It’s always interesting when elected officials decide to make something illegal, especially when the something being made illegal has been legal in the past.
That is the situation in which Santa Barbara County now, or will find itself. The county Board of Supervisors has issued a ruling on the matter of short-term rentals, the majority voting to prohibit most of these kinds of rentals.
The vote at last week’s board meeting assumed a familiar pattern — three of the members voting to ban the rentals, while two voted against. And it’s not difficult to guess which supervisors voted against the scheme, but go ahead and guess anyway.
You got it — the two North County board members, Steve Lavagnino and Peter Adam.
The ordinances approved on the 3-2 vote limit short-term rentals countywide in all but strictly commercial zones, with a couple of exceptions. One of those exceptions is a special Coastal Historic Overlay District to accommodate about a dozen rentals in the vicinity of Highway 101, the ocean, Davidson Road and Hixon Lane.
That particular exclusion denies the same rental privileges to about 16 other properties on the periphery of the overlay district. One wonders where the county staff comes up with who wins and who loses.
If Lavagnino and Adam are correct in their thinking, those properties won’t be the only losers with these new rules. All the short-term rentals now in operation in the newly-created no-rent zones will presumably stop doing business, costing the county a bundle in bed taxes that won’t be collected.
We say “presumably” because there is a strong possibility many of those properties will continue to be rented for casual visitors, but the property owners simply will not report the income, so therefore no taxes.
And there may be no reasonable way for the county to enforce the new rules — unless the Board of Supervisors opts to step up enforcement by hiring more enforcers, in which case the county loses two ways. First, they have to pay new hires, or second, they lose the bed tax revenues from either vacant rental properties or units that continue to be rented without paying the bed taxes.
Sometimes it seems government goes out of its way to create new layers of problems, not only for citizens, but for the government itself.
The rules approved by the board majority carve about 500 existing short-term rental properties out of the picture, with an estimated bed-tax revenue loss of $1.6 million a year. Looking at the county’s overall budget situation, and considering the unfunded pension mandates, that’s money the county can hardly afford to give up.
We’ll make a prediction — in the not-too-distance future, and if these new rules stay in place, our elected county representatives will wake up and say, what were we thinking?
Then they’ll probably say to themselves, we were thinking of taxpaying residents of properties near the short-term rental units, folks who value their quality of life, which includes the right to peace and quiet.
So, the Board of Supervisors has once again found itself caught between legal/fiscal concerns, and the protection of our overall quality of life. It seems as though the county could have found a more equitable way of satisfying both sets of demands.
It also would seem easier to continue collecting bed taxes, while enforcing rules that require renters to keep the peace. In fact, most such temporary tenants do just that, which makes it clear that the county has embarked on the more difficult path.