Coastal Commission Guidance Letters

There are three letters from the Coastal Commission below in reverse chronological order.  The last letter includes a negative declaration on dubious grounds as applied to Monterey.

Letter from Steve Kinsey




SAN FRANCISCO, CA 94105- 2219 VOICE (415) 904- 5200
FAX ( 415) 904- 5400
TDD (415) 597-5885

December 6, 2016

TO: Coastal Planning/Community Development Directors SUBJECT: Short-Term/Vacation Rentals in the California Coastal Zone

Dear Planning/Community Development Director:

Your community and others state and nationwide are grappling with the use of private residential areas for short-term overnight accommodations. This practice, commonly referred to as vacation rentals (or short-term rentals), has recently elicited significant controversy over the proper use of private residential stock within residential areas. Although vacation rentals have historically been part of our beach communities for many decades, the more recent introduction of online booking sites has resulted in a surge of vacation rental activity, and has led to an increased focus on how best to regulate these rentals.

The Commission has heard a variety of viewpoints on this topic. Some argue that private residences should remain solely for the exclusive use of those who reside there in order to foster neighborhood stability and residential character, as well as to ensure adequate housing stock in the community. Others argue that vacation rentals should be encouraged because they often provide more affordable options for families and other coastal visitors of a wide range of economic backgrounds to enjoy the California coastline. In addition, vacation rentals allow property owners an avenue to use their residence as a source of supplemental income. There are no easy answers to the vexing issues and questions of how best to regulate short-term/vacation rentals. The purpose of this letter is to provide guidance and direction on the appropriate regulatory approach to vacation rentals in your coastal zone areas moving forward.

First, please note that vacation rental regulation in the coastal zone must occur within the context of your local coastal program (LCP) and/or be authorized pursuant to a coastal development permit (CDP). The regulation of short-term/vacation rentals represents a change in the intensity of use and of access to the shoreline, and thus constitutes development to which the Coastal Act and LCPs must apply. We do not believe that regulation outside of that LCP/CDP context (e.g., outright vacation rental bans through other local processes) is legally enforceable in the coastal zone, and we strongly encourage your community to pursue vacation rental regulation through your LCP.

The Commission has experience in this arena, and has helped several communities develop successful LCP vacation rental rules and programs (e.g., certified programs in San Luis Obispo and Santa Cruz Counties going back over a decade; see a summary of such LCP ordinances on our website at: ). We suggest that you pay particular attention to the extent to which any such regulations are susceptible to monitoring and enforcement since these programs present some challenges in those regards. I encourage you to contact your local district Coastal Commission office for help in such efforts.

Second, the Commission has not historically supported blanket vacation rental bans under the Coastal Act, and has found such programs in the past not to be consistent with the Coastal Act. In such cases the Commission has found that vacation rental prohibitions unduly limit public recreational access opportunities inconsistent with the Coastal Act. However, in situations where a community already provides an ample supply of vacation rentals and where further proliferation of vacation rentals would impair community character or other coastal resources, restrictions may be appropriate. In any case, we strongly support developing reasonable and balanced regulations that can be tailored to address the specific issues within your community to allow for vacation rentals, while providing appropriate regulation to ensure consistency with applicable laws. We believe that appropriate rules and regulations can address issues and avoid potential problems, and that the end result can be an appropriate balancing of various viewpoints and interests. For example, the Commission has historically supported vacation rental regulations that provide for all of the following:

  •  Limits on the total number of vacation rentals allowed within certain areas (e.g., by neighborhood, by community wide ratio, etc.).
  •  Limits on the types of housing that can be used as a vacation rental (e.g., disallowing vacation rentals in affordable housing contexts, etc.).
  •  Limits on maximum vacation rental occupancies.
  •  Limits on the amount of time a residential unit can be used as a vacation rental during a given time period.
  •  Requirements for 24-hour management and/or response, whether onsite or within a certain distance of the vacation rental.
  •  Requirements regarding onsite parking, garbage, and noise.
  •  Signage requirements, including posting 24-hour contact information, posting requirements and restrictions within units, and incorporating operational requirements and violation consequences (e.g., forfeit of deposits, etc.) in rental agreements.
  •  Payment of transient occupancy tax (TOT).
  •  Enforcement protocols, including requirements for responding to complaints and enforcing against violations of vacation rental requirements, including providing for revocation of vacation rental permits in certain circumstances.These and/or other provisions may be applicable in your community. We believe that vacation rentals provide an important source of visitor accommodations in the coastal zone, especially for larger families and groups and for people of a wide range of economic backgrounds. At the same time we also recognize and understand legitimate community concerns associated with the potential adverse impacts associated with vacation rentals, including with respect to community character and noise and traffic impacts. We also recognize concerns regarding the impact of vacation rentals on local housing stock and affordability. Thus, in our view it is not an ‘all or none’ proposition. Rather, the Commission’s obligation is to work with local governments to accommodate vacation rentals in a way that respects local context. Through application of reasonable enforceable LCP regulations on such rentals, Coastal Act provisions requiring that public recreational access opportunities be maximized can be achieved while also addressing potential concerns and issues.


    We look forward to working with you and your community to regulate vacation rentals through your LCP in a balanced way that allows for them in a manner that is compatible with community character, including to avoid oversaturation of vacation rentals in any one neighborhood or locale, and that provides these important overnight options for visitors to our coastal areas. These types of LCP programs have proven successful in other communities, and we would suggest that their approach can serve as a model and starting place for your community moving forward. Please contact your local district Coastal Commission office for help in such efforts.


    STEVE KINSEY, Chair California Coastal Commission

    Letter from Susan Craig

    Carl Holm, Director
    Monterey County Resource Management Agency 168 West Alisal Street, 2nd Floor
    Salinas, CA 93901

    Subject: Vacation Rentals

    Dear Mr. Holm:

    June 23, 2016

    We understand that the County is grappling with the use of private residences serving at times as visitor-serving overnight accommodations. This practice, commonly referred to as vacation rentals (or short-term rentals) has recently elicited controversy, not just in Monterey County but state and nationwide, over the proper use of private residences within residential areas. Some argue that private residences should remain solely for the exclusive use of those who reside there because this helps to foster neighborhood stability and residential community character. Others argue the opposite approach, in that vacation rentals should be encouraged because using residential properties for visitor accommodations is an efficient use of land and allows the property owner an avenue to use his or her residence as a source of supplemental income. These are not easy debates, and different areas and different contexts will lead to different conclusions in this respect.

    We offer the following observations on the vacation rental issue. The Coastal Act describes a hierarchy of encouraged land uses, with agriculture and coastal-dependent industry the highest priority uses to be accommodated within the state’s coastal zone, followed by “private lands suitable for visitor-serving commercial recreational facilities designed to enhance public opportunities for coastal recreation.”I The lowest priority uses are private residential, general industrial, and general commercial. Thus, the Coastal Act places a higher priority on the provision of visitor-serving uses, particularly overnight accommodations, over private residential uses because such visitor-serving uses offer a vehicle for the general public to access and recreate within the state’s coastal zone. At the same time, however, the Coastal Act also places a high priority on the protection of sensitive coastal resources, including public views, agricultural lands, environmentally sensitive habitat areas, and wetlands and streams. The Act also protects certain special communities that are popular visitor destination points for recreational uses, including certain coastal residential communities near popular shoreline recreational areas and beaches. Thus, the allowance for visitor overnight accommodations must be balanced with the Act’s other requirements, thereby requiring a nuanced approach to their regulation.

    Coastal Act Section 30222.

    Carl Holm, Monterey County Vacation Rentals
    June 23, 2016
    Page 2

    Thus, from our perspective, we continue to support allowing short-term vacation rentals within private residences as an important source of visitor accommodations in the coastal zone. These rentals can also offer lower-cost overnight opportunities, especially for larger families and groups. However, we also recognize and understand community concerns associated with the potential impacts of such vacation rentals, including with respect to community character and noise and traffic impacts. We also recognize concerns regarding vacation rentals within certain sensitive coastal resource areas, such as rural agricultural lands, which could result in uses incompatible with their location and surroundings.

    At this juncture it is our opinion that vacation rentals are allowable in Monterey County’s coastal zone under the LCP, and we highly recommend that instead of attempting to suggest they are prohibited or pursuing such prohibitions, that Monterey County instead work with us to develop regulations that serve to ensure Coastal Act-required protections are in place to address any potential concerns. I note that efforts along these lines were undertaken by the County back in 1997, but those efforts were apparently discontinued. We would suggest that now is an appropriate juncture to restart that effort. Commission staff has experience in working with local governments to draft and implement such regulations, including recent LCP requirements associated with vacation rentals for both Santa Cruz and San Luis Obispo Counties.2 In place of prohibitions, which the Commission has historically not supported,3 these coastal communities instead were able to find a balanced middle ground that helps to ensure that vacation rentals are regulated, including for transient occupancy tax and rules and regulations purposes, and limited as necessary to avoid oversaturation of such rentals in any one neighborhood or locale. These programs have proven successful in Santa Cruz and San Luis Obispo Counties, and we would suggest that their approach can serve as a model for Monterey County moving forward. We look forward to working with you on potential LCP language that meets Monterey County’s specific needs and coastal contexts consistent with the Coastal Act.

    Thank you for the opportunity to comment on this important issue. Please feel free to contact me with any questions or concerns.


    Susan Craig
    Central Coast District Manager California Coastal Commission

    Letter from Charles Lester

    February 20, 2015

    Commissioners and Interested Parties

    Charles Lester, Executive Director
    Alison Dettmer, Deputy Director
    Robert S. Merrill, North Coast District Manager James R, Baskin AICP, Coastal Planner

    Click here to go to original staff report

    SUBJECT: City of Trinidad LCP Amendment No. LCP-1-TRN-14-0846-1 (Vacation Dwelling Unit Ordinance) Meeting of March 11, 2015 in Chula Vista

    1. LCP Amendment Description A Discussion

    The City of Trinidad proposes to modify the Local Coastal Program (LCP) Implementation Plan

    (IP) to add a new Section 6.26 addressing the licensing of short term rental of single- and multi- family residences and accessory dwellings as “vacation dwelling units.” The amendment also includes changes to the coastal zoning ordinance’s signage and off-street parking sections pertaining to such vacation rentals. See Exhibit 1 for the proposed amendment text.

    There are currently no regulations in place in Trinidad specifically addressing the rental of residences to are a visitors for periods of 30 days or less.  Based on 2013-14 Transient Occupancy Tax receipts (and the likelihood of a couple of unlicensed facilities), City staff estimate that approximately 41 to 43 homes in Trinidad are currently being operated, at least on a part-time basis, as vacation rentals. Vacation rentals in the City have resulted in some resident complaints and concerns that such rentals negatively impact residents (i.e., excessive noise, traffic and parking congestion, etc.) At the same time, vacation rentals provide an important visitor-serving function that allows groups and families another option for overnight accommodations near beach and shoreline areas in Trinidad which currently has relatively few commercial overnight accommodations.

    In response to these complaints and concerns, the City embarked in 2012 on a planning process to develop a vacation rental ordinance intended to strike an appropriate balance between allowing for vacation rentals to foster the public’s ability to access and recreate on the coast by renting a coastal residence while imposing operational parameters to minimize adverse effects to long-term residents, The proposed amendment provides standards for the operation and enforcement of vacation rentals in a way that will also protect coastal resources, including public access and recreational opportunities, community character, the quality of coastal waters, and environmentally sensitive areas consistent with the requirements of the LCP’s Land Use Plan (LUP), the standard of review in this case.

    The proposed LCP amendment sets a numerical limit of one vacation rental unit per parcel, whether in the primary residential unit or in an accessory (second) dwelling, establishes maximum occupancies for the units based on the number of bedrooms and structural square- footage, and applies prescriptive standards with respect to off-street parking, exterior appearance of the units, emergency contact protocols, and noise and signage restrictions. The amendment would also change other existing zoning provisions addressing off-street parking and signage to ensure internal consistency of the IP. The ordinance also provides for reassessment of the adequacy of its provisions two years after certification and periodically thereafter.

    The amendment would further ensure that the use of residences as vacation rentals would not result in impacts to coastal water quality and biological resources. The ordinance imposes limits on water usage of VDUs to the average use levels typical of a long-term residential unit such that overtaxing of the onsite wastewater treatment system does not result. In addition, constructive notice of the presence of environmentally sensitive habitat areas, such as riparian corridors and streams, intertidal and rocky offshore areas, forests, and rare plant habitats, and suggested practices to ensure their protection while recreating on and near the VDU, and information are to be provided to the units’ renters, Moreover, information on the units’ dependence upon septic system based waste disposal is to be similarly posted.

    The proposed amendment does not change the kind, location, intensity, or density of use allowed under the LCP for several reasons. First, the amendment only addresses occupancy of residences by tourists for dwelling, lodging or sleeping purposes, which by definition, comprises a residential use. Vacation rentals would only be allowed in zoning districts where such residential uses are already allowed. Thus, a vacation dwelling unit use will only be established in existing homes or where the owner or operator could develop a residential use under the existing zoning.

    Second, the establishment of a residence for short-term vacation renting would not result in significant adverse impacts to coastal resources because existing LCP provisions that govern the appropriateness of residential use in the coastal zone would continue to serve to protect coastal resources including limitations on congestion affecting coastal access, protection of visual and scenic resources, avoidance and minimization of risks of exposure of persons and property to hazards, and prioritization of coastal-dependent, coastal-related, and other visitor-serving commercial uses, as part of the City’s coastal development permit process.

    Finally, the addition of standards as part of the LCP amendment will further protect coastal resources by requiring: (a) limits on water usage of VDUs and education of renters on septic system use to prevent the overtaxing of onsite wastewater treatment systems and protect water quality and biological resources; (b) provision of off-street parking to ensure no significant impact to public access parking results; and (c) education of renters of the need to protect adjacent sensitive habitats to minimize intrusion into such habitats.

    2. Minor LCP Amendment Determination Commission Review
    Pursuant to California Code of Regulations (CCR) Section 13555, the Executive Director may determine that a proposed LCP amendment is “minor.” CCR Section 13554 defines minor LCP amendments. Among other things, minor LCP amendments include:

    CCR Section13554(a).Changes in wording which make the use as designated in the zoning ordinances, zoning district maps or other implementing actions more specific and which do not change the kind, location, intensity, or density of use and which are found by the Executive Director of the Commission or the Commission to be consistent with the land use plan as certified by the Commission.

    The Executive Director has determined that the proposed LCP amendment is “minor” in nature under Sections 13554 and 13555 of the Commission’s regulations, as the amendment would not result in a change to the kind, density, or intensity of use of land in the affected area. The Executive Director has informed all interested parties by the mailing of this determination on February 20, 2015. The Commission will consider the Executive Director’s determination at the March 11, 2015 meeting in Chula Vista. At that time, the Executive Director will report to the Commission any objection to the determination that is received within ten working days of the posting of this notice. Anyone wishing to register an objection to the Executive Director’s determination that the proposed LCP amendment is “minor” should submit such objection to James Baskin at (707) 826-8950 at the Commission’s North Coast District Office in Arcata by March 6, 2015.

    The proposed minor amendment will be deemed approved and will become effective immediately unless one third of the appointed members of the Commission request that it be processed as a major LCP amendment (Public Resources Code section 30514(c); 14 CCR sections 13555(a) and 13547(c).

    3. California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA)

    On October 8, 2014, the City of Trinidad found the subject LCP amendment to be excepted from the requirements of CEQA as a combination of “Class 1” (minor alteration of existing private structures) and “Class 5″ (minor alterations in land use limitations not resulting in changes in land use density”) categorical exclusions [14 CCR $( 15301 2 15305]. The Coastal Commission’s review and development process for LCPs and LCP amendments has been certified by the Secretary of Resources as being the functional equivalent of the environmental review required by CEQA. This report has discussed the relevant coastal resource issues with the proposal, and has concluded that it is unnecessary for the Commission to suggest modifications to the proposed amendment because there are no additional feasible alternatives or mitigation measures that would substantially lessen any significant adverse impacts that would result from approval of the proposed amendment, as submitted.

    4. Staff Recommendation

    Staff recommends that the Commission concur with the Executive Director’s determination that the LCP amendment is minor.

    5. Additional Information

    For further information, please contact James Baskin at the North Coast District Office (707) 826-8950. Correspondence should be sent to the district office at the letterhead address.

    6. Exhibits (attached)

    Exhibit 1:

    Exhibit 2:

    City Ordinance No. 2014-01 —AnOrdinance o f the City of Trinidad Adding Section 17.56 to Title 17 of the Trinidad Municipal Code (Adding Section 6.26 to the Coastal Commission Certified Zoning Ordinance), and Amending Sections 1 7. 56. 160 and 1 7.56.180 of the Trinidad Municipal Code (A mending Sections 6.16and 6.18 of the Coastal Commission Certified Zoning Ordinance)
    City Resolution No. 2014-15 — Resolution of Transmittal

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