Today’s column closes the loop on two issues I’ve been following the past year. Plus, my observations on how the more things change the more they stay the same.
Preventing youth access to tobacco products
After a year of consideration, the Board of Supervisors adopted a Tobacco Retailer License ordinance this month. As I reported in previous columns, this is important to the Springs because our community is considered to be overly concentrated with tobacco outlets. E-cigarettes are included in the definition of tobacco products.
The ordinance requires tobacco product retailers to obtain a license and renew that license annually. The license is non transferable when the store sells, with the exception of ownership transferring to a family member. The license fee, $350 a year for the first two years, will pay for programs to prevent youth from purchasing tobacco products. These include youth decoy operations, youth tobacco purchase surveys, and retailer compliance visits.
The ordinance also raises the price of a pack of cigarettes in the unincorporated area to $7, and it no longer allows the sale of tobacco products within 1,000 feet of schools. Except current tobacco retailers are grandfathered in and allowed to continue until the store changes ownership.
I can’t leave the issue of tobacco without giving special recognition to our anti-smoking champion Lori Bremner of Boyes Hot Springs. Lori is on the board of the American Cancer Society. She has been working diligently for many years on tobacco control legislation both locally and in Sacramento. She has appeared at many County Board of Supervisors’ and Sonoma City Council meetings advocating for ordinances that help prevent and reduce smoking.
Limiting vacation rentals in the Springs
Much has already been written in this newspaper about how residents impacted by vacation rentals didn’t get the outcome they wanted when the updated vacation rental ordinance went before the Board of Supervisors earlier this year. Many had hoped the board would have voted to ban new vacation rentals in the R1 zone, which are our traditional single-family neighborhoods.
I was in attendance at that meeting. What I saw is an example of why Springs’ residents need to get our political organizing act together so we can compete with interest groups that are organized.
The vacation rental operators from the Russian River area were very well organized that day. They packed the room, along with their supporters who benefit from vacation rental businesses. They had a consistent message: “One size doesn’t fit all.” They were opposed to the R1 ban. The proposed ordinance called for creating a vacation rental overlay zone to allow new vacation rentals in an R1 zoned neighborhood, but the Russian River area folks didn’t like that.
Meanwhile, I was the only voice from the Springs who got up and addressed the board about how vacation rentals were impacting our community. I spoke only for myself, as there was no official position from any organization representing the Springs.
What the Board did pass was a compromise. The updated vacation rental ordinance provides for exclusion overlay zones preventing new vacation rentals in neighborhoods where the overlay is applied. It’s now a work in progress through the county planning department to implement exclusion overlay zones.
The more things change…
In the 26 years I’ve lived in Boyes Hot Springs I’ve participated in many community planning and visioning processes. Some informal, conducted by community groups. Others conducted by the county; such as creating the design guidelines and the Springs strategic plan. While the faces participating in these meetings change, the hopes and desires don’t.
I participated in the community planning meeting held a couple months ago at Altimira Middle School. We sat in groups around tables and then each group had someone share the ideas from their group. There wasn’t one desire expressed that I haven’t heard said multiple times over the years: A walkable community, affordable housing, locally owned shops and restaurants, more parking, a central plaza. By the way, the initial design concept for the plaza at the Boyes Boulevard stub is described in the design guidelines adopted in 1996.