PLANNING COMMISSION RECAP: OCTOBER 3
A long and winding road that leads to little clarity on short term rental recommendations
With only four items on the agenda, three of them bringing the Development Code in alignment with California state requirements, this promised to be a short Planning Committee meeting.
Although it is unsurprising that discussion of the short term rental (STR) / vacation home rental (VHR)1 ordinance would run long, the unfocused and overly personal debate by commissioners pushed the meeting past the two-hour mark.
COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR UPDATE
Keith Gardner reminded commissioners to complete their annual mandatory trainings and announced that the Community Development department building is now open to the public—the address is 73660 Civic Center Drive, and we are hopeful the City website will soon be updated with this information. The next Planning Committee meeting on October 17 will include the homeless committee meeting.
In short order, the Planning Committee voted to approve minutes from the September 19 meeting (read our recap here) as well as a code amendment revising development impact fees.
DCA23-000014 - Legal Access
The question of legal access set off a discussion of how building permits are issued to owners with property that doesn’t connect to roads or easements. City Planner Keith Gardner note that options include:
Not granting a building permit,
Grant a building permit without guaranteeing legal access and require the builder to sign a waiver that they are aware they do not have legal access.
Veno Nathraj objected, saying, “If my parcel is landlocked and you give me a building permit, you give me the false impression I can build. What if one property owner can’t be found but then turns up five years later and says, ‘Hey no, I didn’t give you access.’” The Planning Commission responded that the waiver would protect the City, the builder had to take the risk, and approved the item 5-0.
Item 4 - DCA23-000007 - Vacation Home Rentals. As the owner of a vacation home rental, Committee Chair Jim Krushat recused himself from the discussion and Vice-Chair Max Walker ran the meeting. Keith Gardner reported that the number of VHR permits in the City has dropped from 484 permits in June 2023 to 458 in early October 2023. He did not speculate about the cause of this drop.
Although attendance was small, there was much public discussion of the proposed STR ordinance changes. Concerns focused on the need to take the Good Neighbor class every year, which long-term owners found burdensome. Local owners also objected to limiting the number of permits per parcel to one, saying that although they would be grandfathered in, this would reduce the resale value of their properties or others’ potential for retirement income.
There was also push back against newly built single-family residences immediately applying for STRs after final inspection (full disclosure: from the author of this recap as well as from Desert Trumpet contributor Cindy Bernard).
The question of density of STRs came up. Heidi Heard, also a Desert Trumpet contributor, clarified that it is not difficult to monitor STR density and that the 29 Palms Neighbors community organization maps STR locations (the most recent map is here). The lack of density control has led to several oversaturated neighborhoods.
Prior to recusing, Commissioner Krushat said that there had been few complaints about STRs; however, in an email Susan Peplow brought to light the inability to load documents onto the Citizen Serve website to file noise and other complaints. She also said that Airbnb makes it difficult for hosts to receive verified identity information about their guests and that operators need better security measures.
Veno Nathraj expressed his frustration that staff of his lodgings and other businesses have difficulty finding housing, particularly close to where they work—not all of them have transportation. He suggested a moratorium on STRs close to the City’s business area so that employees for his businesses and others can locate places to live.
Planning Commissioners discuss recommendations. After public comments, a meandering, unmanaged stream of consciousness discussion took place with many personal points of view offered by Commissioners in the place of reliance on city codes, other cities’ regulations, staff guidance, and feedback from the public.
Mixing up structures per VHR permit and neighborhood density of VHR permits. The difficulty Commissioners were having with a one-by-one assessment of the proposals at hand was typified by Commissioner Walker jumping in during the number of structures per permit discussion to talk about density. On permits for multiple structures on a single parcel he claimed “if we want to figure out this adjacency thing that kills it”— a misinterpretation of a proposal to limit density by not allowing STR permits on adjacent parcels, not on a single parcel (1:19:46 on the video).
Commissioners kept coming back to the question of multiple structures on parcels with as many as five being allowed for permits. Gardner and staff member Diane Olsen tried to explain to the Commissioners that only single-family residences qualify for permits and that there are limits to the number of SFR structures allowed per parcel. Olsen patiently said (1:30:30 on the video):
Let me just explain, so our code already requires it to be a stand-alone single family home, so detached from any other structure. So even if you had a primary residence and an accessory dwelling unit (ADU), that would be two permits — because attached structures don’t get a permit and junior ADUs wouldn’t qualify because they are a small ADU inside the primary unit. So those would not qualify for VHRs. So you would be limited to your primary unit and your detached ADU.
After nearly 25 minutes the Commissioners decided to recommend a limit of two permits per parcel only to have Commissioner Leslie Paahana restart the discussion by exclaiming, “what about my third building?” Finally, Walker reasserted control by recommending one permit per single-family residence no matter how many are on a parcel. Paahana added it would be limited naturally to five (the current limit of the number of VHR permits per person).
For Commissioners, property rights of owners eclipse rights of residents. Typical of the lack of logic on display was the below statement by Paahana, who throughout the meeting seemed unable to grasp the difference between long-term rentals (residential use) and STRs (commercial use), or the necessary negotiation in writing ordinances between the property rights of owners and the rights of their neighbors. For Paahana, property owner’s rights appear to take precedence over all other rights. (1:22:24 on the video):
STRs are being used as a home…they’re not using it for the purpose of anything else, so it’s been a struggle for me to grasp why its so bothersome to others that people are using a home in a neighborhood. So I’m trying to understand how I can best meet everyone in the middle and do what’s best for all, but people just don’t like that there’s enjoyment down the street and I don’t know how to help create a policy for City Council.
What recommendations did the Planning Commission forward to the City Council? The following is our understanding of what Planning Commission decided to forward to Council. No votes were taken and decisions were by consensus led by Walker and Paahana. The state of proposals at the beginning of the meeting is followed by the decision.
Staff has added language limiting the number of permits per parcel to one. Changed to multiple VHR permits per parcel or 1 license for the multiple buildings if all are rented concurrently to one guest.
Seek limitations to the annual Good Neighbor classes VHR owners take. Discussion about change in cost, or delineating a first class and a refresher class. Not sure of decision
Conditions of approval including noting RVs can be stored on the property of an STR but cannot be used. No change
Leave the number of VHRs per permit holder at five. No change
Single-family residences built as VHRs can immediately apply for VHR after final inspection. No change
Density per neighborhood is difficult or impossible to implement and no action should be taken. Gardner discussed how Palm Springs manages the issue with neighborhood caps, so a cap per district, neighborhood, or zone was discussed, again prompting another meandering exchange despite the concrete example of a working system. For Paahana, property rights and values remained a primary issue over local residents’ rights, for Walker it was the lack of an immediate solution other than market forces. The final recommendation was the 500 cap is sufficient. Language was changed to “Density per neighborhood is difficult to implement and was discussed at length. No action should be taken.” No change
Reduce the insurance requirement for VHRs (Note: the insurance requirement was removed by Council at their May 23 meeting).
Protecting the National Park buffer zone does not apply to VHRs. No change.
No change has been made to owner response time for nuisance complaints, currently one hour. No change
STRs may apply for Temporary Use Permits and Film Permits. No change to current edits.
In the future, we suggest greater adherence to parliamentary procedures throughout the meeting to serve the public good.
Kat Talley-Jones is a member of the Public Arts Advisory Committee, which is a part of the City of Twentynine Palms.
Cindy Bernard was a member of the Vacation Home Rental Advisory Committee which drafted the first revision of the 2015 STR ordinance.
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Standard terminology is STR or short term rental. In its ordinance the City of Twentynine Palms instead uses the term VHR or vacation home rental. In practice the two terms and abbreviations are interchangeable.