Visalia considers stricter rules on short-term rentals

(Rigo Moran)

Short-term rentals like Airbnbs face long term restrictions in the city of Visalia as council contemplates tightening up regulations; citizens speak for and against the ordinance change

VISALIA — The city of Visalia is looking to enforce more regulations on short term rental properties in hopes of keeping neighborhoods nicer and residents happier. While the current plan only includes rentals within single family home zones, the proposed ordinance may be expanded in the coming weeks.

On Oct. 16, the Visalia City Council met for their regular public meeting, where they were presented with an ordinance drawn up by staff. The ordinance would create various limitations for rental properties like Airbnbs; one such being the requirement of two off-street parking spaces needing to be at the properties.

“I believe in the sanctity of the neighborhood,” said Councilmember Steve Nelson. “Short term rentals kind of disrupt (that) sanctity.”

Most of the council members agreed with Nelson statements, often using the term “bad apple” to relay the effect these rentals can have on the communities they’re in if not properly managed.

“I always said, from day one, we don’t want to ban the business, we want to ban the bad behavior,” said Vice Mayor Brett Taylor. “We want to make sure that the bad apples are being taken out.”

In order to weed out these disruptive renters, the ordinance – should it be approved after the council’s suggested changes have been made – will require short term rental owners to post the new rules and regulations in their properties. This includes the aforementioned two onsite parking spots, a strict person to bedroom ratio and the ceasing of outdoor activities such as swimming from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. to reduce noise disruption.

The ordinance also details regulations for the owners themselves, such as requiring them to be available to contact 24/7, with a maximum 45-minute response time so they’re “able to address any issues that may arise in a timely manner,” according to Josh Dan, the senior city planner. Another potential hindrance to the owners would be only permitting one short term rental per parcel.

“They’re really looking at the one structure, one use on site,” Dan said. “Not multiple short term rentals running at different times in multiple structures on that site.”

This regulation may be further extended to create and enforce a minimum distance between short term rentals, which could lead to owners trying their luck to obtain a permit in a “lottery,” as put by Councilmember Liz Wynn, who also felt the ordinance should be extended beyond single family housing areas and feature a limit on how long a permit lasts.

“We’re in a tight housing market (so) I would want to — at minimum — put in a cap like we do with smoke shops or other places (that would limit it to) one within 1,000 foot radius,” Wynn said. “I’m not concerned about capping the number; I think you cap them and then if they all want to fight about it we can lottery the permits out.”

During the meeting, several residents were given a chance to share their own thoughts on the matter. Both rental owners and residents living by their properties expressed hopes of easing up on restrictions, or creating more.

“We have a short-term rental next to our home (and) it has been like a motel with a bar, without a manager on site,” said Burce George, a resident who attended the meeting. “ It has been very (disruptive) for the last year and a half.”

George went on to touch upon one of the limitations that would be put in place by the ordinance as it was reported differently during a prior planning commission meeting. According to George, during that meeting it was stated that the short term rentals would be limited to two individuals per bedroom, plus one for the overall rental. This contradicts the city planner’s earlier statement that the limit would be two individuals plus one per bedroom.

“If you have a studio, it’s two occupants plus one, (equalling) three,” George said. “If you have two bedrooms, it’s four occupants plus one… so (for) six bedrooms, it would be 12 plus one, (which) was what was in the council and the planning commission recommendation.”

To sum up his points, George asked that the council not “adopt (something) that’s less restrictive than the planning commission recommended.” While the council couldn’t directly reply to his comment, the city planner went on to state that it would be something they’d double check as they begin to revise the ordinance.

The other side of the issue was highlighted by local real estate agent Jose Briseno, who owns an Airbnb with his wife, felt that many of the ordinance’s proposals didn’t adhere to other realms of hospitality and “discriminates (against) large families,” such as his.

“I feel that the proposed rules are actually against our bundle of rights as homeowners,” he said. “How did you come up with those (occupancy) numbers, (because) a hotel will allow two people per bed, so if that bedroom has two beds, you can accommodate four individuals.”

Rosa, the next resident who spoke, detailed the effects that living near an Airbnb have had on her community, her home and even herself.

“I’ve been in my home for over 20 years; it’s been a peaceful, quiet life until (an) Airbnb came in,” she said. “It’s been a nightmare… my property has been damaged (by) the Airbnb owners to fulfill their needs for (the rental).”

The resident continued by detailing many of the things she’s experienced living to the the Airbnb — which according to her, has a room with eight bunk beds — including people showing up in bands, 13 cars that blocked her driveway, people arriving at midnight then jumping in the pool, as well as a lot of “shirtless men and bikinis handing on the balcony.”

Rosa’s last comment was interrupted by a snicker from another person in attendance, the wife of Jose Briseno, who explained her actions by saying she was the owner of the Airbnb in question. After asking for respect, Rosa finished her statements by pleading with the council to approve the ordinance by saying “really, really, really think seriously about what this is doing to our lives here.”

Ultimately, the council decided it would be best to postpone the approval of the ordinance with the hope of clarifying certain aspects, such as a potential 1,000 foot can and extending these regulations beyond single-family residential zones. The issue will return to council within 30-60 days, during which the city staff will revise the ordinance and look into the council’s suggestions.

“If this (ordinance) — as structured today — is expanded to multifamily, that’s something we can move quickly on,” said Paul Bernal, the city’s community development director. “If that’s the direction you give staff, we’ll go ahead and proceed with that; we would just have to work through some of the parameters we don’t have time for (right now).”

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