Mad River Union
TRINIDAD – Trinidad has put the brakes on the vacation rental industry for another year.
The Trinidad City Council voted unanimously Wednesday, June 9 to extend an urgency moratorium on new licenses for residential houses rented out for less than 30 days, called Vacation Dwelling Units (VDUs).
The extended moratorium will last one year, from June 29, 2016 to June 28, 2017. New applications for rental licenses will not be accepted, but existing VDUs are able to renew licenses.
The moratorium was enacted by the city council in June 2015, in response to a perceived rush on applications for VDU permits.
At the time, the council declared that the growth of the rental industry in Trinidad was a “current and immediate threat to public welfare,” and enacted a moratorium to give the city time to revise its VDU ordinance to include a cap on the number of VDUs allowed in the city’s residential zones.
The city council first passed a moratorium on rental permits in November 2009, in response to an increase in vacation rental business in city neighborhoods. The city worked for five years and passed an ordinance regulating VDUs in March 2015.
Trinidad has been polarized by the issue. Some residents blame rentals for causing traffic and congested parking, loud parties, and emptying the town’s neighborhoods, while rental owners defend VDUs as vital to the tourist industry, and contend that Trinidad has long been a vacation town with various forms of hotels and tourist accommodations.
Former planning commissioner Kathleen Lake said she has lived next to a vacation rental for the past 10 years.
“We have suffered for a long time,” Lake said.
Lake was opposed to a 15 percent cap on rentals in the city urban residential zones, calling the proposal outrageous in a small community like Trinidad.
Jonna Kitchen, co-owner of property management company Trinidad Retreats, said she opposes the council extending the moratorium and said that vacation rentals are a boon as opposed to a threat to the community.
“I think VDUs enhance Trinidad’s welfare by providing a revenue stream which helps fund city management, safety services as well as support local businesses,” Kitchen said.
Trinidad has 220 houses, 30 of which are currently vacation rentals. A proposed 15 percent cap would limit rentals to the current 30 units. Trinidad’s Transient Lodging Tax, a tax on rentals, hotels and bed and breakfasts is one of the city’s main revenue sources, and brings in about $100,000 each year.
An attorney for a group of Trinidad vacation rental owners, Walter McNeill of McNeill Law Offices, accused the council of violating California state law by passing the extension. McNeill claimed that the moratorium violates restrictions on urgency ordinances under California Government Code 65858, which prohibits enacting the same urgency ordinance twice in a row. “I’m convinced what you’re doing in your moratorium is a repeat of what was done in 2009 … you shouldn’t be extending this ordinance,” McNeill said.
Trinidad’s City Attorney disagreed, and said the current moratorium was enacted to give the council time to fix problems with the VDU ordinance, while the 2009 moratorium was enacted because the city did not have an ordinance regulating VDUs.
The city council’s proposed changes to the VDU ordinance include a cap on the number of vacation rental units allowed in the city, either at a percent of housing or at a set number. Changes to the ordinance will also include restrictions on transferring rental licenses when property changes hands, and buffer areas between rentals in urban residential zones.
Mayor Dwight Miller said he expects to hear final advice on the VDU ordinance from the Trinidad Planning Commission in July, at which point the council will send a draft of the revised ordinance to the California Coastal Commission for approval.