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Sonoma County supervisors extend moratorium on new vacation rentals

SANTA ROSA – Sonoma County supervisors on Monday rejected the pleas of more than a dozen homeowners and rental industry professionals and extended a moratorium on new permits for vacation rental homes for up to a year.

The board of supervisors voted 4 to 1 to extend the freeze on new permits, which was first issued on March 17. That followed a cap approved in August 2020, which already limited the number of permits being approved. 

Supervisor David Rabbitt was the only member who favored letting the moratorium expire, saying two years should have been enough to figure out the zoning scheme.

"Moratoriums are the nuclear option for land use," he said following the public comment period. He questioned how much progress had been made in the last 45 days.

He was the only one apparently swayed by the public's comments, which were capped at 30 minutes and took the allotted time. Thirteen people asked supervisors to end the moratorium, while just one speaker favored extending it.

Kim Murchie works in guest relations at Russian River Vacation Homes, and urged supervisors to let the permits continue to be processed. She asked the board to consider the jobs that the rental market brings to the county and said the moratorium will do nothing to stop illegal rentals.

"It's disappointing for several reasons," she said after supervisors voted to extend the moratorium. She said she believed supervisors had their minds made up and were not responsive to the public comments.

Several other speakers said they wondered whether they could retire or move as they had planned and questioned the legality of backdating the moratorium, which was passed May 10, but retroactively halted permits filed after March 17.

When invited to respond to those commenters, Sita Kuteira, deputy legal counsel for the county, told supervisors that having a permit approved is not a right and the agency is operating within the law.

But Murchie and other commenters said the process lacked transparency.

Now supervisors will have another year to consider new zoning requirements that will also address issues like parking and wildfire risks.

Bradley Dunn, spokesman for Permit Sonoma, said the moratorium was needed to prevent approving permits that could be in an area that is about to be rezoned, and because such a high number had been filed after supervisors delayed the rezoning decision until the report could be completed. 

A planning commission update is scheduled for Aug. 2. Supervisor Hopkins indicated the board could consider lifting the moratorium after that meeting, if new zoning rules are presented and then approved. 

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