Photo of Carr Fire as seen from and photographed by Matt Grigsby, July 27, 2018

There are truly troubling times when life-and-death emergencies motivate cities to adopt urgency ordinances. In Redding, two dire examples in recent memory were the Carr Fire and COVID-19. The significance of an urgency ordinance is it’s supposed to be addressed as some threat to the public’s health, safety and welfare.

Who’d imagine that Redding Airbnb and VRBO short-term rentals would be viewed as a threat to public health, safety and welfare?

Source: House and Home Magazine.

One prominent Redding citizen, radio talk-show host Carl Bott, believes exactly that. He’s so fed up with Airbnb and VRBO strangers converging upon his downtown-Redding-area neighborhood that he bent the ear of council members about the subject, and was instrumental in bringing short-term rentals to the council’s attention, and subsequent agenda items. In fact, Bott’s solitary influence was referred to in a July 22 staff report as “one concerned citizen” who’d suggested a moratorium on all short-term vacation-rental applications.

As an aside, in Bott’s capacity as a radio-station owner and talk-show host, it’s likely he’s interviewed every Redding City Council member, as well as many city staff employees, for his KCNR morning program.

Redding’s short-term rental history

During the July 19 city council meeting, Lily Toy, the city’s planning manager, delivered an informational presentation about the city’s history with short-term rentals, as well as the administration of the short-term rental program that the city first adopted in 2016. She explained the two different short-term rentals; hosted homestay, in which the hosts remain in the home with the guests, and vacation rentals, in which the host leaves the premises, granting guests access to the entire space.

Toy said the city earns approximately $500,000 annually from hosts’ short-term-rental Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT) payments. She said the city’s monitoring software detects un-permitted short-term rentals, and can determine everything from rental rates to the number of bookings. Short-term rental hosts who are caught operating without a valid city permit will receive notice from the city to fill out an application or pay a fine.

Toy listed common objections voiced by the public regarding some short-term rentals: Parking, noise, parties, criminal activity, housing-stock reduction, the decline of property values, out-of-town investors, density, and enforcement of short-term rental regulations.

Toy said that in addition to Redding’s current short-term rental rules, the city council has additional potential regulations at their disposal:

Require operators to maintain a log of guests’ vehicle license numbers.
Impose density limits (for example, not within 300 feet of an existing vacation rental).
Cap or limit the number of vacation rentals.
Impose an annual renewal for hosted homestays.
Prohibit all short-term rentals.

According to the staff’s report to the city council, 122 hosted homestay affidavits have been signed, 196 vacation rental permits have been approved and 41 are under review. Seven short-term rental operators have not renewed their annual permits, and have been referred to Redding’s code enforcement department. At the time of the report’s writing on July 11, the city’s host-compliance program listed 358 short-term rentals listed within the city of Redding.

According to Airbnb’s page of Redding rentals, 502 “stays” are currently available. And according to the VRBO page of Redding rentals, 262 properties are now available. Crossover is possible with some of the same rentals listed both on Airbnb and VRBO’s sites.

Yes to the moratorium

Carl Bott.

Bott’s complaint triggered the topic’s prominence in two city council meetings — July 19 and Aug. 2 — during which citizens offered pros and cons about short-term rentals.

Bott spoke at both meetings, prefacing his remarks each time with the statement that he didn’t want to be there. He explained that when he first purchased his single-family home, houses like his were typical of his neighborhood. Bott said short-term rentals have changed his neighborhood, and not for the better. Case in point, Bott claimed that a “mini motel” will soon open for business on his street.

“They can put eight people in there, 52 weeks a year,” he said.

For Bott, the negative-neighborhood situation is exacerbated by the fact that citizens have no say-so about whether the city allows more short-term rentals in their neighborhoods. It bothers Bott that the city can approve a short-term vacation rental permit in a particular neighborhood, even if the majority of the streets’ residents speak out against it.

“It takes 60 percent of a neighborhood to get a speed bump,” Bott said. “I think neighborhoods should have a choice if they want to have a VRBO.”

Bott’s neighbor Jim Wilson agreed. Wilson described his dealings with Airbnb rentals as a nightmare.

“I have one on both sides of me and now they want to put one across the street,” Wilson said of short-term rental properties.

He told of Airbnb guests processing drugs inside the rentals. He said his car has been vandalized by Airbnb guests, and he’s been threatened because he’s called the police to report loud parties.

“These people come up from the Bay Area and they sell their property down there for 10 million dollars, and they come up here and they buy 15 houses at $100,000 and they keep coming and coming.”

Others who agreed with Bott’s moratorium idea also addressed density issues, and described how some neighborhoods, such as Redding’s historically charming Garden Tract, have blocks that contain three or more short-term rentals. Many of those streets’ residents are displeased with the prevalence of short-term rental units occupied by outsiders who aren’t part of the neighborhood; people who won’t know one another or check on each other or participate in neighborhood activities.

One Garden Tract resident said that by the city allowing short-term rentals, it’s allowing businesses to infiltrate neighborhoods; areas not zoned for businesses. The man said that he’s not anti-short-term rentals, but seemed to infer that short-term rentals are fine in some cities, but not in Redding.

“I’ve rented homes in Sun River, Hawaii, even in Trinidad, not too far from here,” he said with a smile. “And those are the perfect examples of when short-term rentals work. These are vacation areas.”

He was among a few speakers who referred to the young couple whose success story told how they’d bought multiple Redding homes that they then turned into short-term rentals. He said those four homes were four less homes available for regular buyers.

“Think of Johnny and Sally that just graduated from college, got married and want to buy a home and start a family,” he said.

“With this couple buying five homes, does that leave available housing for Johnny and Sally? How do they start when the homes that they would normally be able to afford were bought up for short-term rentals?”

Council member Julie Winter said she could see both sides of the issue: On the one hand there are short-term rental hosts who benefit from economic opportunities and income provided by their homes. On the other hand she sees the value in preserving neighborhoods’ integrity.

She hypothetically asked if it would be fair if every home on a person’s street turned into a short-term rental.

“When we approved this ordinance in 2017 — and I approved this ordinance — we didn’t think through all the way of what would happen if you get multiple short-term rentals in a neighborhood,” Winter said.

She said that people who live in those neighborhoods want real neighbors; people who’ll be there long-term. She said that another negative aspect of short-term rentals is they remove housing stock for families or those being recruited to move to the area. Winter said that for those reasons, she’d be voting in favor of the moratorium.

No moratorium

The flip side of the density argument was presented by one Airbnb host who said the west-Redding home she bought, remodeled and transformed into a short-term Airbnb rental was a vast improvement to the neighborhood, and her neighbors loved the positive changes. She described her street as a “troubled neighborhood” that contains a number of vacant homes that are eyesores that attract “riffraff” and vagrants. She said there’s a known drug house just down the block.

“So for me to think about us having a moratorium on Airbnbs, that blows my mind,” she said with a laugh.

“Because where I am, we have a lot of abandoned houses. We have homeowners that have abandoned houses; we have homeowners who have troubled, long-term rentals. But they can do whatever they want with those houses. So why would it be OK (for the city) to say, ‘No, you can’t buy a house, and have short-term rentals so you can make money, make the house clean, make the street clean, and attract vetted guests.’ ”

She said that she routinely encounters guys selling drugs on her street, and she’d love it if someone turned those troubled homes into short-term rentals to help beautify and improve the neighborhood.

Some commenters praised short-term rentals for the economic benefit they offer the hosts; people who serve as North State ambassadors for guests who come to Redding from literally all over the world.

One Redding realtor, Joshua Johnson, said he’s also a builder who constructs homes that include guest suites, which are great for visiting family and friends. But he said those units also come in handy when they’re unoccupied.

“They’re really good for Airbnbs because they help supplement the cost of a new home, and we know those costs are rising,” Johnson said. “I think that a moratorium feels like a drastic means.”

He added that the state is encouraging homeowners to build more accessory ADUs (accessory dwelling units). He said a moratorium on short-term rentals would disincentivize ADUs, and some people would be forced to move out of their homes if they no longer had the extra rental income.

Another speaker, a woman who said she operates an Airbnb hosting and cleaning business, said the city has benefited from short-term rentals.

“They created a new economy,” she said. “They’ve brought in thousands of travelers from outside our area to shop, and for our businesses.”

Shelly Shively, who identified herself as a short-term hosted homestay Airbnb Superhost, said she could empathize with those who live next to rule-breaking short-term rentals whose guests ignore city ordinances. (Disclosure: Shelly is my sister.) Furthermore, she doesn’t like when people from outside the area buy multiple houses and turn them into Airbnb rentals. She also doesn’t like when the property owners who live far away rely upon Airbnb’s “instant book” option, which means guests aren’t properly vetted, and the host never meets them.

Shively said the talk about the bad-apple hosts unfairly gives good hosts a bad name. She cited a bad-apple example near her home; an Airbnb rental owned by a Los Angeles couple who characterize their multiple Redding Airbnb businesses as a “goldmine” — unlike their home of Los Angeles County, where they can’t afford to buy multiple houses, and besides, Los Angeles County is more strict when it comes to short-term rentals.

With the LA Airbnb owners hundreds of miles away, their unmonitored Airbnb guests are free to throw loud parties, and have multiple cars parked on the street, both of which are a violation of the city’s short-term rental regulations. Shively said that when she received a letter from the city about the bad-apple Airbnb rental’s permit renewal, she listed her complaints, and implored the city to not renew that neighbor’s permit.

“They were renewed and they’re still operating,” Shively said. “I would like to see more compliance with code enforcement.”

The subject of enforcement of existing ordinances played a big part in another woman’s comments, who said she had a solution for many of the complaints about short-term rentals. The Redding resident, who works as a property manager, said it was “glaringly obvious” that the city’s current rules and ordinances regarding short-term rentals are not being enforced.

“Not even talking about the new code that needs to be written, and the fact that it needs to be updated; I totally agree that that does need to happen,” she said.

“But it’s clear that, if somebody’s saying their neighborhood is having cars driven up on the sidewalks and six cars are out there, and that this is a repeated problem, I would really hope you people are reporting this to the city, and that the city is doing its job of actually going and enforcing these laws – and shutting them down.”

She said that regarding the citizens who’ve spoken about problems with short-term rentals, it’s “on the city” to deal with the rule-breakers and enforce their own existing rules.

“It’s kind of a fail on the planning department – regarding approval — because the permits are discretionary. I know that,” she said.

“They have the discretion to decide if they want to approve (a permit) or if they want to deny one. And if they are using their discretion to approve four (short-term rentals) on Gold Street, then their discretion’s not very good. Regardless if whether there’s a 300-foot rule; that’s a bad call. You shouldn’t be approving that … The current rules need to be enforced. That’s the problem.”

Speaking of problems, according to information provided at the July and August city council meetings, neither the Redding Police Department or local motel and hotel owners have a problem with the short-term rentals.

In fact, according to Redding Police Chief Bill Schueller, generally speaking, short-term rental guests haven’t been a problem. In fact, he said the greatest number of short-term rental-related calls for police service have come from Airbnb and VRBO guests reporting suspicious circumstances.

And regarding the local hotel/motel industry, apparently they’re not bothered by short-term rentals, as long as hosts continue to pay their fair share of TOT money (10 percent of the rent).

Hey, what’s the emergency?

Council member Erin Resner said there are good and bad neighbors everywhere. She cited an example in her own neighborhood of a property that contains a small accessory dwelling unit, with owners who are delightful neighbors who do an incredible job as hosts. She said that’s a stark contrast to the long-time owner of a single-family home that holds frequent loud parties and is basically a problem for the entire neighborhood.

Regarding bad actors who are also short-term rental operators, Resner said the solution is simple, and the city has the power: pull the offenders’ permits.

Resner voiced concerns that the request for an urgency ordinance to address short-term rentals arose at a time when the city’s plate is already full of other staff demands, from the city’s general plan update and the Riverfront Plan to the tree ordinance. She questioned whether the call for a moratorium on short-term rentals was a greater priority than city staff’s current demands.

“So is this a level of urgency?” Resner asked. “Is this urgent and important and an emergency, and we need to do it right now?”

Two meetings, two motions

At the July 19 Redding City Council meeting, the topic of short-term vacation rentals was simply an information item on the agenda, during which the council provided a consensus regarding what relaxant information the council sought from city staff. A number of people in the audience spoke in favor of and against short-term vacation rentals.

Likewise, at the Aug. 2 Redding City Council meeting, a motion was made whether to bring back to the next city council meeting a discussion of a moratorium, and information from the city attorney regarding the legal option to utilize an urgency ordinance to do so. A number of people also addressed the short-term vacation rental moratorium at that meeting, as well as Bott, who had pitched the idea to council members.

The motion was put to a vote. Council member Resner was the lone dissenting vote, so the motion passed with a 4/5ths majority. Even so, the official vote to adopt the moratorium couldn’t happen until the Aug. 17 meeting.

The moratorium would center solely on applications for vacation rentals (not hosted homestays where the hosts are on the premises). Nor would the moratorium apply to applications already in the queue, or current short-term rental applications, or existing short-term rental renewals.

The city attorney pointed out that in order to keep the temporary moratorium in place, the city council would be required by law to renew it within a 45-day window.

When the Aug. 16 meeting did arrive and adoption of the moratorium was put to a vote, council members Resner and Mayor Kristen Schreder were united in their vote against the moratorium. Since a 4-5th vote was required to adopt an urgency ordinance, the motion failed.

Resner said she believed it was a “slippery slope” for the city to use emergency powers for anything other than true emergencies.

Mayor Schreder, who initially voted yes on the motion to bring the discussion of a short-term rental moratorium forward, said that after receiving a number of convincing emails from the public who spoke out against the moratorium, as well as considering additional helpful information, she used that time between the July 19 and Aug. 2 meeting examine the evidence. She said that additional information caused her to rethink her previous position of considering a short-term vacation rental moratorium.

However, Schreder said that despite her final vote against the moratorium, she was in full support of addressing specific issues mentioned by a number of the speakers.

And that’s where the issue is now: After hearing many comments, and receiving even more emails, city staff now has a clear idea of specific areas of concern regarding short-term rentals. Staff’s directive is to adjust the current short-term rental ordinance to address and improve those areas, and then return to the city council to relay that information to council members and seek feedback.

In the meantime, since the Aug. 2 city council meeting when the moratorium concept was first raised, and following the publicity about the potential short-term rental moratorium, the city has received 20 new short-term rental applications.

For the sake of Carl Bott’s blood pressure, hopefully none of the new short-term rentals will roll out their welcome mat in his neighborhood.

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Redding Narrowly Steps Back from Declaring Short-term Rentals an Urgency-Ordinance Emergency