This follows years of campaigning by a small group of local residents who live in the wealthier neighborhoods who have been calling for the City not just to restrict VRs but to ban them entirely and an off-shoot of that group is now seeking to place an outright ban on the City’s ballot in November.
So I was interested to learn that a new organization has been established to argue the case for Vacation Rentals and met with Shon Tomlin, who with Brian Wilson, Bruce Hoban and David Feltman has founded Vacation Rental Owners and Neighbors of Palm Springs (VRONPS), to find out more. Our interview lasted over an hour and started with me asking whether setting up a new organization was difficult.
“No, it’s not easy to do, at least not if you want make sure you’re in compliance with the State. There’s a lot of legalities around what you’re going to do and how you accept membership.”
"...most people who own a vacation rental are individuals like you and me"
“No, and a big part of why we created VRON-PS was a reaction to that depiction. In fact most people who own a vacation rental are individuals like you and me: retirees, young couples, single people, people who love Palm Springs but don’t have a trust-fund and aren’t loaded. They’re just regular hard-working Americans that wanted to experience Palm Springs and had a bit of extra money to buy a second home. In fact the vast majority of VR owners I know are people who said ‘I can’t afford a second home flat out but if I can off-set a little bit of that by renting’ I can have a home in Palm Springs. I’ve met these people. They’re not rich, they’re just regular people. A couple I met, the wife’s an ex-school teacher and the husband does some trade and they barely break-even renting their home. In fact, many VR owners don’t make a profit. So I wouldn’t call those people an industry, no.”
“First when you look at the list of permit-holders kept by the City, (publicly available information), the vast majority – probably well over 90% - are individuals. Very few are LLCs or corporation names.
Second, just anecdotally when you meet these people they’re that, just people. The data simply doesn’t support this idea that corporations have been buying up Palm Springs”.
WHY DO THIS?
“I’ll tell you my own story. A couple of years ago I became aware that people who were opposed to vacation rentals were raising issues about people partying, hundreds of red cups strewn in the streets, trash cans were overflowing with garbage, people were having DJs in the back yard, and my first reaction as a citizen and a neighbor and a human being was that that’s terrible – nothing about that sounds good, it’s someone abusing a privilege, and I thought if someone abuses a privilege then they shouldn’t have it. But I was also curious to know how widespread the problem was and did my own research into it using the data the City had. It turned out that around one per cent of all VR homes were receiving citations or notifications and of them about fifty were repeat offenders. So my take on it was that this was a simple problem to solve. The City knows where they are and the City has the wherewithal to revoke their privilege.
So, I got to understand the problem and the two sides on it and who was involved. In fact one organization, Protect Our Neighborhoods, initially sounded pretty moderate, as on their website they wrote that what they wanted was more regulation, but that’s not how things have evolved and it turns out that that wasn’t their interest and their interest in fact was to get rid of vacation rentals all together. So you had a very vocal group that wasn’t interested in compromise, or moderation, instead they’re interested in the concept of punish everybody.
VACATION RENTAL HOMEOWNERS WERE NOT INCLUDED
"...the most important group, the actual home-owners, were not included."
As the City got to the point of creating a new ordinance that would vastly increase the amount of rules and regulations there was uproar, from both sides, and in that process there were groups that represented vacation renters, but although VR management companies and realtors were meeting with and negotiating with the City the most important group, the actual home-owners, were not included. The most important stakeholders were absent from the discussion and although permits ask home-owners for their mailing and email addresses the City did not communicate with them to invite them – the people who would be most directly affected by their decisions - to participate. The City relied solely on the easiest group to discuss with, the vacation rental management companies and real estate groups. Maybe it was too much work for the City, but not including the most important stakeholders, the actual home owners, the people who renovated their homes, who spend time with their guests, greeting and advising them when they arrive – and a lot of home owners have that kind of hands on passion about their homes, their guests and Palm Springs – just wasn’t right.”
“No. I live in Palm Springs full-time and I live in the house I rent out and I had to be very proactive to learn what I learned on my own and I didn’t receive notifications of meetings going on and discussions taking place. Now if it was fifty years ago and some poor clerk had to send out letters to all home owners, but today there’s really no excuse for not informing people of something that is very important – for some people this is their nest egg, their 401K, their second home; these days it’s easy to send an email shot out.”
IMPACT OF THE NEW ORDINANCE
"...this just isn’t worth it for me any more and I simply can’t afford to do this..."
"...punishing a couple who’ve been renting their condo out for thirty years and have had no problems that’s just not right."
“Let me clarify first how things played out. There was an ordinance that was presented that was extremely restrictive and limiting for home-owners and one of the pro-vacation rental groups funded a petition to call for the ordinance to be revoked and that was successful but instead of the City pulling the ordinance they modified it making it even more restrictive so all of this effort resulted in an even worse ordinance, Ordinance 1918.
Now coming to your question about whether this harms people or could harm them in the future, it has some elements to it that are so excessive, over-reaching and impractical that it has already caused some people to say this just isn’t worth it for me any more and I simply can’t afford to do this, I don’t have the resources to do this, the logistics are unworkable – as an example if I have three couples staying at my home for the weekend, and couple A arrives at 5pm and couple B arrives at 9:30pm and couple C arrives the next morning, I or my manager has to be there each time to get them to sign a document – and there are simply elements that are impractical that seem designed to say “F You” to the home owners.
Ironically, these regulations don’t address the original problems that were presented by PON back in 2014 and 2015 about density, or DJs at pool parties.
There’s over one hundred and fifty rules and regulations stuffed into this ordinance. It’s over twenty four pages long! Some of it makes sense and is right but some of it is just unreasonable over-reaching, overly restrictive and impractical.
Another element is the fee increase, from about $25 to $900 a permit. For people who only rent their second home out occasionally to help off-set their HOAs or running expenses for instance combined with the all the hoops they have to jump through people have had to decide to walk away. Hiring a rental company to do it for them isn’t an option as many of these companies only represent properties that are available for renting most of the year and they charge anything from 25% and more of the gross income, which for people like that makes them completely uneconomical as well.
The point of the ordinance is to aggravate home-owners to the point that they just throw in the towel and that to me is the injustice of what’s happened. To me it’s OK to say we have to get rid of the homes that are throwing the parties or where the owner just doesn’t care who he’s renting to, but punishing a couple who’ve been renting their condo out for thirty years and have had no problems that’s just not right.
I believe there’s two sets of people.
There’s a group of people who want limits on vacation rentals because they genuinely have experienced problems and bad situations, people who are sick and tired of living next to a house where the owner does not screen the guests, there’s parking issue and so on, but to me those are fixable problems.
Then I believe there’s another group that does not want vacation rentals to exist in any form, but to make their case they have to come up with creatively come up with their stories and reasons but what happens is that when we address their concerns like noise, numbers of people or cars they reveal their true intentions as then they say we want them gone altogether. They are disingenuous. They aren’t really after having those problems fixed. They should really have said from day one: “I don’t like you. I don’t like strangers in this town. I don’t agree with vacation rentals and I want them out”.
COULD THERE REALLY BE A BAN ON VACATION RENTALS?
“Without citing recent examples of modern-day ludicrous things happening, I will leave it with these three words: Anything is possible.”
VACATION RENTALS ARE WHAT PALM SPRINGS IS ABOUT
"The groups opposing vacation rentals make comparisons with other cities like Laguna Beach, or Anaheim, or Santa Monica, or any other city but the critical point of difference between Palm Springs and these other places is that people do not flock to this town to walk up and down Palm Canyon Drive, shop for t-shirts and refrigerator magnets and then go home. The vast majority come here to experience something that is so dear and unique to this particular city, that is not Laguna Beach or Anaheim or Santa Monica. In Anaheim they rent a house in order to go to Disneyland. In Laguna Beach they rent to go to the beach and there’s not a lot of hotels in Laguna Beach, Santa Monica is a tourist destination for its beach and all the amenities around it. Palm Springs is about the homes. The homes are the cornerstone of this city. Mid-century modern architecture homes is the cornerstone of this city. Eighty thousand people from around the world come to this city to experience homes. They’re not coming here to look at palm trees. They’re not coming here to buy refrigerator magnets or postcards. They’re not coming here to go to the Air Museum. That’s not why those eighty thousand people come here in a short space of time. It’s the homes – a very unique experience, to sit poolside in a mid-century modern home, have a barbecue with your family at night under the palm trees and the stars, it’s just not something you can do in any of those places. So their argument falls flat. Palm Springs is unique and the home away from home is the bedrock of the experience here. So we need to accept that, treasure it preserve it and be responsible about that and that’s easy."
“For me, one hundred percent. That’s my story and I can think of six other people right now – in fact, now that I think about it, everybody that I know who bought a house in the last ten years, that was why. I came here in 1988, I rented a condo, and I continued to come back here in the 90s and 2000s and that led me to buy a home, and for many, many of my friends it’s the same story. And during that I time I also stayed at boutique hotels too. Loved the hotel experience too, but like other things in America I had choice."
RENTING A HOME IS A DIFFERENT EXPERIENCE
“Yes, I think so. I think there’s something to be said for the sanctity and privacy of sitting poolside, maybe firing up the grill, lazily sit there grill up some BBQ and be in your swim-trunks, jump back in the pool, take a nap, and I’m not going to be able to do that staying at the Hyatt or the Renaissance. And the reality is that most Americans, we don’t have that luxury, even if you have a home with pool, the chances are it’s cold. There’s few other places you can be where it’s warm at night. It’s a beautiful experience, it’s really special.
I think the hotel experience here is fantastic but it’s a different experience from the home and they are all great but for their own special reasons."
WHAT VRON-PS IS TRYING TO DO
...the number one purpose is to represent the interests of permit-holding vacation rental homeowners and to support those people..."
“First of all it’s a membership-based organization, for anyone who is a vacation-rental permit holder or has been in the last three years. We do not believe that any vacation rental property should be operated in this city without a permit. We will help home-owners make sure that they are compliant, and also do some common sense things that aren’t even in the ordinance, that are above and beyond, that we believe are best practices like how to screen guests and how to ensure your neighbors are happy. We’re not just an organization that’s just fighting for vacation rentals.
So, the number one purpose is to represent the interests of permit-holding vacation rental homeowners and to support those people in the ongoing debate and negotiations around the practice of vacation rentals in Palm Springs. That will include everything from being a representative to the media of the living and breathing citizen home-owners to ensure they are represented in the story but the new ordinance sets up monthly “stakeholder” meetings, to monitor and adjust the ordinance and we will represent our members there. Though these meetings haven’t started yet and it’s not yet clear when they will they are going to be very important especially for those home-owners who cannot attend them as some feel that their interests may not be best represented by vacation rental agents or real estate agents."
“Neighbors, by which we mean VR supporters, which can be a next-door neighbor or someone who for instance has met my VR guests from Canada and liked them, or has seen how a neglected house has been transformed and who wants to can support the organization and help by volunteering or financially. So, they wouldn’t be “members” as such, but they can register with and support the organization."
"...when you see a city that is absolutely built on diversity, on inclusion, on openness and we have this thing that’s going on that is the total antithesis to that, where people are so angry and so adamant are becoming exactly what they despise."
“Our group isn’t angry. We don’t think it’s our way or the highway. We’re not only interested in our interests. We believe that through collaboration, community, compassion and critical-thinking we can come together and solve problems, that we can work together and create a win-win. My core belief is that you’re my neighbor, whether or not you support vacation rentals you’re a human being and the things that concern you matter and I want to listen and if you have a genuine issue with me or something let’s work together to solve that. Let’s help each other. I genuinely believe that. And it saddens me when you see a city that is absolutely built on diversity, on inclusion, on openness and we have this thing that’s going on that is the total antithesis to that, where people are so angry and so adamant are becoming exactly what they despise. They are morphing into exactly the type of person that they supposedly ran away from, wherever they came from, and I think people need to take a look at that."
But according to a recent KESQ report a new group has been formed that is working to file a ballot initiative for November that would ban vacation rentals altogether and if that ballot initiative is successful VRON-PS will be focused on campaigning against it. Shon indicated what would be required:
“That’s going to require political strategists that are experts in this field dealing with ballots in California, it will require an adept legal team, and it will require a very intelligent marketing strategy to communicate with voters and the media. It’s not going to be the four of us, (the founders), or a few citizen home-owners, it’s going to be a much more robust, advanced team working in tandem with us.
Doing that is going to take a great deal of money. The membership contribution should really be something like $250 but our goal is to build the membership as quickly as possible so we are setting the minimum low to achieve that.
Over the past couple of years many of the homeowners I know have dismissed the idea of a ban being proposed, yet when you listen to the Mayor and Council members, and you see the opposition and the recent lawsuit and the breadth of the restrictions that were loaded in that ordinance you get a better understanding that this is a far bigger issue in this city.”