29 Palms Limits Vacation Rentals To 500 Of Its 5,797 Units

The Twentynine Palms City Council this week set an 8.525 percent cap on how many of the city’s housing units can be utilized as vacation rentals.
In Twentynine Palms, as in a handful of other communities throughout San Bernardino County such as Lake Arrowhead, Big Bear Lake, Needles and Yucca Valley – out-of-the way and what some might call exotic spots that can serve as a quick getaway for that portion of the Southern California populace seeking a respite from urban existence – large numbers of vacationers or those intent on a relaxing weekend have demonstrated themselves as willing to pay top dollar to lease a house, apartment, condominium, cabin or even a trailer for a month or two or a week or just two or three days.
On occasion, especially when alcohol or recreational drugs are involved, the civility of some vacationers leaves something to be desired, which can be onerous to their temporary neighbors. In some cases, quarters that are intended for a few people or a family or two is called upon to accommodate several dozen. That brings with it issues such as noise, overburdened parking space and compliance with rudimentary laws. On rare occasions, with no warning a rave-like event manifests in a place ill-suited for it, and things can quickly rage out of hand.
Accordingly, over the last several years, the county has moved to put regulations into place regarding short term rentals in its unincorporated areas, ones that involved evolving and steepening fines imposed on the owners of those rental properties that now range from penalties of $1,000 for the first offense, $2,000 for the second offense and $5,000 for the third offense falling within a 12-month period.
In Big Bear, where many landowners make good money off the tourist trade, tension has developed between some of the residents who permanently live in the city and city officials, who sought to stay on the good side of the city’s wealthier property owners by approving an ordinance that imposes modest fines but little more on those responsible for nuisances on short-term rental properties. Owners of resorts and hotels as well as homes rented out year-round to visitors do not want any municipal ordinances that will discourage outsiders from coming to Big Bear Lake to ski or water ski or fish or hike or boat on the lake. In reaction, a sizable contingent of Big Bear Lake residents embarked on an effort to bypass the city council and ultimately gathered a sufficient number of signatures on a petition to place on the October 2022 ballot an initiative calling for a limit on the number of vacation rentals in the city.
In Yucca Valley, the town put into place an ordinance requiring the owners of short-term rental units to purchase a $270 permit every two years and pay the same taxes imposed on hotels. Permit fees are used to fund the cost of the town hiring a private company to monitor the properties, enforce codes and deal with complaints relating to the properties emanating from neighbors.
In Twentynine Palms, officials over the last several months took up the issue of updating the municipal code relating to vacation home rentals.
The 28,065-population city lies adjacent to a Marine Corps Base. Some of its housing stock is used by the families of Marines stationed at the base. At the same time, tourists interested in Joshua Tree National Monument find Twentynine Palms a good place to stay, such that they can leave their rented temporary residence in the morning, explore the desert wonderland during the day, and return to comfort by nightfall.
Many homes, which were previously rented to those who resided in the city, are now monopolized by temporary renters, who are willing to pay higher rents on the short term than the permanent residents can afford.
The city council three months ago called upon the planning commission to look into the issue and make a recommendation.
Commissioners Leslie Paahana, Jason Dickson and Max Walker were all in favor of capping the number of vacation rentals the city will allow and seemed intent on limiting that number to somewhere near one-tenth of the 5,797 houses in the city. Commissioner Jim Krushat entertained the concept of limiting the rentals, but expressed a preference for a limitation closer to 20 percent. Commissioner Greg Mendoza has said he does not think it is the city’s place to engage in such regulation and that the free market should determine who will rent short-term or long-term. Meanwhile, large numbers of residents have lobbied for a 5 percent cap.
Chairwoman Paahana at a March 1 meeting pushed for a cap of 10 percent, which would have levied a restriction of 578 vacation units. Krushat countered with a 19 percent proposal, or 1,101. At that point, the council majority indicated it would likely recommend a compromise of 12 percent, or 696. They postponed, however, making a final recommendation.
They were scheduled to meet again on April 6. The meeting was held, but Pahaana and Dickson were absent. At one point during the discussion, concern was expressed that limiting vacation rentals would result in an escalation of rental rates, which might redound to the detriment of long-term renters in the city. As Walker was the only advocate of the 12 percent compromise present, translating into roughly 695 units, the trio of Walker, Krushat and Mendoza were unable to come to a consensus.
An ad hoc committee, including members of the council, planning commission and public, had recommended several changes to the ordinance governing short-term rentals. The committee recommended a doubling of fines for disturbance and safety violations at rentals to $500 for the first violation, $1,000 for the second and $2,000 for the third within a 12-month period.
A city staff report pegged the number of active permitted vacation home rental units in the city at 264 and the number of inactive permitted vacation home rental units at 61. In addition there are 122 pending applications for vacation home rental permits. Thus, it would appear that the city officially has 447 short term rental units in place at present. Anecdotally, however, reports are that some homes are being rented or leased out on an abbreviated basis without being registered with the city.
Astrid Johnson, the president of the Morongo Basin ARCH Coalition to Align Resources and Challenge Homelessness, said the massive transition of permanent rental units in Twentynine Palms to temporary ones was having the effect of throwing families out onto the streets.
“There are not enough houses available for people who are becoming homeless,” she said.
Wayne Hamilton, who is employed with the Morongo Unified School District, said that families with school age children are losing their abodes to temporary visitors to the city.
There were some individuals who have invested money in purchasing real estate in Twentynine Palms with the expectation of being able to rent the properties out on a short-term basis. Most of those were reluctant to speak out, but privately said they hoped the city would adopt a cap that would allow them to continue to function.
Krushat, who enunciated the belief that ideally caps should not be used and that the free market should predominate, nevertheless said he would accept a cap of 19 percent or 20 percent. When the sentiment of the city council appeared to be drifting toward imposing a cap, Krushat said he thought the city should limit property owners to two or three licenses each.
Ultimately, in response to Councilman Joel Klink’s motion, the council unanimously set a 500-unit cap on the number of homes that can serve as short term rentals and a five-unit-per-entity limit to, Klink said, keep corporate interests out of the local rental market.
The limits are to remain in place until after the 2030 census is conducted.
-Mark Gutglueck

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