Airbnbs and other short-term vacation rentals into two categories: Hosted and non-hosted. Hosted short-terms rentals would involve homes and other residences where the host regularly lives on the premises, while non-hosted rentals involve homes where the property owner or manager rents out the property on a regular basis while living somewhere else. Under the proposed ordinance — details of which were still being worked out at the April meeting — both hosted and non-hosted short-term rental operators would be required to apply for a business license and use permit with city officials. Commissioners had hoped to have a finalized version of the ordinance passed at the April meeting, but were unable to take formal action because a public notice was not published ahead of last week’s meeting. No one on the planning commission blamed anyone for the lack of a public notice, but in an email last week, City Manager John Donlevy said the vote was delayed because “the Winters Express failed to publish the notice we sent.” On Monday, Express publisher Taylor Buley said the newspaper “did not receive this particular notice, to my knowledge” and said he believed the issue stemmed from “email-related problems.” Buley, who also serves as the chief technology officer for Express parent company McNaughton Newspapers, said he was not aware of email issues “on the Express side” and that the newspaper continues to rely “on a process where all advertisements are booked, previewed and confirmed” before the newspaper’s editorial deadline on Mondays. In a message sent to Express staffers on April 10, City Clerk Tracy Jensen said she emailed the public notice to an advertising address used by the newspaper and expressed frustration that she would have to explain to commissioners why “once again…this item on the agenda cannot be heard as planned.” It was unclear if there were previous issues with public notices not appearing in the newspaper. Jensen and Donlevy did not return a request from an Express reporter to forward a copy of the email message sent to the newspaper’s advertising department. Whatever the reason, commissioners expressed disapproval over not being able to vote on the measure last week, with Commission Chair Paul Myer using the word “unfortunately” four times in his opening remark to describe the lack of notice and its impact on delaying action ahead of a crucial commission-imposed voting deadline. “This will most likely, unfortunately, move whenever the council comes up with until after the summer, which is detrimental to the City of Winters, unfortunately,” Myer said. That perspective appears largely based on the idea that the council would have taken up the matter before the Independence Day holiday, the unofficial start of the summer season when commissioners complain Airbnb and other short-term vacation rentals draw noisy guests who create a variety of public nuisances. Last week, for the first time in a public setting, one resident who lived near an Airbnb rental offered testimony that suggested a deepening problem with annoying vacation rental guests. “I could have called the cops maybe seven or 10 times, but you try not to get too involved in that, about how I don’t want to be in the newspaper or anything like that,” resident Jose Banuelos said. He argued people treated the Airbnb in his neighborhood as if it were a hotel where they could “let loose and get loud,” but admitted guests generally lower the noise output when he requests they do so. In email exchanges with city officials, Commission Chair Myer and Commissioner Patrick Riley have also complained about similarly noisy vacation rental homes in their neighborhoods, both saying they’ve called the police several times because of rowdiness and other problems. But the testimony of all three individuals doesn’t comport with data released by the Winters Police Department following a request by the Express last month. That data shows just four calls to police last year, a significantly lower number than the collective dozen alleged by commission members and one resident who spoke at last week’s meeting. Of the four calls to police, only one occurred in a summer month, contradicting claims by commissioners that short-term vacation rentals are at their worst during that season. In an email to the Express, Riley said he was unsure “how many police calls have been made, so I will have to trust the police.” He said he does not expect to be present at the upcoming May commission meeting and will not be voting on the issue. On Friday, Myer told the Express he does not plan to recuse himself from the issue because “personally hearing from my neighbors about how an AirBnB home has disrupted their daily lives is not a basis to recuse myself.” “I feel that every resident who either owns or rents a house long term in Winters has a right to expect to be able to peacefully and quietly enjoy that home,” Myer said. “Unmanaged and unregulated short term rentals can disrupt that enjoyment now and in the future. That is why many cities have already enacted short term rental ordinances and why I believe Winters should do so as well.” Myer said he anticipates Airbnb operations in Winters will grow over the years and that he did not see that as a bad thing but wanted to ensure city officials had the ability to keep those businesses orderly and collect taxes from those operators. He said he could “only speculate on a variety of things” that would cause a disparity between anecdotal evidence and police calls for service, but that he understood from conversations with his neighbors that “a short term rental property can create serious problems and that without an ordinance to regulate these businesses that the City lacks reasonable tools to solve these problems.” Sandy Vickrey, one of the dozen or so residents who lists a home for short-term rental on Airbnb, said she wasn’t convinced that a problem existed in Winters that necessitated a formal regulation on businesses like hers. She said the ordinance proposed “at least 10 different requirements” that were not imposed on rental properties in the city. “If you’re having problems with the people who are staying next to you, I would encourage you to contact the owner and every time you’ve had a problem I would go down and say my neighbor had to complain, my neighbor had to call the police department,” Vickrey said at the commission meeting. “I would love to have the opportunity to sit down and talk with any and all of you…I don’t really feel we have a crunch to do this by May and do this by the summer season.” Vickrey said while she pays transient occupancy tax to operate the Airbnb in town, expecting non-hosted short-term rental operators to pay high fees was “an awful lot of money.” City officials had estimated those one-time fees for non-hosted applicants could reach $1,800. “There’s a fine line between this hosted and non-hosted, it’s not a black and white thing, and I’m feeling the $1800 is an exorbitant amount of money,” Vickrey said. Commissioners are expected to vote on the issue at their next scheduled meeting in May.
Correction: A version of this article that appeared in print said Commission Chair Myer used the word “unfortunate” four times in his opening remarks on the Airbnb ordinance. The word he used four times was “unfortunately.” Additionally, an earlier version of this story said Myer did not respond to an inquiry from the Express on the topic; a subsequent review of email correspondence showed the reporter covering the issue sent the message to the wrong email address. Myer offered his thoughts on the Airbnb issue and police data on Friday; the article was updated Friday afternoon to include his comments on the subject.]]>