‘Mini-hotels’ are ruining neighborhoods
County needs to do more to stop scofflaw vacation rentals
By DAVID APPELBAUM
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Vacation rentals have moved beyond renting a spare room or guest quarters in a residential home, into full blown mini-hotel businesses in residential neighborhoods, creating significant disruption, conflict and outright hostility as neighbors cease being neighbors and turn into hoteliers. And for all that conflict, not a single vacation home permit has been pulled in Sonoma County despite many complaints sent to Permit and Resource Management Department.
Moreover, people from out of town are now purchasing multiple homes right on the border of the City of Sonoma — less than a block from the dividing line (and less than a mile from the Plaza), leveraging the close proximity to town but bypassing the strict prohibitions against vacation rentals inside city limits. Owners spend less than 10 nights a year on each property themselves yet run them fully booked throughout the spring, summer and fall. This practice is outrageous and must be stopped.
This is the situation I personally face as my neighbor is an absentee owner/hotel operator who owns houses on Palmer Avenue (my street) and Acacia Road in the townof Sonoma. The owners, who live in San Mateo, filed and paid for a permit to operate a vacation
rental on Palmer Road on July 1 and starting July 2, have been hosting a full house every week of up to 12 guests — with an almost equal number of cars. We have followed county planner’s suggestions and documented decibel levels and photographs of cars and filed additional noise complaints to PRMD, but nothing has been done.
The neighbors on Acacia have called PRMD and filed complaints for over three years and nothing has been done over there. This is a clear and persistent pattern of abuse that has now spread to two properties. What else needs to be done to put an end to this? Why were they able to secure another permit when there were so many complaints on their first one? What is the point of any regulation whatsoever if there is no enforcement?
These people rented out with impunity during the COVID lockdown — reports were filed with PRMD and only silence came from that office. In fact, a 40-person wedding happened at the height of the COVID pandemic. This was documented with photos and decibel readings as well. And from PRMD — silence.
As you begin the process of reevaluating the rules around vacation home rentals, I urge you to not only analyze the impact on available housing, but also the impact on a neighborhood’s quality of life.
Finally, in the midst of the
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mega drought we find ourselves in, we cannot afford multiple homes hosting 10-12 people in super party mode — running showers, filling pools and doing massive amounts of laundry, every week. While our neighborhood is on wells they nevertheless impact the total water table and by extension infringe in our overall water supply. This level of consumption is simply irresponsible and unsustainable. We are in a state of emergency whether we wish to call it that or not, and we must stop pretending that we have all the time in the world to solve this issue — we need to call a halt to these mini-hotels now so we can study the issue fully and then start again.
No one with existing permits should get grandfathered in if there are complaints on the books against them. Using a business license approach is a great idea, but they must be renewed annually, too many violations can and should revoke them, and each residence needs to be inspected to prove that it is in compliance.
Finally, with new models such as Pacaso timeshares and other shortterm occupancy schemes coming in, we need to call a halt to all of their activities until we have fully studied the ramifications of their operations on neighborhoods. We cannot continue to exacerbate the core problem of revolving door neighbors, economic and environmental damage, and forcing neighbors to become investigators and enforcers because PRMD won’t act.
Now is the time for swift, bold, and decisive action to protect the quality of life we all hold dear. David Appelbaum is a resident of Sonoma, and this piece was an edited version of his recent letter to the Board of Supervisors.