Marin gets ready to release draft rules on short-term rentals

June 23, 2023

County planners are hoping to have new regulations governing short-term rentals in place before a moratorium on new rentals in western Marin expires next year.

“We are really taking our consideration of short-term rentals to a little higher level than we have in the past in this county,” Sarah Jones, director of the Community Development Agency, told county planning commissioners during a workshop on short-term rentals this month.

“The reason is connected to matters of housing supply and housing affordability,” Jones said.

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. In Bolinas and Inverness, 10% of the parcels are being used as short-term rentals, according to the county. In Stinson Beach and Dillon Beach, the numbers are even higher — 27% and 31%, respectively.

During the workshop, which was held on June 12, the commission was presented with the results of a community survey on short-term rentals and received testimony from more than 40 residents on whether they believe new regulations are needed and, if so, what kind.

In addition to asking whether there should be a limit on the number of short-term rentals allowed in the unincorporated areas, the survey asked respondents whether hosted and non-hosted short-term rental properties should be treated differently; whether limits should vary by community; whether operators should be limited to renting a single dwelling; and whether operators should be required to meet safety, septic and parking requirements.

A total of 2,467 people responded to the survey, not all of whom live in unincorporated areas. They split fairly evenly over whether there should be a limit on the number of short-term rentals allowed in the unincorporated areas of the county, with 41% responding yes and 45% saying no.

However, of the 1,191 respondents who do live in unincorporated areas, 64% supported short-term rental limits while 36% opposed limits.

This split in opinion was evident during the workshop.

“I think short-term rentals should be welcomed not feared. I recommend that we have as many a possible. They bolster the economy,” said Jennifer Gollus of Inverness, who said she has been operating a short-term rental out of her home for the last five years.

Sean Callagy, a member of the West Marin Access Coalition, said, “The county can’t heed demands by a handful of long-term residents to exclude visitors and others to use and enjoy the west Marin area differently.”

But Melinda Stone, a renter in Bolinas, said, “Every year we lose more families because we lose more housing in Bolinas. My son is in the fourth grade, and there are seven kids in his class, when he started in preschool there were 18 kids.”

Mollie Lounibus talked about a family of five she knows who are being forced to leave Bolinas because the house they are renting has been sold to a buyer she believes wants to enter the short-term rental business.

“It is heartbreaking,” Lounibus said. “It’s happening all the time, and it’s escalating.”

Maureen Cornelia of Inverness said, “We’ve all watched local workers, young families and seniors leave the community. School enrollments are down; local jobs go unfilled. I absolutely believe there is a place for short-term rentals in our community, but not at the current number nor at the expense of our rural communities’ viability.”

The county adopted its first ordinance regulating short-term rentals in August 2018. The two-year ordinance required short-term rental operators to notify surrounding neighbors and provide a brochure to rental tenants instructing them on how to comply with county rules related to noise, parking, vehicle access and trash.

In addition, the ordinance established a short-term rental hotline for complaints, which is operated by Host Compliance, the county’s third-party short-term rental monitor. The law also required short-term rental operators to identify a local contact person when they apply for their business license.

County supervisors made the ordinance permanent with only one minor change in July 2020.

The county’s Department of Finance requires short-term rental operators to register for a business license and collect the county’s 10% transient occupancy tax from visitors.

In May 2022, county supervisors adopted an urgency ordinance placing a moratorium on new short-term rentals in western Marin. On June 2022, the supervisors extended the moratorium until May 23, 2024.

Before the supervisors can adopt new regulations affecting the coastal zone they will need to get the approval of the California Coastal Commission, which might not be easy.

Callagy told commissioners at the June meeting that “Marin’s local coastal plan requires that you give a high priority to the needs of visitors and recognizes that overnight accommodations are a key element of that.”

“The Coastal Commission has recognized when evaluating short-term rental regulations that short-term rentals often provide the best value for visitors,” Callagy said.

The Community Development Department plans to have new draft regulations prepared to share with the public by next month and expects to present them to county supervisors this fall so it can submit the proposed rules to the state commission by the end of the year.

An additional complication in meeting that goal is the fact that many western Marin residents believe the new short-term regulations should be tailored to suit the unique needs of each community.

“I’d like to acknowledge there are distinct differences between the economies of Bolinas and Stinson Beach,” said Grace Gubbins, speaking on behalf of the Bolinas Community Land Trust.

“Historically, Bolinas has always housed the workforce for our subregion,” Gubbins said, “whereas Stinson Beach has long served as a hub for visitors and travelers in Marin County and an ideal location for family vacations.”

Summing up the responses to the survey, Kathleen Kilgariff, a county planner, said, “A one-size-fits-all approach is not going to work.”

“What works for Dillon Beach may not work for Bolinas,” Kilgariff said. “That was something that was pretty strongly conveyed in the responses.”