Reader opinion by Celia Canfield
If you happen to live close to the town of Sonoma, you are noticing an unbelievable surge in short term vacation rentals. It started around the same time unbelievably as the COVID surge, when many of us had to endure clandestine weddings and increased vacation rental usage by groups looking to escape San Francisco and New York during lock-down — when shelter in place was mandated for our county.
Why is this becoming such a problem now? Over the last two years, the many short-term vacation rental owners live mostly out-of-town and are investing in multiple properties here in town. Housing in Sonoma Valley has changed from mere shelter — a necessity — to an investment vehicle on par with stocks, bonds, and cryptocurrency for wealthy out-of-towners.
My husband and I love our community and our neighborhood but already 30 percent of the homes in our small 16 home cul de sac are short term vacation rentals. We have noticed how it’s changed the character of our neighborhood. We fear that we will soon be a street of small hotels as we are so very close to the town.
We now have a cavalcade of cars and visitors who are unknown to us travelling down our street at all hours and with little care that they are in a residential neighborhood. We are forced to complain to a remote entity (Sonoma County PMRD) to get noise abated or parties turned down a notch to little or no result. .
We are in the midst of a megadrought. The stresses and strains on both our water and electrical infrastructure are well documented. We cannot afford multiple homes hosting 10-12 people in super party mode — running showers, filling pools, and doing massive amounts of laundry, multiple times a week. While our neighborhood is on wells, this level of use impacts the total water table and infringes on our overall water supply significantly. Moreover this is happening in multiple locations in town every week throughout the spring, summer, and fall. This level of consumption is simply irresponsible and unsustainable.
Given our need to keep all neighbors vigilant on fire safety and possible evacuation, I shudder to think what will happen when a large party house doesn’t follow the directions for the community on fire alert. I found myself recently explaining to the new San Mateo-based homeowner of a 5 bedroom short term vacation rental next door as to why using the fire pit during a mega-drought wasn’t recommended.
Who represents us? We long to be in the town of Sonoma (we are one block away) which values neighborhoods by keeping out these vacation rentals. Instead, we are under the aegis of a county that has no idea how destructive it is to our neighborhoods when they permit, with abandon, these “small hotels.” And no, we’re not begrudging the room rentals that some do to defray the cost of their home as hosted rentals which were initially the spirit of AirBnB, where you can experience a community through the eyes of a local.
We don’t think that Sonoma County PRMD should be in the business of granting permission to anyone who wants to set up a hotel business in a neighborhood. And asking us to pay and beg for exclusion zones seems like an inappropriate pay-for-play model. Some in exclusion zones have reported that when the next street behind isn’t excluded, then the short-term rental homes are literally in their backyard. Do we want to become Palm Springs? If you live outside the town of Sonoma (even a block over) you have come to expect that your neighbors will now be hoteliers who don’t even live in the community.
— Celia Canfield, Sonoma