The Morro Bay City Council continued its piecemeal approach to addressing the hot-button issue of vacation rentals on July 12, voting 4-0 to extend a vacation rental moratorium in the city, while promising residents that more nuanced regulation is on the way.
The moratorium, which caps the number of vacation rental permits the city can grant, will be in effect for another 22 months and 15 days. It was initially introduced as an emergency ordinance on June 14.
Keeping the moratorium going allows the city more time to craft a vacation rental ordinance, while at the same time taking immediate action to address public complaints about how vacation rentals have negatively impacted neighborhoods.
“The City Council finds that … without specific regulations, [vacation rentals] can change the character of a neighborhood, cause blight, and impact quality of life and potentially property values, as well as compromising the public trust in its local government,” a city staff report read.
To date, Morro Bay has issued 174 vacation rental permits, but the staff report estimated that an additional 100 unlicensed vacation rentals are operating in the city. The moratorium limits licensed vacation rentals to 250.
The city plans to craft a vacation rental ordinance in conjunction with its new general plan over the next 14 to 18 months. The current general plan is nearly 30 years old and does not provide a contemporary vision for the city, according to Morro Bay Mayor Jamie Irons. He believes the policies should go hand in hand.
“I support this process,” Irons said at the meeting. “The only way to address [vacation rentals] is a robust ordinance on it.”
Confronting vacation rentals in Morro Bay hasn’t come without its share of controversy. Irons was levied with a Fair Political Practices Committee (FPPC) complaint in March after he made public comments on an ordinance prohibiting secondary dwelling units as vacation rentals.
Because Irons owns a secondary dwelling unit and has current plans to construct a new guest house, he recused himself from voting on the ordinance due to the conflict of interest. However, Irons did submit written public comments on the issue as a citizen on March 22 and June 28, outlining his opposition to the ordinance.
Resident Linda Stedjee filed the complaint with the FPPC questioning if Irons used his position to influence a City Council decision where he had a conflict of interest.
FPPC regulations state that elected officials with conflicts of interest are allowed to submit public comments as citizens as long as they recuse themselves from voting on the issue at hand.
“It needs to be clear that I made my comments based as a private citizen on both occasions,” Irons told New Times. “What’s confusing is when you’re an elected official, and you want to speak and provide input as a citizen. … Everybody that speaks is trying to influence City Council with whatever his or her position is. I took a position as a private citizen and submitted my comments.”