Seaside village debates vacation home rules

Patrick Evans
Mad River Union

TRINIDAD – More than a year after declaring an emergency moratorium on vacation rental permits, the Trinidad City Council is beginning the adoption process of an amendment to the city’s vacation rental ordinance.

The amendment is mostly intended to limit the number of vacation rentals in Trinidad and create a system to review complaints against rentals and penalize violations. The City Council will also decide what to call vacation rentals, variously known as rentals, vacation dwelling units, and short term rentals. The Trinidad Planning Commission worked on the draft of recommended changes to the ordinance for eight months, and voted 4-1 to pass on its final recommendations to the city council in July.

In straw polls taken by the council at its regular meeting Aug. 10, council members supported recommendations from the planning commission to cap the number of rentals in Trinidad’s urban and suburban residential zones. There are currently 35 rentals in Trinidad, while proposed regulation would limit the number to 25.

The recommended changes to the ordinance would give the city manager authority to put problem rental properties on a watch list, and would penalize violations as infractions or misdemeanors by a vote of the council.

The majority of the council rejected proposals from the planning commission for buffer zones of 100 feet between rentals, a five-year expiration date for licenses and a lottery pool to apply for licenses. The council directed city staff to draft an amendment that excluded the buffer zone, expiration and lottery pool regulations.

Co-owner of vacation rental management company Trinidad Retreats Johnna Kitchen applauded the city council’s decision, saying that buffer zones and a lottery system would be unfair and deny property owners their rights.

“It’s tremendously unfair and onerous,” Kitchen said.

Kitchen was also critical of the ordinance enforcement and complaint process and said that the city should hold renters responsible for violations rather than managers and homeowners.

“There needs to be a clear and fair process for complaints, so that if a manager or owner responds to a complaint and handles it, it is looked on differently than if you are negligent,” she said.

Kitchen said that she and the homeowners whose rentals she manages feel threatened by the possibility of unfair regulations, while guests have said they felt intimidated by city regulations and guest greeting requirements.

“I hope there is a way for us to share Trinidad,” Kitchen said.

“Vacation rentals can respect neighbors, and neighbors can be welcoming,” she added.

While the amendment moves towards adoption, many residents of Trinidad have opposed the ordinance as a whole. Some public commentators at city council meetings want the whole process scrapped and for Trinidad to instead enforce a city municipal code which prohibits commercial business in urban residential zones.

A petition delivered to the city council in January by the group Saving Trinidad Neighborhoods currently  has 68 signatures in support of enforcing municipal code rather than an amended vacation rental ordinance. The group calls for vacation rentals to be allowed in the urban residential zones only if they are occupied by the rental owner, rather than under the watch of a management company.

Residents of Trinidad’s neighborhoods have accused the rental business of changing the community feel of their streets, emptying houses and bringing in waves of partying vacationers.

Complaints and public comments during city council meetings paint a picture of irresponsible managers, loud and occasionally intimidating guests and Trinidad’s narrow streets choked with parked cars. Residents fear break-ins and robberies from out-of-towners, worries sharpened by Trinidad’s limited police coverage at night.

Other residents point out the importance of tourism to Trinidad’s restaurants and shops and rentals’ contribution to the city’s Transient Occupancy Tax, which collects about $100,000 yearly from rentals, hotels and bed & breakfasts.

Vacation rental owner Anik Domb said rentals are a necessary part of Trinidad’s economy.

“[Without rentals] the Smoke House wouldn’t survive, Larrupin’ … When we go there we only go to Trinidad, I don’t want to go to Eureka or Arcata, it’s a really nice community. Imagine no tourism …” Domb said.

Domb has owned and rented out a home in Trinidad for 10 years, since she first stumbled across Trinidad looking to escape the heat in Redding. Domb said she has been happy to comply with the city ordinances and work to protect the city’s seaside village atmosphere, but she is concerned with the hostility towards rentals.

“We are made to jump through so many hoops, and we are so compliant, I don’t understand what all the brouhaha is about,” Domb said.

City Manager Dan Berman said the council will discuss the proposed amendments for the next few months, and could adopt the amendment to the ordinance by October. The ordinance will then be passed on to the California Coastal Commission for review.


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