By Cheri Rae
Santa Barbara is known as a great place to vacation. I’ve only lived here, worked here, raised a family here, and tried to contribute to the community that’s given so much to me: A beautiful natural setting, cultural and historic resources, great amenities and a fine neighborhood where I feel like I belong.
Except now, when it’s so commonplace to encounter an ever-changing population of strangers who rent out nearby bungalows and enjoy their Santa Barbara vacations in private homes far from their own homes. One place is frequented by a fair number of hot-tub revelers who, judging from their crude comments and wild behavior, might be better suited for a stay at a no-tell motel than at a Vacation Rental By Owner with a cute name. That one also allows dogs who typically bark all day and night when their owners are out seeing the sights and enjoying entertainment venues.
But for the most part these well-heeled Vacation Renters of Homes in the Neighborhood are pretty quiet folks who typically arrive in luxury cars or by taxi, walk to town for some shopping, and hang around the house, spending plenty of cash for their few days or even a week relaxing most of the day—just as vacationers do in fine hotels and increasingly, in private homes around the world.
What’s unnerving is for those of us who aren’t on vacation dealing with those who are.
As I work on my research, or type out a story, I sometimes gaze out the window, and cannot help but notice the couples decked out in their resort wear, sipping cool drinks as they while away the hours seated in the Adirondack chairs placed for their relaxation on the nicely appointed porch. They read, use their laptops and clearly enjoy themselves. Must be nice.
Yet, I can’t help but feel guilty going about daily life in front of them, interrupting their vacation idyll in their Home Away from Home as I go about the mundane tasks that must be done: picking up the mail, pulling weeds on the parkway, sweeping the sidewalk, bringing in groceries, taking out the trash and recycling. Who wants to be reminded about what you’ve taken a vacation to get away from?
The city ordinance that prohibits these short-term vacation rentals is a joke, with city officials claiming that the only way to enforce it is for neighbors to make a complaint—and even city council members intimidated into silence about the issue. I’m not about to turn in my neighbors for making an extra buck—some financing their own vacations by turning their homes into hotels.
The truth is that the more who get away with it, the more get into it—at least it’s a growth industry in our community. But this freelance lodging practice rips-off the city’s professional hotel industry, deprives the city of the proper amount of bed taxes. Yes, I know that some of these homeowners do charge Transient Occupancy Taxes and pay the city for their unpermitted short-term rentals—which the city happily collects while looking the other way at enforcement.
And there’s another reality to these unregulated rentals: It removes much needed “workforce housing” stock from being available to residents, while also introducing a sense of disquieting unpredictability when neighbors turn into clientele who check in and out, which doesn’t do much of anything to improve the lives of those who reside in the neighborhood all year long.