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Home Vacation Marin County may put hard limit on vacation rentals for first time

Marin County may put hard limit on vacation rentals for first time

by Staff

Stinson Beach is one of the townships in West Marin where concerns about too many short-term rentals and too little affordable housing have grown louder in recent years.

Santiago Mejia/The Chronicle

For the first time in Marin County, government leaders are poised to reduce and limit the number of short-term rentals that operate there, a move they hope will create more workforce housing for locals and revitalize coastal communities where some residents say there’s been a proliferation of homes operating as full-time Airbnbs.

At a Thursday hearing, county supervisors will consider overhauling how short-term rentals (STRs) — dwellings rented for fewer than 30 days at a time — are regulated in the county’s vast unincorporated lands, including the coastal hamlets around Stinson Beach, Point Reyes and Tomales Bay. A proposed ordinance would create a new licensing program with rules governing, for example, how many rentals an owner can operate and what types of dwellings qualify as STRs.

Included is a recommendation to impose a countywide hard cap on STRs, a lightning rod of controversy among Marin’s homeowners and workers. County staffers recommend setting a limit of 1,083 STR licenses in the unincorporated county, with 352 of those set aside for the popular vacation destinations of Dillon Beach and the Seadrift neighborhood in Stinson Beach. They also suggest specific caps for many West Marin communities: for example, Bolinas would be held to 54 licensed STRs; Point Reyes Station to 26; and Inverness to 86.

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While some residents say they’d like to see lower caps along the coast, an outspoken bloc of homeowners and visitors says the measures would be unduly burdensome and won’t have the desired effect of improving the real estate outlook for local workers.

“This is probably the most unprecedented regulation (on STRs) we’ve seen in California,” said Rachel Dinno Taylor, founder of the West Marin Access Coalition, a citizens advocacy group of about 500 members. “The county says their stated goal is to create more workforce housing, but there’s not a connection between this policy and workforce housing.”

“We’re seeing homes purchased to be run as businesses in our residential neighborhoods,” said supervisor Dennis Rodoni, whose district covers West Marin. “We need to manage and control this because I don’t believe the market will do this for us. It’s too popular of an area, with too much demand and too-high real estate prices. That’s not a good mix for anyone trying to find permanent housing there.”

Thursday’s discussion comes nearly two years after county supervisors voted unanimously to stop issuing new STR permits in West Marin — a means of buying time to craft a long-term management plan. There are currently 923 registered STRs in the unincorporated county, so the recommended policy would leave room for more before hitting the 1,083 cap — but it would prevent the industry from growing as quickly as it has been.

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Rodoni acknowledges that many of the dwellings along Marin’s bucolic coast are second homes that have been rented seasonally to travelers for decades. However, county staffers say they’ve recently seen homes further inland — ones in the San Geronimo Valley that traditionally housed local workers — converted into STRs.

“That’s a problem,” said Sarah Jones, director of Marin County’s Community Development Agency. “These are very small communities and as the number (of STRs) has grown, people have felt it really keenly.”

In 2021, 79.3% of workers in Marin’s coastal areas said they commuted from elsewhere, and about half of those workers earned less than $40,000 a year, according to the county.

“We have communities that can’t afford to house service workers, volunteer fire personnel and teachers,” Rodoni said. He doesn’t expect a cap on short-term rentals to solve Marin’s housing woes but he hopes it will help restore a sense of community balance to the coast.

Dinno Taylor, of the citizens advocacy group, rents out her home in Inverness on a short-term basis and opposes any caps in West Marin, an area whose economy she contends has long been dependent on tourism.

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“The character of this place is as a tourist destination to serve visitors. That’s been the historic use,” Dinno Taylor said. Renting out one’s home on a part-time basis “has always been a path to home ownership out here, even before the advent of Airbnb and Vrbo.”

Crimping the supply of STRs could hamper access to the coast for the overnight visitors who drive the local economy, and could make it more costly to visit, Dinno Taylor said.

Moreover, she said, West Marin’s extremely pricey properties don’t profile as candidates for affordable housing. She said some of the second homes in her neighborhood that aren’t rented out to vacationers simply sit vacant most of the year while their owners live elsewhere.

Supporters and opponents of the cap agree on one thing: fewer vacation rentals will likely significantly lower tax revenue that supports emergency fire services and efforts to preserve permanent housing in West Marin.

If the county accepts the ordinance it would be sent to the California Coastal Commission for final approval.

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Reach Gregory Thomas: [email protected]

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