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SLO Council scraps vacation rental ban, postpones everything else 

After nearly four hours of seesaw debate during a jam-packed Nov. 12 special meeting, the San Luis Obispo City Council agreed on only one thing: They had to axe the city’s catchall ban on vacation rentals.

In a unanimous vote, the council agreed to temporarily suspend enforcement of a municipal code ordinance that prohibits all vacation rentals—“a dwelling or part thereof where lodging is furnished for compensation for fewer than 30 consecutive days”—within city limits.

Whatever ordinance might take the ban’s place remains to be seen.

With Mayor Jan Marx absent on doctor’s orders, the remaining four council members bickered over almost every detail at hand, and left much of the actual policymaking to the city staff and posterity.

Kurt Friedmann, a spokesperson for SLO Hosts—a local group of residents that’s lobbied the council to change the ordinance—said the action was still a “definite victory” for the group. Dozens of SLO Hosts members and supporters celebrated outside the council chambers after the meeting adjourned.

Though all four council members expressed support for allowing “home stays”—the type of vacation rental backed by SLO Hosts, where the homeowner and short-term renter occupy the residence simultaneously—they diverged on the specifics of how to implement such a change.

Vice Mayor Kathy Smith said it would be appropriate for the city general fund to cover the estimated $11,795 cost of changing the city’s zoning text to accommodate home stays, whereas council members John Ashbaugh and Carlyn Christianson (along with the city staff) thought at least some, if not all, of the cost should be covered by SLO Hosts.

On another front, Ashbaugh advocated for mandatory inspections and pricey administrative use permits for would-be home stays, which Smith roundly rejected. Christianson wanted to maintain the vacation rental ban exclusively in low density residential neighborhoods, which all of her fellow council members denounced.

After it became obvious that a decisive conclusion—beyond the unanimous vote to nix the broad ban—would be elusive, the council passed a stopgap resolution on a 3-1 vote. That resolution instructed the city staff to draft a new or amended home stay-friendly ordinance in the coming months, which will be subject to further debate and revision.

Councilman Dan Carpenter cast the dissenting vote, on the grounds that, in narrowly advocating for only home stays, the council was discriminating against vacation rentals where owners may be absent. Carpenter said he supported completely repealing the ban and not replacing it with any other ordinance—allowing all types of vacation rentals to function in San Luis Obispo.

“I don’t know about your plan, Dan,” Smith said, with a raised eyebrow.

All of the other council members said they wouldn’t support legalizing vacation rentals with absentee owners.

Of the more than 100 people who packed the council chambers, a solid majority sported pro-SLO Hosts stickers, which were designed to resemble a welcome mat. Twenty-five people spoke during public comment on the vacation rental item, and all but five were in favor of SLO Hosts and home stays.

SLO Hosts supporter Pete Evans derided the city’s “arbitrary and capricious ban on short-term rentals,” which he said was “based on ridiculous fears.”

In contrast, Residents for Quality Neighborhoods representative Sandra Rowley warned that “allowing the exception proposed by SLO Hosts would be just the tip of a very large iceberg” and that the “consequences would be handed down to the neighborhoods.”

Though Smith was itching for immediate action on a new or amended ordinance, Assistant City Manager Michael Codron said that city community development staffers are currently overbooked.

Codron said staffers would draft the ordinance in a “matter of months” after first attending to more pressing items.

Mayor Marx had asked that the council hold off on making any vacation rental decisions until her return, but the council unanimously agreed to proceed without her.

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