Editor’s Note: This is the first in a three-part series of opinion pieces on Measure C.
Measure C is possibly the last chance to stop the commercialization of Palm Springs neighborhoods.
A YES on Measure C is the only way that the residents of Palm Springs can reclaim their neighborhoods and start to rebuild the sense of community that has been lost due to the tsunami of short-term rentals (STRs) that have taken over almost every neighborhood in the city.
First, let’s make one thing clear, no matter what the city or the vacation rental industry says ,the sky is not going to fall on June 5 if Measure C passes. Many other California resort towns have banned STRs from residential neighborhoods and are thriving and we believe Palm Springs will, too.
Those against Measure C have put profit and revenue above our residents’ quality of life. The opposition has a huge war chest to fight this measure, approaching half a million dollars at last look. And the funding comes for the most part from out-of-state investors and businesses that have no interest in the quality of life for anyone living near their unsupervised mini-hotels.
But all that money cannot improve our quality of life. Only removing short-term rentals from our residential neighborhoods will.
Sadly, tourists are replacing neighbors on our blocks in almost every neighborhood. Palm Springs has one of, if not the highest, per capita rate of short-term rentals of any city in the country — currently eleven percent (11%) of all single-family homes are STRs. And a recent City-commissioned report says that number will rise by about 3% per year. Every Palm Springs neighborhood has been affected.
Far too many residents see a new set of strangers come and go each weekend. Sometimes there are 2 and 3 sets of strangers in an STR in a week.
Knowing our neighbors is part of our sense of security and community. It’s why crime watch programs actually work.
A YES on Measure C simply means short-term rentals, less than 28-days, after a 2-year sunset, will no longer be allowed in single-family neighborhoods unless the homeowner is present.
When Measure C passes:
- Residents will no longer have to put up with the added stress of weekend partiers, middle-of-the-night disturbances and a constant flow of strangers.
- Tourists will fill Palm Springs hotels and inns and not our neighborhoods.
- Houses will become available for first-time homebuyers and long-term renters. Families. And individuals that work in Palm Springs. And overall, rents should decrease, and neighborhoods will return to their intended purpose, to provide a safe and secure place to call home.
Over the past 12 years, the number of short-term vacation rentals in Palm Springs has more than doubled to nearly 2,000 today. Over 80 percent of vacation rental owners don’t even live here, and for many, these houses are strictly business, they don’t reside in them for a single night.
For years, residents have been asking the City Council for a cap on the number of permits, a limit on the number of days a property could be rented, and restrictions on density or clusters of STRs.
Council after Council has said No to caps, No to limits, No to density restrictions.
In the last decade, not a single City Council member has stood up for residents, or even questioned whether opening our neighborhoods to 350,000 tourists per year might negatively affect our quality of life.
Dozens of resort towns in California, including Palm Desert, and just last week Malibu, have banned short-term rentals in residential neighborhoods. Until recently Palm Springs was the only major tourist city whose citizens have had to take it upon themselves to launch a ballot initiative (South Lake Tahoe just submitted signatures for a similar ballot initiative). Palm Springs Neighbors for Neighborhoods (PSN4N) did so about a year ago and 5,400 residents signed it because they wanted the right to decide whether STRS belong in our neighborhoods.
Before then, residents tried to participate in the process and work with the City Council. We attended the subcommittee meetings, but they were really more lectures than discussions. And the public was given only a couple minutes to speak. Residents left feeling unheard. At the end of 2016 we thought the City had put forward an ordinance residents could try to live with. But, the industry was not happy with it.
Before the ink could dry on that ordinance, the National board of Realtors, along with Vacation Palm Springs, threatened the City Council with a referendum to rescind the ordinance.
What happened next was that the City Council, behind closed doors, capitulated and agreed to the demands of the industry. So, residents were given no other choice but to put this on the ballot.
Key Reasons for Residential Ban:
Palm Springs Neighbors for Neighborhoods believes there are several key reasons residents want to prohibit short-term rentals in their single-family neighborhoods. Among them:
- No one moves to Palm Springs to live next door to an unsupervised hotel. Residents have a reasonable expectation when you move into a single-family neighborhood that it will be filled with residents and protected by zoning laws. But the City of Palm Springs let businesses operate in our neighborhoods without public discourse — against our general plan and zoning codes.
- If Measure C doesn’t pass, another 12,000 single family homes can become rentals. Will that happen? Probably not. But remember there are No caps in place. The City Council said No. And STR owners that have four, five, six and 10 properties are grandfathered in and can continue to operate forever.
- Our city must provide residents with housing that’s affordable. STRs take housing off the market for families and individuals that work in Palm Springs. STRS artificially inflate rents. A 2017 report shows 1 in 4 City employees cannot afford to live here. We are the only city in the valley that has seen a decline in long-term single-family rental housing over the past 10 years. The City Council took a step towards stopping that in 2016 when it banned apartment conversions to STRs; to paraphrase councilman Roberts at the time, it was “to protect rental housing and to nip the problem in the bud before it turned into the mess we have with rental houses.”
But families and individuals need to rent homes too and the same protection should apply to them.
- It is not the responsibility of residential neighborhoods to generate business tax revenue. This is not the norm and not the case in other cities our size. The City is addicted to Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT) revenue and the groups supporting the City’s opposition to Measure C and residents’ right to vote on this issue are either fully funded by the City, partially funded or have a direct profit motive in opposing the measure. The Palm Springs City government has been fiscally irresponsible for too long. Since 2012, starting under Pougnet, the city has given away over half a billion dollars to large hotels in tax rebate incentives.
- Enforcement is not the answer. It’s just a smoke screen diversion, used by the City and industry to mislead residents to believe the issue is being handled. The burden of enforcement falls on residents. We are the first responders who must monitor and police the unsupervised hotels day and night. By the time a neighbor picks up the phone to call in a complaint, they’ve put up with a lot for a long time. And so have many others. For every noise disturbance, 2 or 3 households have been affected.
The results tell it all. According to the City’s compliance office co-manager, Boris Stark, during the first three months of this year, only one in five complaints to the hotline resulted in a citation. Why even make a call if the result is almost always unsatisfactory? The City reports to have shut down 65 STRs, but these are just temporary. The “problem” rentals will be able to operate again after 24 months and the “illegal” rentals can get a permit under a new owner.
Enforcement does not work for the resident, it only works for the vacation rental industry. If the City spends $1.7 million dollars on an enforcement department(three times the budget of San Francisco’s) to control STRs … then isn’t that proof enough it’s not compatible with life in a residential neighborhood.
We believe residential bans can work. Other resort cities (like Ojai, Santa Barbara, Monterey, Carmel-by-the-Sea, Napa and Palm Desert) have put residential bans in place and are thriving.
But it takes commitment and perseverance and strong city leaders.
Our city will have to work with Airbnb and HomeAway to stop illegal posting, and severely fine those that slip thru the cracks. Many cities have successfully done it. Paris recently had 43,000 illegal listings removed from Airbnb. Berlin imposes fines up to $123,000. New York in April fined a couple $1 million for illegal Airbnb listings. Miami brought in $1.6 million in fines for illegal STRs in 2016.
It will take time. But the City WILL have the money to do so. Outsourcing compliance is relatively inexpensive. Palm Springs will not be ”hobbled” once Measure C passes. And after it does pass, the City will continue to collect TOT from all STRs for two years. After that there will still be 500 or more STRs (condos and others) operating legally throughout the city. Investors and developers have already started to find ways to meet the needs of the STR tourist by building lodging to suit them in areas of the city zoned for lodging.
The City will have plenty of funds to outsource or contract compliance like so many other cities have. They will not need to continue a bloated department.
- We can’t say it enough, residents are the strength and stability of our community.
Contrary to what the city says, residents spend money, too — much more than short-term renters, who for the most part lounge, eat and drink poolside all weekend long.
But residents are much more than just a dollar sign. Residents attend community events, participate in rallies and support our charities and organizations and schools. Our tourists don’t.
PSN4N and other proponents of Measure C believe it is the only, and quite possibly the last chance to stop the commercialization of our neighborhoods. Let’s not let Palm Springs become a Disneyland in the Desert, a sort of ‘Midcenturyland’ where the only people left are guests and cast members.
On June 5, we must protect our neighborhoods, our community and our quality of life. Vote YES on C.