Short-term Rentals and the Big Sur Coast LCP, January 2018 study by Dr. Charles Lester, Former Executive Director of the California Coastal Commission

Link to the full report: STRs in Big Sur, Lester to Wright, 1.8.18

[Note that the highlighted areas apply equally to Carmel Highlands]


The BSLUP and IP strictly limit new development, including instituting a cap of 300 new visitor-serving units (inns, lodges, RV spaces), excluding low-intensity camping. In conjunction with many other environmental regulations, the cap supports the primary goal of the LCP to protect the world-class aesthetic, environmental and recreational values of Big Sur. Maintaining the capacity of Highway 1 for its primary visitor-serving, recreational function was a critical factor in the development of the LCP. The goal of the LCP is thus to maximize visitor-serving and recreational land uses within the limits of the environment and carrying capacity of Highway 1.

STRs are not specifically referenced as a visitor-serving land use in the BSLUP or IP. In addition, the LCP limits development in residential zones to residential land uses, to “protect residents from unwanted intrusion by other incompatible activities and because neither available vacant land, water, nor roads are adequate to support more intensive uses.” Finally, the LCP contains policies and ordinances to both limit new residential development, and protect affordable housing, particularly for those working in the Big Sur visitor-serving economy.

Considering the certified LCP and the high sensitivity and importance of Big Sur’s coastal resources, any consideration of STRs in Big Sur should ideally occur through a comprehensive update of the LCP for Big Sur, but should at least include an updated review of STR development trends, potential resource impacts and use conflicts, and service capacity limitations, especially the capacity of Highway 1 to support expanded visitor-serving use. This review should include an evaluation of both the supply and demand for overnight visitor-serving uses and their impacts on coastal resources; and the current and projected capacity of Highway 1, including updated traffic counts and origin-destination analyses. This recommendation is consistent with recent Coastal Commission guidance that acknowledges the need to address the potential impacts of STRs taking into account local context:

… 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 traff ic impacts. 8’e 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.'”