The Desert Sun recently sat down with representatives from the vacation rentals industry and the group Protect Our Neighborhoods to discuss numerous issues. (Nov. 10, 2016) Skip Descant/ The Desert Sun
It looks like Palm Springs residents might get the chance to decide with their votes the fate of the short-term rentals industry.
City Hall says a ballot initiative petition drive put forth by Palm Springs Neighbors for Neighborhoods (PSN4N) — a group that wants to purge residential neighborhoods of vacation rentals — has gathered the required signatures to put the matter before voters.
As we’ve written before, this is the wrong way to decide this controversy.
The City Council — which includes members Lisa Middleton and Christy Holstege who’ve come aboard since the body last dealt with this issue in 2017 — should continue to be given the chance to find the right mix when it comes to regulating this industry that brings more than $6 million per year in vitally needed General Fund revenue.
Here’s what the PSN4N-pushed ordinance would do:
Rentals in R1-zoned neighborhoods (areas that are predominantly single-family homes) would have to be at least 28 days long. Condos or homes that are part of Homeowners Associations would be exempt, as they’re governed by the own regulations. Rental owners would have two years to comply.
We also criticized the ballot initiative effort put forth by vacation rental industry supporters that had pushed a return to a much more wide-open market structure, derailing the initial City Council overhaul of the Vacation Rentals Ordinance. Like this PSN4N attempt, that move unwisely sought to circumvent the representative governance process that people must rely on to make a city work.
In that case, the council reopened the process and modified the new ordinance, significantly easing some of its restrictions on overall rental contracts and durations. Stronger enforcement provisions with tougher sanctions and monetary penalties for bad actors remain in the rewrite.
Neither side got everything it wanted in the again-rewritten ordinance. Critics like PSN4N say the council caved to the industry; many owners of STRs continue to complain that the ordinance’s less than wide-open opportunity might as well be an all-out ban.
There are signs that the new ordinance, which was fully implemented last spring, is making progress. According to the Palm Springs city website, as of October eight properties were under a suspension of their STR permits extending into 2019. The Vacation Rentals Department also reported that city compliance officers issued STR-related citations in significantly higher numbers in each month of 2017 compared to the two prior years. For example, 65 citations were issued in August, compared to 14 last year and 22 in 2015.
The new sanctions and beefed up enforcement should continue to clear out nuisance properties as it gives city officials the time to monitor and refine their approach to managing this significant segment of Palm Springs’ tourism-reliant economy.
Frankly, economics must be a key part of this ongoing discussion.
City residents recently approved Measure D, a ½-cent addition to the city’s sales tax rate, after City Hall warned deep cuts to services would be in the offing without these new funds. We expect that many of those pushing this new STR initiative voted for Measure D to maintain the level of services they’ve been enjoying for years.
Measure D is expected to bring in about $7 million per year for the General Fund. This misguided initiative’s de facto ban on STRs, once fully implemented, would threaten about the same amount of revenue that pays for services residents expect and demand.
The wiser move is to allow the newly reconstituted City Council to do its job and continue to police this industry in an honest, robust effort to balance neighborhood harmony with the ongoing needs of the entire community.