The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors has voted to change vacation rental regulations, creating a cap on the number allowed and excluding them entirely from certain zones.

The item will now return for a second reading before the board, and if approved, would go into effect 30 days later.

Sonoma County has had to weigh tourism dollars against problems associated with an increase in vacation rentals. Sleepy communities can become jammed with cars that park overnight and take up space, not to mention raucous groups with boisterous children or inebriated partygoers.

The supervisors on Monday approved creating a business licensing program that standardizes operating requirements for vacation rentals in an effort to protect neighbors from nuisances they may bring, such as noise or parking issues. Occupancy caps on the number of people who can stay at a property at a time will also be put in place.

Neighbors would also be notified any time a vacation rental license is issued or renewed.

A dozen guests, one parking space

The new business license program limits occupancy based on the number of bedrooms in a rental or its septic capacity, with no more than 12 guests allowed regardless of the size of the home.

Parking standards are also more defined under the new ordinance and owners of rentals would be allowed to offer only one space for on-street parking. Properties will be subject to periodic inspections for maintaining defensible space in case of fire, as well.

Vacation rental owners would also be required to resolve any complaints within 30 minutes in the evening and within an hour during the day.

Last October, Sonoma County opened a hotline for complaints from annoyed neighbors of people who rent out their homes, apartments or other lodgings.

Vacation rental owners would be required to resolve any complaints within 30 minutes in the evening and within an hour during the day.

Neighbors could already complain to the home-share sites such as Airbnb or Vrbo, but the county established its own way to lodge complaints in a bid to resolve issues of noise, nuisance or other things faster than through the giant online companies.

The county went one step further by limiting one business license per person and limiting ownership of vacation rentals to “natural persons” or family trusts, so no LLCs or corporate ownerships.

In anticipation of the county’s moratorium on new vacation rentals ending on May 9, the board also voted to expedite rezoning by placing caps and exclusion zones in neighborhoods with a high concentration of vacation rentals. Those areas include Fitch Mountain outside of Healdsburg, Hughes Chicken Colony near the city of Sonoma and Austin Creek near Guernewood Park, the county said.

Public meetings planned

More community meetings are scheduled for residents to give further feedback about the changes, beginning with meetings in Guerneville, Monte Rio and Forestville in July and August. The county said the meetings are an opportunity for residents to tailor restrictions to individual neighborhoods.

The board on Monday also voted to define short-term use of “fractionally owned” residences as timeshare use, which is only allowed in certain districts. The county said this is to preserve housing for long-term residents and to limit commercial, visitor-serving land uses in residential areas.

Fractionally owned properties are defined as a real estate asset such as a condominium, vacation property or house that is owned by several individuals.

Katy St. Clair got her start in journalism by working in the classifieds department at the East Bay Express during the height of alt weeklies, then sweet talked her way into becoming staff writer, submissions editor, and music editor. She has been a columnist in the East Bay Express, SF Weekly, and the San Francisco Examiner. Starting in 2015, she begrudgingly scaled the inverted pyramid at dailies such as the Vallejo Times-Herald, The Vacaville Reporter, and the Daily Republic. She has her own independent news site and blog that covers the delightfully dysfunctional town of Vallejo, California, where she also collaborates with the investigative team at Open Vallejo. A passionate advocate for people with developmental disabilities, she serves on both the Board of the Arc of Solano and the Arc of California. She lives in Vallejo.