Nearly every part of Monterey County’s coastal zone – which falls under the jurisdiction of the California Coastal Commission – lies within District 5, represented by longtime Supervisor Dave Potter.
Within that district over the last few years, there has been no issue more divisive than short-term rentals, and how the county should regulate them.
And though the County Board of Supervisors approved a countywide short-term rental ordinance in 1997, the Coastal Commission rejected the section pertaining to the coastal zone and sent it back to the county for adjustments. The county, instead, let it collect dust, and the ordinance was never certified.
But in recent years, as complaints from residents increased, the county began issuing fines and sending cease-and-desist letters to short-term rental operators, which they and their proponents see as unfair, given that an ordinance had already been passed, if not certified.
The county then released a draft ordinance in March 2014, which drew ire from both sides for being either too restrictive, or not restrictive enough. The draft ordinance died a slow death, and in early 2015, Potter created a working group with stakeholders from both sides in hopes of reaching consensus.
More than a year later, there is still no new draft ordinance, and some short-term rental operators blame Potter.
“My perception is that Dave Potter has come in for us a day late and a dollar short,” says Fred Philippi, who retired to Big Sur in 2013.
Philippi says he spent about $200,000 to renovate his home and has been operating a short-term rental there since early 2015 to recoup his expenses. But that hope died March 1, when he received a letter from the county that said his rental violated county code.
Since he spent 20 years as a monk at the New Camaldoli Hermitage in Lucia in the ’60s and ’70s, Philippi had dreamed of getting back to Big Sur. But now that he’s here, he says he has to leave: He put his house on the market two weeks ago, and hosted his last guests over Memorial Day weekend. He says that without the rental, his monthly expenses now exceed his income.
Carmel Valley resident Margaret Robbins, who was part of the county’s working group, doesn’t believe Potter has been part of the problem.
“I think he’s done a good job,” she says. “When there’s a complicated thing, and you’re dealing with an entire county, it’s not as simple as passing an ordinance in a city.”
Potter says any allegations that he has slowed the draft ordinance are false, and likely linked to the upcoming District 5 supervisor election June 7. He insists he wants an ordinance sooner than later: “I want to get my hands on the transient occupancy taxes,” he says.
The final working group meeting was May 11, and because of a packed schedule, the County Planning Commission won’t have a workshop on the subject until July. Melanie Beretti, a program manager with the county who led the working group meetings, says the hope is to get a draft ordinance before the Planning Commission by year’s end.
In the meantime, to ease the plight of operators like Philippi, Potter says he asked county counsel a few weeks ago about the legality of holding off on enforcing the current ban.