners stated that a proliferation of short-term rentals in these areas could complicate evacuations during wildfires or floods.
While the total number of short-term rentals allowed to operate countywide would rise from 923 to 1,083 under the proposed ordinance, most western communities would see the number of short-term rentals operating in their areas diminish over time to meet their local caps. Anyone wanting to operate a short-term rental who isn’t doing so now would have to wait until that community fell below its cap.
The Community Development Agency deviated from the Planning Commission recommendations in other respects as well. The commission called for reducing the number of short-term rentals allowed countywide to 217, the number in place in August 2018, while excluding Dillon Beach and Seadrift from the count.
The commission also recommended allowing people currently operating a short-term rental to bequeath their license to a spouse or child, and to allow current operators of multiple registered short-term rentals to obtain licenses for up to three.
The Community Development Agency is recommending that only a one-time license transfer to a spouse or child be allowed. According to the agency’s report to supervisors, the Planning Commission’s recommendation would violate the spirit of “affirmatively furthering fair housing” because property inheritance “is one way to perpetuate wealth inequality.”
The planners are recommending that people be allowed to retain up to three short-term rentals only if the rentals are on the same property.
The county has been deluged with a flood of emails and letters in advance of Thursday’s meeting. In one of them, Michael Parman asserts that “between 33% and 41% of the units currently operated as short-term rentals would not be allowed under this ordinance because they are not part of the single family residence envelope.”
Jones said, “That’s possible.”
“We’re anticipating that there are some people who have a registered short-term rental now that aren’t going to want to meet these additional regulations so they won’t apply for a license,” Jones said. “We have no idea how many that will be.”
A large number of the emails appear to be using a script that asks the supervisors to reject the draft ordinance because it is “unworkable, impractical, and inconsistent with the mandates under the Coastal Act & Local Coastal Program that the county provide visitor access to coastal Marin.”
The supervisors are slated to decide on Thursday whether to submit a Local Coastal Plan amendment application to the California Coastal Commission to authorize adoption of the new regulations.