By Chris Frost
Oxnard—The conversation about the short-term rental ordinance (STR) in the city continues with a discussion about what happens when someone sells one of the properties.
Planning Commissioners approved the item unanimously Aug. 1 and asked for parking enforcement at the properties, progressive fines for repeat offenders, requiring the property manager to live closer to the rental, within 25 miles, a 100-day limit per year on the days someone can rent the property, five percent cap of total STRs, including the residential beachfront zone, a 300-500 foot separation between STRs, and no amplified noise outside.
Newly sworn-in Commissioner Daniel Chavez Jr. led off the comments and asked about permits that expire because of the ownership changes.
"Is this an automatic thing," he asked. "Will there be any consequences to sellers that don't disclose to the city they sold the property? We want to make sure we are keeping track of when the property is sold and make sure the new owner continues to list them as a short-term rental."
Planning Director Jeff Lambert agreed with Chavez, and he said there would be a "little bit of a challenge" keeping track of the changes.
"We won't catch everyone," Lambert said. "We do have a provision in the city's regulations that requires that we provide, through the escrow process, a disclosure of our building records. We get notified when properties are being sold because they ask for our building records. We have a trigger, so we should be able to access that information."
If someone does sell the property and continues to operate the property without an STR, Lambert said they would hear about it through its monitoring company.
"We'll be able to give them a citation that they are violating the code or require them to come in and get a permit if they are still available," he said.
Commissioner Jeremy Meyer said he appreciates the value of STRs in the city, but he added that he had several concerns.
"I read everyone's letter and comment about whether it is legal for us to have to have the Transient Occupancy Tax, (TOT), without a ballot process," he said. "Is that a valid concern?"
As part of the permit process, Assistant City Attorney Ken Rozelle said the city could require the permit holders to collect the TOT as a condition of the permit.
"If those permit applicants choose not to collect the TOT, those permits will not be issued to them," he said. "It is a condition of the permit and voluntary on their part, but if they don't collect it, they will not get the permit."
From there, Meyer brought up The Colony, where STRs are not allowed, and he wanted to know why the development was included in the five percent denominator?
"It seems like something that we can reasonably exclude from the denominator to calculate that five percent for that neighborhood," he said.
Lambert explained why the city did not exclude The Colony and said they don't enforce the Covenants Convictions & Restrictions (CC&Rs).
"If their CC&Rs change, they change their perspective, and we wanted to make sure that we included them in the calculation," he said. "That's why we did not pull them out of the regulations."
Rozelle added there is a published appeals court decision related to the Shores.
"The HOA (Home Owners Association) banned STRs, and the court in the appellate decision ruled that it is up to the city and the coastal commission to determine whether or not to ban STRs, and it was not up to the HOA to do that," he said. "That was the court's decision. In addition, the coastal commission threatened to fine the HOA a substantial amount of dollars per day if they enforce those regulations."
Meyer also questioned the minimum distance between properties and said 300 feet seemed like a significant distance.
"Is that something that can be reasonably considered or exploring the number of units between units," he asked.
Lambert said anything is possible; the matter came up during the March meeting.
"Given a tight neighborhood, any distance can rule out a lot of houses," he said. "We thought since our percentage in the neighborhoods was relatively low, the five percent cap is a reasonable way to do it. When you look at the distance separations, you look at is it property-to-property, house front to house front, it's a complicated calculation, and I thought that might be a little unruly from an administrative perspective."
Meyer asked if they can recommend where a portion of the TOT revenue goes, and he wants to find a balance between supporting tourism and taking away housing for permanent residents.
"The city manager would not want to commit on an ongoing basis or set aside a particular amount of money for a specific purpose," Lambert said. "Every year, the council passes its budget; they can decide to prioritize whatever is important to them at that time."
Rozelle said that he's spoken with the City of Del Mar's attorney about their STR regulation, which is 100 days for STRs, and there is an ongoing court case.
"They are suing the coastal commission in superior court, and they are going through the administrative process right now," he said. "In the initial coastal commission approval of that STR regulation, the coastal commission recommended a 180-day limit and something much less than that in Del Mar. During the process, the number of days that the coastal commission was willing to accept became lower. The one thing we have learned in speaking to cities throughout the state is that the Coastal Commission has been inconsistent in the number of days that it proposes for each jurisdiction. Until there is a published appellate decision, we will not have direction from the coastal commission and the courts."
Lambert said noise metering machines, mentioned in a few letters about the ordinance, could be a part of the ordinance.
"We're not going to recommend a specific product, but it is something we've contemplated," he said. "We haven't found a best practice that is widely supported, so we didn't include in the regulations."
Commissioner Jim Fuhring asked if there were any goals established for the regulations. He mentioned the city's goal was to increase revenue and promote going downtown.
Lambert replied the ordinance has no goals, but it strives for balance.
"We're trying to preserve the quality of the neighborhoods but also allow the businesses to operate and provide that service to our community from a business perspective," he said. "We didn't put any revenue in this year's projected budget for the short-term vacations rentals, but clearly if there is any additional TOT revenue collected that will be a revenue source to the city."
Fuhring asked about the application process for a short-term rental, and Lambert said after the council adopts the ordinance the city will develop application forms and procedures for them to be filed.
"They'll file an application for a short-term vacation rental permit, and that will trigger for them to file for a business license," he said. "They won't get the business license until the zoning clearance happens which means we've issued the land-use entitlement and an inspection of the property to make sure it is a valid location."
If the city gets more than five percent, he said they would rank them, but if they stay under five percent, the city will issue permits to all the properties that comply with the regulations.
Fuhring asked about the compliance company and drew the analogy of calling a help desk when your computer has issues.
"When someone has a complaint, they are going to be able to call the help desk and lodge a complaint," he said. "Usually, with help desks; there are going to be a lot of reports that are available to the public for non-compliance and violators. They are going to be able to get those reports. Is that something that is going to be a requirement of these three companies you are going to be interviewing?"
"We've interviewed all the companies we know of, and we've talked to some of their clients in other cities as a preliminary reference check," Lambert said. "As we collect data, we will make it available to the public."
Fuhring wanted to know how the city will enforce a 180-day limit for the STRs.
"We've talked to some of the compliance companies, and because they mine all the platforms, they know, based on their regulations, what nights any given STR was reserved for rent, and they know when they hit the limit," Lambert said. "One of the questions we asked if one of them (the STR) is at 178-days and it's June, can we flag them as a potential violator, and can they have the ability to do that?"
Commissioner Orlando Dozier said the ordinance still has a way to go and he wants to make sure the presentation is available to the public.
"For us to bring online such a large program, I would think we have a phase-in portion of this product," he said. "How are we going to take what we currently have and apply these new regulations," he asked.
Lambert said the non-costal regulation would go into effect at the end of 2019. The coastal zone regulations won't go into effect until after the Coastal Commission approves the ordinance which should take between 90 and 180 days, which means the coastal zone regulations probably won't happen until Spring 2020.
"It's a built-in phase-in because we're going to be opening the regulations for the non-coastal zone sooner than the rest and work the kinks out during the early stages," he said.
Dozier went through some of the kinks and said neighborhoods are in "nightmare scenarios" because of oversaturation.
He examined the Oxnard Shores neighborhood and pointed out there is no safeguard against oversaturation.
"In the Oxnard Shores area along the beachfront instead of 3.2 percent of STRs there is 17 percent," he said. "How is the city going to realign that? I don't see any protection anywhere to keep that 17 percent from going up to 19 percent."
Lambert didn't have too much to add, but he commented the five percent is by neighborhood and Oxnard Shores is a subset of a neighborhood with a "much higher" percentage.
"We tried to stay within the defined neighborhoods because that's in the general plan," he said. "Through the commission and council's direction, we can reduce the subset of neighborhoods further if you want to."
Dozier asked if the ordinance has any provisions to address oversaturation and Lambert said no. That response drew an adverse reaction from the crowd.
Commissioner Robert Sanchez asked if there would be an outreach to the city if the council approves the ordinance. Lambert said the city has a list of about 400 people they keep in the loop and plans to do more public relations before the ordinance takes effect.
Chua wanted to know if Oxnard models itself like any particular city and Lambert said they started with the Ventura County regulations.
“When we reported to the council our recommendations in March, what we are proposing is consistent with what Ventura County did because we share the beach,” he said. “We added additional regulations the county didn’t have, like the 180-day limit and the one owner per STR.”
The city also looked at regulations from Santa Cruz and the Coastal Commission, he said, which work from their perspective.
“They ultimately have to approve them,” Lambert said.
During public comments, Chairwoman Diedre Frank spoke first and recused herself because she has a conflict of interest because she lives close to a short-term rental. She said 300 feet is not a lot of distance.
“Our lots in Oxnard Shores are 40 feet by 100 feet, uniformly, that’s it,” she said. “We have 10 feet between our houses, that it.”
She pointed out that 300 feet are about four houses.
“This is a city-wide ordinance and will apply to every property in the City of Oxnard, and it’s going to extend to when the planning of Ormond Beach comes before you,” she said. “I want you to keep that in mind. You might want to consider something in this ordinance about environmentally sensitive habitat areas. The Transient Occupancy Permit fee is that what we are going to contort the language into? It’s called the Transient Occupancy Tax. In June 2018, the issue came before the city council on whether or not to put STR on the ballot. They voted no because it was premature, and we didn’t have an ordinance.”
She advocates a fine increase for STR owners who break the rules.
“A $1,000 fine,” she asked. “A house on Capri rents for $1,500 a night.”
Neil Berger lives on Capri Way and said the planning commission has no idea how bad the situation with STRs are.
“To quote a famous quote, The Shores are turning into a rathole,” he said. “Deidre Frank mentioned Capri Way, and 44 percent of the homes are STRs. Trash piles up because the renters have no clue when to put the trash out. Full cans sit for days. The people rummaging around for recyclables, scatter the trash everywhere. It brings rats which I see run over on the streets more and more frequently. Last weekend I received a call from a neighbor to help get a possum out of their kitchen sink. More Vermin. Two weeks ago, I watched in utter disbelief as two boys urinated against my deck as their mother directed. I went out and confronted her because I knew she wasn’t a local person and she said she was staying in a short-term rental on Terrmar.”
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