New San Juan County Council will have eyes on vacation rental reforms | Guest column

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Submitted by the Vacation Rental Work Group

After conducting interviews with all four candidates running for District 1 and 2 San Juan County Council seats, the Vacation Rental Work Group is cautiously optimistic that vacation rental reform measures will be given long-awaited attention when the new Council members take their seats in early 2021.

“It is gratifying to see Christine Minney, Ryan Palmateer, Cindy Wolf, and incumbent Rick Hughes expressing support for reforming current regulations on vacation rentals,” VRWG Vice-chair Lisa Byers said. “But we are not celebrating. There is no assurance that the Planning Commission or the County Council will get this done — no matter who holds office.”

Orcas attorney Jeni Barcelos agreed, adding, “We have provided the county with eight specific ideas. Each of them was derived from existing laws and ordinances that have been successfully implemented in other towns and cities across the [United States] and abroad. Many have withstood legal challenges. The VR issue is not new, and San Juan County is not at the forefront. Our county has absolutely nothing to fear. Now is the time to install fair and reasonable limits to what has become a seminal issue before our island community, and to back it up with funding and enforcement. Without question, now is the time.”

Likely to be a priority for the new Council are proposals to place an upper limit or cap on the number of VR permits in the county and an enforcement provision requiring revocation of a permit following “three strikes’ or validated complaints. Both are “deceptively simple” in the eyes of the VRWG, but the “devil is in the details.” Exactly for these reasons, the VRWG has offered to convene a community-based forum or task force to assist the county’s analysis.

“Our county economy is opening up responsibly and we are grateful for that,” VRWG Chair Yonatan Aldort said. “But we are in danger of finding ourselves right where we were last year, facing the prospect of another travel season for which the county is ill-prepared. We cannot let bureaucratic inaction threaten our unique and cherished island quality of life. The county must act with all the focus and skill it can muster.”

The VRWG has presented the county with an initial proposal including specific language for regulatory relief. View the initial proposal at bit.ly/34Q9DsK.

The VRWG has compiled the responses of all four candidates into a “Scorecard” which summarizes their responses to each of the eight-points of consideration. View the scorecard at https://bit.ly/3nEauFe.

Links to the candidates’ full comments are as follows:

Rick Hughes: https://bit.ly/34Eudfq

Christine Minney: https://bit.ly/3nytiG9

Ryan Palmateer: https://bit.ly/3dgz3Dl

Cindy Wolf: https://bit.ly/30VZuJQ

In 2019, the VRWG and the Eastsound and Deer Harbor Plan Review Committees’ advisory panels requested a moratorium on new vacation rental permits. Such a moratorium would serve only to buy time for consideration of substantive reforms, but thus far the county has failed to act.

The VRWG initiated an on-line petition in support of the moratorium that has in excess of 2,800 signatories.