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No break for vacation rentals at Sonoma Valley MAC meeting

A map of some of the permitted vacation rentals in Sonoma Valley.  



December 20, 2021, 7:00PM

For some, owning a vacation rental is a way to supplement one’s income. But for others, such properties destroy the character of our neighborhoods.

The North Sonoma Valley Municipal Advisory Council convened on Wednesday, Dec. 15, to discuss the ongoing challenges of vacation rentals in Sonoma Valley and the effects they’ve had on neighborhoods. While not a decision-making body, the council advises the Board of Supervisors with recommendations sourced from the community, which the Board considers in future decisions.

First District Supervisor Susan Gorin has been following issues of housing in Sonoma County for nine years and has worked to create regulations regarding vacation homes located in residential areas.

“Linda Hopkins in the Fifth District has recognized the over abundance of vacation rentals has really, severely threatened the housing stock,” Gorin said.

The California Housing Partnership reported in 2021 that Sonoma County residents pay an average monthly rent of $1,710, and that there’s 12,715 low-income renters that do not have access to an affordable home. In the midst of the affordable housing crisis, many community members, and even some committee members, questioned the efficacy of approving vacation rentals when facing those housing challenges.

“I think it’s reprehensible that we’re allowing vacation rentals to proliferate when we have a housing crisis,” said Mark Newhouser, a member of the council. “We’re losing worker housing.”

Other concerns from the public included an inability to enforce vacation rental rules, the number of cars used by renters and the moral question of whether it’s right to approve second homes when so many cannot find suitable primary residences.

While the county has implemented some initiatives such as “exclusion zones,” which ban new vacation homes from forming in a designated area, the cost to implement one in your neighborhood comes at a price. Gorin said that exclusion zones can cost $16,000 to get a permit with Sonoma County.

But some are going a step further than exclusion zones. Over on Old Winery Court, neighbors have organized against the Pacaso vacation home, with signs and an ambitious media campaign that has drawn the attention of NPR and the Wall Street Journal.

Pacaso’s business model prizes itself on the co-ownerhip of private homes in “marquee communities” across the country. By locking properties into Limited Liability Corporations and declaring multiple buyers as “second home owners” instead of “vacation homes,” the company has been able to skirt certain zoning laws in residential neighborhoods. Although neighbor pushback has sparked hearings on Pacaso in Napa and Healdsburg.

“We live on a quiet cul-de-sac where a home was purchased by Pacaso,” said Old Winery Court neighbor Nancy Gardner. “To everyone in Sonoma who’s struggling to have housing, this takes another house off the market. This is another house that will never be owned by a single family.”

During the MAC meeting, Gary Helfrich, a planner for Sonoma County, said he’d been instructed “not to talk about Pacaso” by the county.

At least one member of the public said vacation rentals had received too much heat.

“Full disclosure, I do own one vacation rental in the Springs,” David (no last name provided), a resident in Sonoma Valley said during the MAC meeting. “And no I’m not wealthy — you can’t lump all vacation rental owners as well-to-do.”

David said that the vacation rental helped to supplement he and his wife’s income, allowing them to live in Sonoma. However, he too agreed that limiting the density of vacation rentals would aid in finding a competent solution for the future.

Ultimately, any decision regarding zoning and housing would have to be resolved by the Board of Supervisors through legislation.

“Of course, zoning can be changed,” Helfrich said. “All zoning is a legislative act, but both of those are outside of the scope for the direction that we received.... And an outright ban is not something that was recommended as a policy option to come back with.”

Contact Chase Hunter at and follow @Chase_HunterB on Twitter.