Airbnbs: Nevada City groups face off over local short-term rentals
Two opposing Nevada City groups will be going head to head over an issue that has been fraught with controversy and discord.
A few weeks after NC Hosts turned over its collected signatures to the city as part of a petition to legalize short-term rentals, an opposing group calling itself Nevada City Neighbors said its members have drafted an ordinance in response to the NC Hosts’ proposal. Nevada City Neighbors began collecting signatures on Oct. 31.
Addie Harris, an organizer of NC Hosts, confirmed Friday that the county elections office has verified that the group successfully collected 264 signatures within 180 days of filing a notice of intent to circulate the petition. The number exceeded the required 10 percent of registered voters in Nevada City for the proposal either to be voted on by the city council or for it to appear on the June 2016 election ballot.
“I feel very good about it. It is little frustrating to have other groups (pitching) an initiative against you,” said Harris. “But when you have people against you, it’s a signal that you are doing something worthy.”
Gary Johnson, a member of Nevada City Neighbors who took part in the drafting of the group’s ordinance, said he has confidence that their rival ordinance will prevail.
“It’s going very well,” said Johnson in regards to the group’s signature collection effort. “We will be sure to have more than the minimum signatures required.”
City Manager Mark Prestwich said he anticipates the Hosts ordinance will be on the Nov. 18 city council meeting agenda.
“I have to confirm with the city attorney, but my understanding is that once the signatures are verified, the ordinance will have to come to the city council at the next meeting,” said Prestwich.
Prestwich said the city has the following options: The proposed ordinance might come to the city council at the next city meeting, where council members could either adopt the ordinance, or choose to place it on a future ballot for voters’ approval. The city could also ask staff to prepare a report on the ordinance within 30 days.
Mayor Jennifer Ray questioned some of the provisions outlined by the Hosts’ petition.
“We need to take a look at the Hosts initiative, in that it is not addressing street parking impact. It also doesn’t require a homeowner to be present in the property,” she said.
Ray said a lot of Nevada City residents are concerned about preserving their neighborhoods and protecting the low-income housing availability in town.
“It still matters what the residents of our town want to do,” said Ray. “(The ordinance) needs to balance between the residents’ quality of life and economy.”
Vice Mayor Evans Phelps, however, saw problems with the ordinance proposed by Nevada City Neighbors.
“Just take the example of requirement of off-street parking,” she said. “We don’t require off-street parking for a house. We don’t require off-street parking to a full-time renter… this asking for off-street parking is very difficult in Nevada City. I think it’s only put in there so they have the ability to seriously limit the spaces that could be rented.”
Phelps also found the Nevada City Neighbors ordinance overly burdensome.
“What I really don’t like about this initiative is that it has 20 amendments to the Municipal Code, and it has nine amendments to the General Plan, that’s really inappropriate for a voters initiative,” she said. “Voter initiatives should be broad and simple and give directions to the city on the way it wants to go. This is micro-managed…(there are) too much regulations. I don’t like what it’s doing. I don’t like what the real goal is.”
Phelps said the Hosts’ initiative fills a “legitimate need” in the city because of the lack of hotel rooms.
A closer look at competing ordinances
NC Hosts, a 15-member group, petitioned the Nevada City government on Sept. 15 to amend the General Plan and Municipal Code in order to legalize the hosting of short-term rentals in single-family homes within residential zones.
The group’s proposal requires owners to register their property annually with the city and to pay “all applicable transient occupancy tax. It also outlines restrictions such as not allowing owners to rent more than two units within a property and not allowing more than one vehicle per unit.
In response, Nevada City Neighbors, who argued that the proposal by NC Hosts “goes too far,” submitted an alternative proposal on Oct. 9.
Johnson said the Neighbors group came up with the proposal to correct some of the terms outlined by the NC Hosts initiative.
“The focus of ours will be to protect the neighborhood, and still allow rooms to be rented out,” said Johnson.
Johnson said the NC Hosts ordinance lacks strict enforcement to prohibit commercial events. Furthermore, the proposal doesn’t restrict whole-house rentals and lets owners live in Nevada County instead of on the rental property.
The proposed Nevada City Neighbors ordinance would allow “home sharing short-term rentals” in Nevada City with certain provisions.
For example, a homeowner who wishes to provide short-term rentals would have to register with the city annually and secure a rental permit. The permit would be issued after the homeowner passed a review by the city and it will be revoked should the homeowner violate the regulations.
Owners could only rent two rooms in a single-family residence or in a guesthouse at the same time.
No more than one car per rental room is allowed, and guest parking should not get in the way of the parking options offered to full-time residents.
The proposal requires a homeowner to stay onsite during the stays of the guests, stating, “short-term rentals constitute a use secondary to the main use of the home by the owner.”
In addition, the ordinance by Nevada City Neighbors outlaws the short-term rental of areas in a home other than bedrooms.
“They [Nevada City Neighbors] don’t really want to allow short-term rentals,” said Harris. “They realize they are not going to achieve it. So instead they are submitting an ordinance that’s so restricted, no current rentals in Nevada City will qualify.”
The organizers said the ordinance submitted by Nevada City Neighbors falsely stated that NC Hosts allows whole-house rentals.
Instead, the organizers said, the NC Hosts draft ordinance permits “limited, partial use of housing units at a single-family residence.”
They also argued that it’s not realistic for a homeowner to stay on their property at all times, saying owners could assign an agent to manage the property on his or her behalf during absences.
Both ordinances call for homeowners to comply with city codes; representatives of NC Hosts questioned the need for a permit, asking, “does the city really have the funds to permit and police the few short-term rentals there are in the city?”
“It’s backed up by ignorance,” said NC Hosts co-founder Kathy Dotson. “They are trying to pass that ignorance to the rest of the community and confuse everybody.”
Peggy Redpath, another founder of NC Hosts, said their proposal was drafted with flexibility in mind.
“We tried to talk about what is allowed, not what isn’t allowed, because we figure the city will come along behind us and figure out what needs to be put in place to figure out what works,” she said.
But what is offensive to NC Hosts organizers, they say, is the opposition’s claim that they don’t care about protecting neighborhoods.
“Our community is very special, that‘s why I continue to live here, and raise my children here,” said Dotson. “I realized that specialness in Nevada County, and especially what downtown Nevada City offers, and I feel very special to be able to share that with the visitors in town at my bungalow.”
Dotson has been operating Downtown Bungalow, a guesthouse attached to her downtown property, since September 2014.
The ball is now in the court of Nevada City government about what to do.
In an email to The Union, City Attorney Hal DeGraw provided some possible outcomes.
“If both measures are placed on the same ballot and both pass,” wrote DeGraw. “All of the provisions of the measure receiving the most votes would become effective and provisions of the measure getting fewer votes that are in fundamental conflict would not become operative.”
If the provisions of the measure getting fewer votes were “complementary or supplementary” to the more popular measure, then portions of that measure would become operative if they are not in conflict with the provisions of the measure receiving the higher number of votes. If the provisions of the measure with fewer votes are “competing” or “alternative” to the winning measure, then only the provisions of the measure receiving the highest affirmative vote at the election would become operative.
To contact Staff Writer Teresa Yinmeng Liu, please call 530-477-4236, or email firstname.lastname@example.org
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