By JP Crumrine
On Wednesday, April 20, the Riverside County Planning Commission will discuss major changes to Ordinance 927, “Regulating Short Term Rentals” (STRs).
Since a new draft Ordinance 927 was release at the end of February, significant modifications have been proposed to the version being presented to the commission. Also, the planning staff has proposed increased fees for initial and renewal of STR certificates and fine amounts for violations of the Ordinance 927. The former are specified in a revision to Ordinance 671 (Consolidated Fees for Land Use).
In the commission’s memorandum, Planning Director John Hildebrand, emphasized, “The County is implementing a holistic approach to the STR program and not simply updating Ordinance No. 927. The County recognizes that without appropriate management and enforcement, Ordinance No. 927 would not be effective and the program would not be sustainable.
“The updates to Ordinance No. 927 are designed to create a fair and equitable balance between a homeowner’s opportunity for use of their residence as a STR, while simultaneously protecting the community from the negative secondary effects of STRs,” Hildebrand stressed.
Changes to Draft Ordinance 927
The proposed maximum occupancy of a STR has been limited to 10 people. It may be increased to 16 if the application has been submitted to the county’s Building and Safety Department and the owner agrees to comply with the applicable California Building Standards Codes.
But local Peter Szabadi expressed some concern about what are the special criteria that may permit an increase from 10 occupants to 16.
The language in the draft ordinance is two people per bedroom with a limit of 10. No reference exists as to the number of parking spaces, which was included in the Feb. 28 draft.
And Idyllwild resident Jon Brown expressed his preference for this change. “Bedrooms are more reasonable than parking spaces.”
With respect to the parking spaces, these must be provided on-site. No longer will off-site parking be acceptable for the STR certificate.
In the section specifying structures, such as motels, inns, dormitories, hospitals and other similar units that will not qualify as STRs, the county had to re-insert the prohibition for any accessory dwelling unit. These include junior accessory dwelling unit, second unit, guest quarter, multiple owner group unit or ranchet unit.
State law and Ordinance 348 do not permit these accessory units to be used as STRs, Hildebrand stated.
If the STR is subject to homeowner association (HOA) restrictions, the STR owner must show permission from the HOA to rent the facility. Without this permission, the certificate will automatically be declined.
This is one of several automatic rejections, such as three violations within a 12-month period. If this were to occur, the STR certificate would be revoked for this facility until a new owner refiles for a certificate.
The first violation will result in a $1,300 fine. The second will cost $3,000 and the third and any subsequent violation, within a year of the first, will be assessed a $5,000 fine. They are now specified in section 11 (g).
Fees for the STR certificates will be specified in Ordinance 671. The application fee for an initial STR certificate is $740, an increase of $490 from the current application fee.
For renewal of the STR certificates, the fee will be increased from $100 to $540 to reflect actual costs to the county.
The county provided its calculations for these fees. For both initial application and renewal of the STR certificate, $100 is included for both the 24-hour hotline and the cost of its STR contractor (Deckard Technologies). The other costs include time to conduct inspections, meetings, research and documentation.
In November 2021, as part of the first quarter review of the county’s 2021-22 budget, Executive Officer Jeff Van Wagener asked the board of supervisors to expand enforcement of STRs to evenings and weekends. He recommended an another $770,000 to hire 10 more Code Enforcement staff, including six more code officers. The proposal included four other staff positions.
In the April note to the planning commission, Hildebrand reported on how this funding and new staff will be deployed. “Recognizing that enforcement of Ordinance No. 927 is critical to its success, the Board of Supervisors has authorized the use of additional Code Enforcement officers for this purpose. A Special Enforcement Team (SET) is being put in place, which is comprised of dedicated Code Enforcement officers who work in the evening and weekend hours to address STR and ‘Party House’ complaints in real-time. A 24/7 enforcement call center with a live operator will be available to take in the complaint and appropriately respond, sending either Code Enforcement or requesting Sheriff assistance, depending upon the level of severity of the complaint.”
While Szabadi is glad for the SET, he remains concerned about its effectiveness if the enforcement team is stationed off the Hill and still must drive 40 to 60 minutes in response to a complaint.
The draft ordinance does state that enforcement will be “tolled” for 90 days after its enactment. Brooke Frederico, Riverside County’s public information officer, explained, “This deference of 90 days before enforcement under the new ordinance is only intended for the existing, legally certified short-term rental facilities to give them a time opportunity to come into compliance with the new ordinance. Any new STR certification requests will be subject to the new ordinance immediately.”
Szabadi, Brown and Woody Henderson, Pine Cove resident, were glad to see the revisions made in this draft. But for different reasons, all felt that some issues still were not, or not adequately, addressed.
Henderson was glad for the specificity of the fines, the requirements for the signs and a theoretical path to revoking an STR certificate. “For those things, residents are grateful,” he said.
But he was concerned about a few issues, such as no locally based enforcement, no ban on outdoor fires or amplified sound, no attempt to address the additional dangers on non-county roads and no cap for number of STRs.
For example, Brown thought the fee amounts might discourage some owners, particularly those who only rent the house a few times in a year, from seeking a certificate. He prefers to see the cost of the program funded from the Transient Occupancy Tax revenue, which is directly proportional to actual use. This was one of several issues he raised.
Szabadi still feels that density of STRs was not addressed. He would like to see a limit of about 10% of local houses as STRs. However, he did conclude with this observation, “Democracy may actually work.”
More than two years after February 2020, when supervisors Kevin Jeffries and Chuck Washington asked their colleagues to approve a request for “Initiation of Ordinance Amendments for the regulation of short-term rentals, to establish revised regulations that further minimize secondary community effects and to update enforcement and registration strategies,” the county planning commission is taking steps to move the revised ordinances to the board for approval.
Correction: The prior story read: No longer will off-street parking be acceptable for the STR certificate. The correct sentence is: No longer will off-site parking be acceptable.