I am writing this in response to Morro Bay City Councilman Jeff Heller's op ed on Nov. 5 about the recent short-term vacation rental (STR) ordinance adopted by the city of Morro Bay ("Neighborhood character"). As you might guess, he was the singular "no" vote on the adoption of this ordinance, which is a pattern that can be seen throughout his term on the council—he typically votes against any agenda items that are designed to move the city toward achieving financial viability and resolving issues that have plagued the community for years, such as the water treatment facility.
The four-plus years of battling over vacation rentals in Morro Bay was over with the city's submission of new and detailed regulations to the California Coastal Commission for approval. This is an opportune time to reiterate that the Coastal Commission's role is to preserve coastal access for all in the state, not just the privileged few who have made the coast their home. The commission protects this access for all from the vocal locals who would try to preserve access only for themselves. Mr. Heller was correct in saying that the new ordinance satisfies the California Coastal Commission's desire to ensure that the public has affordable lodging options available in the coastal zones so that all people can enjoy the beautiful beaches and ocean that we are so blessed to gaze upon every day. In the direct beach-assessable areas known as the Beach Tract, many of the homes are second homes that are just occasionally occupied, so really what the permanent residents would like is that all these second homes be "dark and quiet."
Mr. Heller is also correct in saying that the ordinance protects the tax generated by STRs. This is an important factor since the city is in very bad shape financially because of the pandemic. Morro Bay's only industry is tourism so to eliminate a very popular lodging option for our tourists could have huge negative impacts to the city. Also, please don't buy the argument that these homes take up affordable housing. These STR homes are owned by people who spend many weekends or even extended periods of time in their home so they would not make them available for long-term housing even if they couldn't offer them as a vacation rental!
What I don't agree with Mr. Heller on is that the new ordinance primarily protects the financial interests of the STR owners. What it does is protect property rights. All current license holders purchased and furnished their homes to operate as an STR in good faith and with the understanding that if they were compliant with regulations, they would be allowed to continue to operate and receive the money generated from the home in order to cover their mortgage until, in many cases, the owner retires here. The new ordinance includes an estimated 500 percent increase in license/permit fees to operate a STR in the city in order to fund proper enforcement in the city for the very first time. It should be noted that in the last decade the city cannot produce even a single violation for a licensed STR under the current ordinance. It's very clear that the real issue in the city has been one of enforcement of regulations, the elimination of the many unlicensed STR operations, and the control of the city's large number of second homes, which number about 1,300 or approximately 20 percent of the total housing stock.
The new ordinance includes many provisions that should reduce the number of STRs over time and promote better behavior by STR guests. These include the reduction of licenses for non-hosted STRs from 250 to 175; proximity regulations for new licenses that require 175 feet of separation between STRs; signs visible from the street that indicate the home is a licensed STR and showing the local contact info; requiring all parking on-site; requiring a "Good Neighbor Brochure" in every STR; setting the maximum number of overnight occupants at 10 regardless of the size of the home; and restricting occupancy to less in some cases based on the number of bedrooms. Mr. Heller's comparison of the density rules in Los Osos (not a tourist town) to Morro Bay (primarily a tourist town) is apples to oranges!
As Morro Bay's largest management company for non-hosted STRs, we are not completely happy with the new regulations, as they will reduce income to our owners, increase operational costs, and set new hurdles of compliance. We also are not happy with the 500 percent increase in license/permit fees or the City Council-mandated increase of our total tax paid on every dollar of every rental to 13 percent, a 30 percent increase. However, we will actively support the approval of the new regulations at the Coastal Commission level because we believe it's a compromise and will bring relief to the city and its residents. For more detailed information about the ordinance and general information on the STR challenges up and down our coast, please visit sharemorrobay.com. Δ
Nicholas Juren is a real estate broker and co-owner of Beach-N-Bay Getaways and URelax Vacation Rentals in Morro Bay. Send your response to firstname.lastname@example.org.