Letter: Vacation rentals a liability issue?

Letter to the editor paso robles daily news

To the editor,

“Welcome to the show my friends, the show that never ends. We’re so glad you could attend! Come in side, come in side.”(Emerson, Lake and Palmer)

Sorry folks, hate to let the cat out of the bag! One of our City Councilman clarified with me yesterday “Vacation Rentals are a liability issue and we’ll get the pants sued off us if we remove these out of R-1 Zones” (In Dec of 2014, the city issued 71 business licenses for short term rentals and by Feb. of 2019, they issued 323. Currently there are approx. 350) it’s these same officials who rejected a temporary moratorium back in 2015 and as recently as this year. The decision now stands before them. Who wields the most power?

This explains the irony of sitting through 4 to 5 hour city meetings and listening to 40 members of the community speak from both sides of the fence about their concerns of regulating or banning STVR’S in residential communities. Apparently, it’s just a public outlet for venting how we feel about the impact of vacation rentals on our community. City officials listen, I suppose, because it’s required of them. After hours of public comment, they politely move forward with the agenda at hand that they arrived with. There’s no talk of having spent time looking through the masses of letters, emails, statistics or information from both sides of the table or the need to adjourn to give consideration to public comments. Just the need to close out a long running issue that everyone wants behind them.

We have so many more questions than answers. Has the city done an independent study on the effects of taking 350 homes off the market and how it effects housing cost and rental availability? How about the impact on our local schools? Both sides have presented statistics of the financial impact they have on our city. Is our city making money or losing money on these businesses?

Data provided by the city of Paso Robles for 2018 shows they received $4.965,821 from TOT (Transient Occupancy Tax) from Hotels and $491,017 from Short Term Rentals. We’ve been told removing 200 of these rentals from R-1 would not only bring financial ruin to the City of Paso Robles, but would collapse the tourism industry we so desperately depend on. Where’s the study? Has there been a study on the impact STVR’S have on our neighborhoods?

All of this has been presented to them and more in some fashion or another, but never answered. I heard at least two commissioners state last Tuesday night they were not familiar enough with the task at hand to make decisions about this. This subject has been on the table for 5 years and has become one of the most divisive topics I’ve seen in the 40 years I’ve lived here and we were told by two members of the commission, “I haven’t spent the time studying this adequately to make a decision!”

The Planning Commission made the decision to adjourn/close the meeting until the following evening to give them time to familiarize themselves with the hundreds of documents they’ve had in hand for months. “No public comments will be allowed on the agenda” we’re told. The room clears out and 3 individuals are then given permission to make public comments on the agenda. One who just happens to own the largest vacation rental company (Paso Robles Vacation Rentals) in Paso Robles. One member of the Commission who voted on this two weeks prior recuses himself for an FPPC (Fair political Practices Commission) conflict of interest. Straws are drawn because all members but one live within 500 ft. of a vacation rental, putting them in conflict. They now have the difficult task of voting whether or not these vacation rentals should be permitted every 50 ft. in residential neighborhoods, that’s roughly every other house on every street in Paso Robles. They’re recused for living within 500 ft. of a vacation rental and settle on 200 ft. for the community. That’s 100 ft. each direction from your home or approximately every 3rd house on your street. Or, how about the newest addition to my street with its first booking of 14 occupants this weekend at $1038 per night! That’s $3,114 for the weekend and if they don’t behave well… they’ll get hit with a heavy handed fine of $100.00. OUCH! I bet that’ll make them think twice!

After the Planning Commission was presented with 1,100 signatures from actual residents of Paso Robles opposing vacation rentals in their neighborhoods, the decision is made not to put this on the City Council agenda.

We have two sitting Councilmen who are under investigation by the FPPC for conflicts of interest. One who placed his vote on vacation rentals in Paso Robles for at least 5 years that I’m aware of, and was forced to recuse himself, unaware that being successor titleholder for 10 years of a property/vacation rental that he and his wife are pictured on VRBO is a conflict of interest. These documents were handed to the City Attorney who apparently didn’t feel this was worth bringing to the attention of city officials or the public. ( it took a member of our community to expose this). With words like “lawsuit” being thrown around and zoning and ordinance regulations being violated, we’ve been told by our Community Development Director that zonings such as R-1 are defined and determined by the City Council, not the Municipal Code. At least we can finally put to rest why our questions have gone unanswered. Remember, the next time you vote, who your city representatives decided to represent.

Tim Johannes
Paso Robles

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