Sonora City Hall

The Sonora City Council took a big step Monday night toward passing a proposed ordinance that would place new regulations on existing and future short-term rentals, including Airbnbs and VRBOs.

Four of the five council members voted to approve the ordinance at the first of two required public hearings, with Mayor Matt Hawkins opposed. A final vote is anticipated at the council’s next meeting on Aug. 16.

“It’s not a perfect ordinance,” Councilman Jim Garaventa said, “but when your vacancy rate for rental housing is nearing zero, you have a problem.”

All of the council members agreed that finding solutions to the lack of rental and workforce housing was a priority and to take a deeper look at the city’s policies with regard to that in the coming months.

It was the council’s sixth public meeting on the topic since approving a temporary moratorium on permits for new short-term rentals in mid-March, after an analysis by city staff suggested they were contributing to the lack of available long-term rentals.

The analysis presented to the council at a study session on May 3 found that out of the 36 permitted short-term rentals in the city, only nine were the host’s primary residence, 72% were for the entire home, and 92% were single-family homes.

Each of the 36 rentals also provided an average of about $12,200 per year in earnings for the hosts.

At the time of the analysis, it was noted that city staff could not find a single advertised vacancy for a long-term rental. City Administrator Mary Rose Rutikanga noted they’ve noticed four vacancies since that time, with prices ranging from $900 to $2,400 for a one-bedroom apartment.

There are also 10 unpermitted short-term rentals that city officials are aware of by monitoring home-renting websites like Airbnb and VRBO, though they currently don’t have a way to penalize them other than sending a letter telling them to stop.

The proposed ordinance would also establish fines of up to $1,000 per day for short-term rental operators who are operating without permits or not following the city’s rules.

If the ordinance is approved, no new short-term rentals would be allowed to operate in the city that aren’t also the renter’s primary residence. That would not apply to existing permittees who are currently renting out a secondary home.

New permittees could also rent out their home unhosted for up to 120 days per year while they aren’t there.

Requirements that would apply to both existing and new short-term rental operators include providing off-street parking for guests, having a designated contact person if they are not home, undergoing regular fire-safety inspections, and paying for garbage-collection service. 

Councilman Mark Plummer previously indicated that he wouldn’t support such an ordinance, but voted in favor on Monday. He asked that it be brought back to the council within two years to see whether it’s had the intended effect of improving long-term rental availability.

Hawkins said at the meeting that he supported much of what was in the ordinance, with the exception of a provision that doesn’t allow someone to rent out part of their home as a long-term rental and another part as a short-term rental.

In addition, Hawkins said after the meeting that he had spoken to roughly 20 residents over the phone and on the street who all were opposed to the ordinance and felt they should be represented.

Two people spoke at the meeting who were opposed to the ordinance, including one current Airbnb operator and a former planning commissioner. One person spoke in favor of the ordinance.

The city would be the latest community both in California and elsewhere to impose limits on the popular practice, with Placer County recently issuing a moratorium on future short-term rentals amid a housing crisis in Tahoe that’s forcing out local employees.

Contact Alex MacLean at amaclean@uniondemocrat.net or (209) 768-5175.

Recommended for you