City criticizes Winters Express over claims of inaccuracies

Members of the Planning Commission took issue with elements of the newspaper’s coverage in a news article and an opinion piece.

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This newspaper’s coverage of an ordinance proposal that would regulate short-term vacation rentals like Airbnbs in Winters came under fire at the July 23 Planning Commission meeting.

Two members of the commission claimed recent content pertaining to the ordinance contained factual inaccuracies and mischaracterizations. The planning commission voted to finalize its ordinance proposal, now headed to the city council, at their last meeting June 28.

Commissioner Gregory Contreras criticized a July 15 news article about the final public hearing and vote on the ordinance, of which he was the sole nay vote. Contreras claimed the article’s characterization of the conversation around the decision to prohibit use of accessory dwelling units (ADUs) for short-term vacation rentals was inaccurate.

Commissioners had disagreed over whether the Airbnb ordinance could allow use of ADUs for transient occupants—those staying less than 30 days—which is not allowed under state law that grants leniencies to ADUs as a means to alleviate the housing crisis. In a motion to finalize the ordinance, Commissioner Lisa Baker had excluded ADUs to adhere to California law, but Contreras said the article mischaracterized commissioners’ debate over the city’s agency in the matter.

“We had a pretty robust conversation in particular how it pertained to ADUs,” Contreras said. “The rationale in the article was not the rationale given in the meeting.” Contreras maintained that the decision to prohibit ADUs for short-term rentals was under the purview of individual jurisdictions. Contreras did not respond to a request to clarify the discrepancy.

Chairman Paul Myer directed his criticism mainly at the July 17 opinion piece “Short-term vacation rentals and growth.” Myer said the guest column in question, which was critical of the reasoning behind the ordinance and the drafting process itself, included factual inaccuracies.

Myer addressed the column’s criticism of the drafting process’s length, as well as multiple delays it faced this spring.

“It referred to the fact that we worked on this for a year and that somehow meant it was a weak process, but to me, that means we did a good job,” Myer said. “We chewed on it, staff chewed on it. We actually got up to the finish line and property owners showed up and wanted to talk about it so we delayed it. All that is what gives good ordinances.”

He also questioned the author’s assertion that prior reporting had “debunked” the idea that unregulated Airbnbs created noise disturbances in Winters neighborhoods, saying the author’s source did not resolve the issue.

The author also included Winters Police Department data to refute the city’s claim, though the column did not specify that the data pertained to only two of the active Airbnbs in Winters at the time of the query.

Finally, Myer said the column missed the point of the ordinance, which he said was to regulate commercial uses of properties in areas zoned for residential use.

“The writer overlooks what is discussed as the absolute viewpoint of the ordinance, which is that these are businesses conducted in residential neighborhoods […] and the ordinance is needed to protect the owners and renters who live there full time from having their peaceful use of their homes disturbed by these businesses by having an unmanaged hotel in their area,” Myer said.

“The ordinance, I believe, helps with that. Anyway, he either forgotten any of the known points or he chose to leave them out. Only he knows that.”

The author has maintained that his article contained no factual inaccuracies. No complaints of inaccuracies had been received by the Express editorial staff over the course of this newspaper’s coverage or since the opinion piece was published.

Earlier in July, city council members criticized this newspaper’s coverage of a real estate developer’s controversial proposal to create a specific plan for residential properties in the city’s North Area, including annexation of land outside city limits, calling it inaccurate and misleading.

The city will host a North Area Planning workshop Wednesday, Aug. 21 to address public concerns about city planning issues.

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