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A plea for fairness

VRBO owners in the Adelaida/Willow Creek area feel singled out by the county

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The passing of the Nov. 15, 2016, vacation rental ordinance that was restricted to the Adelaida/Willow Creek area and prohibits vacation rentals from having any sort of events has drastically affected my family, as well as some of the other vacation rentals in the area.

This may be old news to most, but it is still very much a reality for us. We invested a lot of money into our historic barn because SLO County specifically and explicitly told us that once we got licensed as a vacation rental, we could then host private parties. After again confirming with the county and Planning Commission several times regarding the legality of our plans, we began making our barn structurally sound. We also spent a significant amount of money on landscaping, not to mention all the time and energy we spent enhancing our property.

As soon as we starting working on our barn and property, one of our “neighbors” began reporting us to the county for several different so-called violations. Some members of the planning department, our county supervisor, and fire department officials visited our property at the time and told us we were legal—or agreed that there was a loophole in the law that permitted us to continue our project.

Our neighbors then formed a group called “The Willow Creek Preservation Group.” Since they could not legally attack us individually, they turned the so-called vacation rental issue into a bigger deal using gross exaggerations and misrepresentations. In reality, the four vacation rentals in the area that also hosted private parties have a minimal impact on Adelaida/Willow Creek, especially in comparison to the many, many wineries operating in the area. This “preservation” group is only out for its narrow self-interest and obviously couldn’t care less about how its actions might affect others. They are a group of elite NIMBYs who potentially will have a huge impact on their neighbors and small businesses throughout the community.

Not only have we been subjected to false reports and personal harassment, but there has also been misleading information given to the county. Now, after all of the work we’ve done on our property, the county effectively decided to outlaw vacation rentals from having events and has initially kept those restrictions in the small area of Willow Creek and Adelaida. Really? This will not solve any of the so-called issues that vacation rentals are supposedly causing in the area, such as noise, traffic, light pollution, and fire.

Good job San Luis Obispo County; you were successful in hurting VRBOs (vacation rentals by owner) and the many small businesses associated with the event industry while having a negligible effect on the issues of concern. Brilliant! What about the hundreds of wineries in our area? Their major impact is obvious.

The county was initially supposed to give us an 18-month grace period to transition the current contracts we held with customers, but instead the county cut that period down to six months! County officials displayed no regard to the damage they could cause.

This puts us in a horrible situation. Do we break the law and honor our contracts or do we have to tell our clients that they can no longer have the events that they have had planned for more than a year? Either way, we have been in quite a predicament. The planning department’s solution to the VRBO ordinance claims that it is both simple and inexpensive to get a minor-use permit, which would allow us to have the already scheduled events.

It is neither easy or cheap! It was simply the peddling of more false and misleading information. So now we would have to spend tens of thousands of dollars more to get an event permit, and even after spending all of that money, we still aren’t assured that a permit will get issued. How callous and disrespectful is that?

Our simple request was to allow us and the three other identified VRBOs in this area to be grandfathered in to the ordinance. Or, at least let us honor our existing contracts. That request was, of course, turned down. But to us, it is only right that we get grandfathered in because it was the county that pointed us in the direction of becoming a VRBO in the first place.

If we had been told we could not legally host private parties, we would not have invested so much money into revamping our barn and property. So here we are now, in this awful position of whether we just throw our arms up or continue to stand up for ourselves and what is right.

When we look at the many other event sites similar to ours that continue to operate without interference, it’s obvious that we are being singled out. There is supposed to be equal protection under the law, and we plan to continue to fight for our constitutional rights.

And what about our private property rights? Where have they gone?

Kari Freitas-Field runs a VRBO in the Adelaida/Willow Creek area and she’s not happy. Send comments through the editor at clanham@newtimesslo.com or write a letter to the editor at letters@newtimesslo.com.

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