At its Wednesday night meeting, the Arcata City Council will again consider adopting an ordinance that would place stricter regulations on vacation rentals in the city, including capping the number of short-term rentals at 125.
City staff drafted a vacation rental ordinance back in 2018 and it came before the council last year. But no action was taken on the item because several council members had a conflict of interest due to operating vacation rentals themselves. With a few new members, the council discussed the issue during its last meeting, and nearly all the members voiced support for the ordinance, feeling it would be an important way to ensure there is housing available for long-term tenants. (Mayor Sofia Pereira recused herself because she rents out a room on AirBnB.)
“People struggle to find rentals here,” Councilmember Emily Grace Goldstein said during the Jan. 20 meeting. “While I’m super supportive of someone trying to supplement their income by starting a small busines, I think we also need to make sure all of our community members are housed.”
In addition to placing a cap on the number of vacation rentals permitted in the city, the ordinance would require a more rigorous permitting process to help ensure the rentals are operating safely and above board. Currently the City only requires vacation rental owners to obtain a business license and pay transient occupancy tax. If adopted, the ordinance would require owners to obtain an additional permit, which entails a zoning clearance and a building safety inspection from the City.
The 125-unit cap would exclude long-term rentals and “owner occupied” vacation rentals — meaning if the owner lives on the property and is only renting out a part of it for short-term use. Since staff estimates that there are already at least 125 vacation rentals in the city, the ordinance would include a grace period, giving the owners a six-month window to apply for a permit. If they miss the six-month grace period, they would only be eligible if the number of permits drops below 125.
The cost of the permit would be determined by the council. The zoning clearance costs about $20, with a $10 renewal fee, and the inspection would be about $220. Because of the financial impacts of the pandemic, the council asked that the ordinance be amended to include an additional grace period for the fees.
Some residents have voiced concerns over the proposed ordinance, especially with the potential increased cost for the additional zoning and safety inspections. “We are a small home business operating where we live and thus contribute further through state and federal income taxes,” Bob Doran wrote in a public comment submitted to the City. “We don’t make much and do not need further costs like paying for inspections and/or an operation fee. We have never had any sort of complaint that would require an inspection. An operation fee on top of our business fee seems unwarranted.”
You can view the updated draft Vacation Rental Ordinance here.
Also on Wednesday night’s agenda, the council will receive a report on the City’s Strategic Arts Plan, which aims to improve the city through supporting the arts.
The City has been working on the strategic arts plan since 2019, working with representatives from the Arcata Playhouse/Playhouse Arts, Humboldt State University, the Sanctuary, and the Ink People. According to the staff report, the city plans to host several “community listening sessions” over the next four months before bringing the plan back to council for final adoption.
The Outpost wrote a slightly more in-depth piece about the plan last year, when the city was planning a community meeting that was canceled due to COVID. You can check it out here.
The Arcata City Council meets via Zoom on Wednesday Feb. 3 at 6:00 p.m. You can view the full agenda and directions on how to participate here.