COUNTY TO CAP SHORT-TERM RENTALS
Cap Set to Begin in Eight Months -- But Details Remain Sketchy
Responding to pressure, San Bernardino County has agreed to place an interim cap on STRs1 (short-term rentals) in unincorporated county areas by March, 2023.
The County’s plan to cap STRs is outlined in the revised Housing Element2 draft which the County submitted June 20, 2022 to HCD (California Housing and Community Development), the state department which develops housing policy. The County appears to hope an interim cap will satisfy HCD and buy time for the County to further research STR impacts.
The substantial increase in STRs over the last couple years in unincorporated San Bernardino County, including the Joshua Tree area, has led to the County being increasingly squeezed from multiple sides to curb them, and this recent Housing Element revision reflects those demands.
Pressure cited in the Housing Element to curb the growth of STRs includes survey data indicating STR proliferation as a significant concern among a plurality of respondents, and comments from the public recorded during Housing Element workshops. HCD takes public input into each Housing Element very seriously and public comment is a key part of the Housing Element process.
Regarding short-term rentals in particular, HCD got an earful from local residents and interest groups. This includes letters and even a video from the Morongo Basin Conservation Association, as we covered in May.
The fact that the County has acquiesced to even an interim STR cap is remarkable, given that only two weeks ago, on June 28th, following a lengthy revision process, the County signed into law a freshly revised STR ordinance. Although some commenters advocated for STR caps during the Feb 3rd County Planning Commission meeting and the June 14th County Board of Supervisors meeting where the STR ordinance revision was considered, from the County side, throughout the ordinance revision process, a cap was hinted at only as an idea for possible future study.
Next year, once a cap is implemented, unincorporated San Bernardino County will belatedly join the cities of Yucca Valley and Twentynine Palms in capping STRs. Throughout the Morongo Basin the quantity of STRs would be capped.
Then in 2023 — with the interim cap in place — the County will evaluate the impact of STRs on the local supply of affordable housing, as well as its impact on the hotel industry. As part of this evaluation the County will engage property owners, employers and employees. Finally, also in 2023, the County will implement policies in accord with the findings of this evaluation.
Details on the interim County cap remain sketchy. The cap would be on “the total number of short-term rental permits on an annual basis and/or a percentage of total housing units within each community planning area in the Mountain and Desert regions.”
It’s unclear what a County STR cap scheme would actually translate to on the ground. Apparently a cap would apply within each CPA (community planning area). Maps showing boundaries of the County CPAs are difficult to locate. The County currently permits STRs in both the Desert and Mountain Regions, and per the map above, the Desert Region includes both the North Desert and East Desert sub-regions. The East Desert sub-region includes the Morongo Basin, or what we locally call the Hi Desert. In the East Desert sub-region there are currently three CPAs : the Homestead Valley CPA, the Joshua Tree CPA and the Morongo Valley CPA.
It’s also unclear at this point whether the County’s proposed interim cap would impact only new STR permit applicants, versus whether it might impact STR permit renewal applicants or even existing STR permit holders.
Although it seems unlikely, it remains possible that the proposed interim cap will be merely temporary. In an effort to juice availability of long-term rentals, the County is also floating the idea of incentivizing landlords to provide more rentals for local employees and low income residents. It remains to be seen whether or not in the long run HCD would be willing to accept an incentive program like this as a viable alternative to an STR cap.
So far California HCD has yet to accept the County’s Housing Element. This latest draft from the County is the County’s second big revision in hopes of finally satisfying the green eyeshade folks at California HCD.
San Bernardino County, like most cities and counties, is on an eight-year Housing Element cycle. This County Housing Element draft is for the sixth cycle, which runs 2021 to 2029. As outlined in the Land Use Services Department Planning Commission Staff Report for the July 7th Housing Element workshop, the County must adopt a state-approved, updated Housing Element by October 15, 2022 in order to remain in compliance with state housing law.
[Housing] officials have been a tough crowd when it comes to housing elements. In Southern California, which has earlier deadlines than the northern part of the state, just six out of 196 housing plans have been deemed in compliance with state laws. The rest, including the one from Los Angeles, were sent back to the drawing board and those cities could lose local control — not to mention billions in affordable housing money — if they can’t whip their housing elements into shape.
HCD provides a handy guide for municipalities who think they might be able to skate by without an approved Housing Element while the Democrat-dominated state government holds their feet to the fire. Helpfully titled Growing List of Penalties for Local Governments Failing to Meet State Housing Law, it lists penalties and risks including legal suits and attorney fees; loss of permitting authority; direct financial penalties; court receivership; and a streamlined ministerial approval process for projects which cities and counties might otherwise wish to modify or block. There’s little doubt San Bernardino County will jump through whatever hoops the state sets out to avoid these torments.
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STR, STVHR, STVR, etc. Used interchangeably to denote short-term rentals, i.e. rentals of residential dwellings for less than 30 days. San Bernardino County and most other municipalities have settled on “STR.”
Housing Element. Since 1969, housing elements have been a mandatory chapter of local general plans in California. A housing element provides an analysis of a community’s housing needs for all income levels and strategies to provide for those housing needs. It includes goals, policies, programs and objectives to guide future housing growth to meet the needs of residents of all income levels. It also identifies projected housing needs by income category and requires certification by the HCD for compliance with state housing laws. An HCD-certified Housing Element enables a city or county to be eligible for various state grants and funding sources. The State requires that housing elements be updated and certified regularly to reflect the most recent trends in demographics and employment that may affect existing and future housing demand and supply. The housing element is updated every eight years and the current 2021-2029 housing element is the 6th cycle update. [Adapted from this Housing Element FAQ document.]