Let’s Work Together
“It’s the scariest proposition to face the city yet.” “It will ruin your life.” “It will take away our community, our neighborhoods, our friends.” No, it’s not “Independence Day: Resurgence,” or the Zika virus. It’s the unfortunate result of a new phenomenon that is still evolving. It’s people who may have had or heard about an unfortunate experience with a few bad apples, expressing their fear of short-term rentals in both City Council and subcommittee meetings. They want an all-out prohibition in our neighborhoods, not some middle ground that can ameliorate their fears, help our less fortunate, and contain bad behavior.
It kind of looks like a class war to me, with retirees who are comfortably ensconced in their mortgage-free homes denying the younger folks, who bought their homes in the last two decades, or lost their jobs, had health issues or fell on hard times. This is how it works in resort towns ever since they were invented: people rent their homes during the tourist season to help with the high cost of living. Yes, there are people who take advantage. And that’s why our council is crafting some common sense rules that can accommodate all.
I guarantee you most people would prefer to stay in their homes during our wonderful summers. It’s no easy hardship to pick up your family and move to the sizzling desert, as some families I know do.
Now I understand these opponents feel they are protecting us from a succession of frat boys, heathens, and jubilant families defiling our bucolic neighborhoods. But if there is anything to be fearful of, it’s our working class residents getting squeezed out of their homes because of our exorbitant real estate market.
What makes our town special is not only our green hills and blue sea, but also the eclectic and creative people who form the soul of our culture: artists, hippies, athletes, writers, musicians, and even greeters. We know there has been an exodus of young people who can’t afford to live here.
We can impose sensible legislation that prohibits profiteers from buying homes and converting them to short-term rentals, a clear zoning violation. We can limit the days a primary homeowner can rent their homes. We can hold them to strict behavioral protocols, with severe consequences for violations. And they can hold their renters accountable.
An opponent wrote this paper and compared us to St. Ives, England, a charming seaside resort not far from London. She said that short-term rentals were killing the character of the town.
But the Guardian contradicts that claim. They say it’s because locals are getting priced out of the market, with wealthy Londoners buying second homes. An estimated 25% of them are now owned by non-residents. Sound familiar?
If our working class artists and service people are forced to sell their homes to the highest bidder, we will only get more and more second-home people, like St. Ives, who can pay cash and will leave their homes empty for much of the year. Talk about “taking away our community, our neighborhoods and friends.”
Just listen to what my fellow columnist Ann Christoph wrote back in November: “Rising property costs are at the root of the problem. We have a human tragedy unfolding as teachers, artists, tradespeople and salaried workers–people with normal jobs and incomes who did not buy a house 20 or more years ago—are no longer finding housing they can afford in Laguna. The community as a whole suffers as the trend toward our city as an elite enclave of expensive properties accelerates, and the functioning of our town as a complete community declines.”
We can do this, people. We can be that bright, shining, tolerant, inclusive city on the hill that helps our own and allows them a limited window to rent their homes, and under strict guidelines. I applaud Mayor Steve Dicterow and council member Bob Whalen for forming the subcommittee, listening to the community, and seeking a compromise that safeguards the quiet enjoyment of our neighborhoods, while allowing less solvent homeowners to sensibly supplement their incomes.
The next (and final) sub-committee meeting is on Friday, July 14, at 4:30 at The Susi Q Center. Hopefully more advocates can show up and express themselves and their particular needs so the chairs can understand the gravity of the situation. Be solution oriented, and be prepared to assure your neighbors that you can mitigate any Neanderthal behavior from your renters, like stating that your home is in a quiet neighborhood and is not for parties, noise, loud music, or too many people. A best practices policy.
Full disclosure: I have no skin in this game as we do not rent our home. The only skin I have is the belief in personal freedom, and a fair economy for all.
Billy Fried hosts “Laguna Talks” on Thursday nights at 8 p.m. on KX 93.5, and can be reached at [email protected]