Despite an economy dependent on tourism, the proliferation of vacation rentals in North Coast communities has not been a very welcomed part of the lodging industry.
And with all the nearby communities — Morro Bay, SLO, Cayucos and Cambria — already under local ordinances, Los Osos residents wanted the same for their bedroom community.
County planners have been conducting a lengthy and extensive outreach taking comments and recommendations from the public, holding public meetings and involving the Los Osos Community Advisory Council (LOCAC), for several years now.
And last week, all the work came to fruition at the County Planning Commission in the form of an amendment to the Coastal Zone Land Use Ordinance that would establish “residential vacation rentals standards for the community of Los Osos.”
The piece of legislation would seem to have a limited influence but such changes are very involved and far-reaching. Beyond the zoning ordinance, the VR regulations also have to be included in the Estero Area Plan and the Los Osos Community Plan (LOCP) and more. The County has been working on updating the LOCP since 2012.
“Throughout the LOCP process,” reads a staff report, “staff has received substantial public input regarding the regulation of residential vacation rentals for the community of Los Osos; specifically, the lack of permitting and operating standards.”
The County has had two goals in this: to provide specific location standards; and, require VRs in Los Osos comply with the same permitting and operations standards as those in Cambria, Cayucos and Avila Beach (all under County jurisdiction).
Numerous interested people called in to the virtual meeting, some expressing concerns the regulations went too far, and others decrying that they don’t do enough to protect fulltime residents.
Emily Ewer, who said she represented a family that owns 11 acres at South Bay Boulevard and 18th Street pointed out that the amendment would change their zoning from residential-multi-family and recreation, to single-family residential. The changes constituted a “seizure” of her clients’ property, she claimed.
“Who made this alteration?” she asked. She said they want to know how this decision was made to switch their property from a non-environmentally sensitive habitat area (ESHA) to an ESHA, a huge change that could make any development of the property problematic.
Some callers complained that the County was going out of order, as the Community is for all intents and purposes, if not officially, under a moratorium for concerns about the drinking water supply.
This is after finally solving their sewer problems after a more than 30-year battle.
The County itself lists the community’s water supply at a “Level III Severity,” meaning it is being over-pumped and is threatened by seawater intrusion. (The three water purveyors — Los Osos CSD, Golden State Water, and S&T Mutual — have a court settlement they are working through to manage the groundwater.)
One woman said new construction should only be allowed when this issue is solved and not just because someone obtains a “Will Serve” letter.
The Coastal Commission has recently denied housing projects in part citing that issue and also until after the completion of a “Wildlife Conservation Plan.”
The entirety of Los Osos is included in the critical habitat for the Morro shoulder-band dune snails, plus numerous other protected plants and animal species can be found in the area.
A WCP sets up mitigation requirements for people to be able to go ahead and develop their property; in essence it sets a price to be paid into a special fund that supports the establishment of a greenbelt around the town. Several parcels have been purchased and dedicated to open space over the years.
The WCP has been in the works for over two decades now but a draft plan was recently sent out for comments and County staff predicted it would be completed soon.
David Gray said he owns a 2-story building downtown and has trouble renting out the second floor, as Los Osos doesn’t have a big demand for office space. He wanted to be able to put in apartments upstairs to help with the housing shortage and make better use of his property.
Second District Planning Commissioner, Mike Multari, who represents Los Osos, wanted staff to put together a graphic plotting all the water-related issues into one diagram, a sentiment that was echoed by other commissioners.
As for the VRs, the amendment calls for VRs to only be allowed in existing single-family homes and not at all in mobile home parks or multi-family dwellings like duplexes, triplexes and apartments. Such housing units are considered affordable and everyone wants to keep that housing stock for residents.
The County is proposing to set a density regulation that would require 500-foot distance between licensed VRs.
The staff report points out that the density in Cambria is now 200 feet apart, the most restrictive in the County.
The 500-foot buffer would also serve to limit the number that can be licensed in Los Osos.
LOCAC recommended a cap on VRs to 1:100 single-family homes, which the County said would limit the number citywide to a maximum of 55.
LOCAC also wanted to limit VR ownership to one per person and restrict ownership to exclude LLCs and corporate owners. They also wanted the VR license to expire when a property is sold.
The County report said there could be legal problems with such restrictions, as under the County ordinances, whatever entitlements a property has, stay with that property upon sale.
“The ownership of the land is not a factor,” the report said, “so long as the land use is established in accordance with the County Code and continues to operate within the boundaries of the permit or other approval.
“Once vested, land uses and related permits run with the land. The County Code provides procedures for permit revocation and nuisance abatement.”
The commission will revisit the matter at its Thursday, Aug. 13 meeting. County staff is expected to have new exhibits and asked-for changes at that time. The plan is to go through the document, section by section, and, given the amount of interest, it’s unclear if that can be done within just one more meeting.