A Community Website by Lopez Island
Started by Nathan Donnelly
Aug 13, 2021
Agree
31
A "younger", professional's perspective on vacation rentals
Aug 13, 2021
I feel a need to offer another perspective on the vacation rental/housing crisis we have on Lopez and around the county. Mostly because the discussion seems to be focused on service industry "workforce" housing. I suppose this makes sense because that is what gets noticed when a restaurant or grocery store is closed in the Village. The "workforce" is who we talk to about empty shelves while we're ringing up. (For the record, I'm not really keen on how one-dimensional the consideration of their lives seems to be in these discussions. Like we need affordable housing simply so we can keep the servants around. I don't feel like this is how most people actually feel about our service industry folks, but hopefully the dialog becomes more considered.)

What about the skilled professionals running businesses, teaching the children, building things, farming, etc.? Some of us are doing all these things in the course of a single year. Making the world go round, making Lopez possible. You don't hear much from us because we're too busy, exhausted, and stressed out of our minds. About housing. And becoming homeowners and homesteaders. Hoping for a place we can be buried on, not just make it through the summer. Hopefully, while we're still young enough to do it for ourselves and build in some resilience for the coming climate. Something to reminisce over when we're old. Without a sense of trauma. Maybe even with a sense of pride in how well we took care of things, built up the soil, collected the waters, grew the trees, stopped the fires.

In the 7 years since I brought myself and my skills here (a 25 year dream), I've worked or volunteered on nearly every piece of public land in the county. I have visited hundreds of client's homes to improve their orchards and gardens, consult on their wildfire risk, rebuild old decks and put up new roofs, plan for the earthquakes and winter storms. Not such a big deal, I've seen friends do more while raising kids to boot, but I've learned some things. I've learned that the single biggest risk to San Juan County's future is absentee landowners, commodifying not just housing but our neighbors, and acting like our "right" to earn money at any cost trumps our responsibilities to each other and this place. I've seen people twist facts and figures in misleading ways to justify it too. But for me the most telling fact is more personal; of the hundreds of properties I've been asked to consult on for stewardship purposes I have been to many full-time Islanders homes, I've been to many long-term rental owners rental properties, I've been asked by many long-term renters themselves to look at the homes they care about even though they don't own them. I've even been to quite a few vacation-rental owner's personal homes. But the number of times I've been asked to help with the stewardship, safety, or sustainability of a vacation rental property is exactly ZERO. Even when I'm standing with the owner in front of the building and it's a free consultation demanding little more than half an hour of their time, they won't be bothered with it.

That house has got to earn its keep! Which of course means in money. Not in housing a family so our schools have children and teachers attending them. Not in the character a well lived-in home adds to its place. Not in the safety neighbors provide each other when something happens. Those things aren't so quantifiable. The integrity of a place, as with a person, can be sold but never bought. There's no accounting for the kids that are now raised in another state because their parents had to move away in order to have them. Or the businesses they started in another community because it hadn't yet learned to butcher itself and sell off the pieces to the fastest bidder. You can see it though. For those of us that haven't decided to completely uncouple from reality, the change is as apparent as last month's heatwave. Uncomfortable, forboding, unsustainable. We have more leverage though over our little island than we do the whole global climate.

Vacation rentals of course aren't the entire cause of our tourism woes. People come here to camp in the parks, stay at the resort, and visit family (after they had to move away), and yes this uses finite resources (I hosted friends and family as often as possible pre-covid). But none of them involve displacing people from homes. Placing functional caps on active, compliant, vacation rental permits is one of our biggest crowbars with which to leverage our Island's peace and resource depletion issues. It would have been nice if it were done back in the 90's when organizations like LCLT recognized what we were staring down the barrel of, but here we find ourselves in the now. Recently there was a proposal to INCREASE Lopez's VR permit quota to 174 (up 34%!), which on the face of it is madness until you look deeper. Of our current 130 permits only 53 of them are active and compliant according to a public records request for the most recent data taken in Jan. '21. That means without even lifting the moratorium there is potential to increase VR traffic by 245%! That is madness. Raising it to 174 might as well be infinity, as even 53 is a strain. The cap needs to be for current active compliant VRP's and be drawn down slowly as permits become inactive. Anyone currently using a permit would be unaffected by this.

In this letter to the county planning commission (copy/paste https://www.ipetitions.com/petition/lopezletterplanningcommission), written by a group of concerned Lopezians, there are a number of other suggestions for reigning in VRP's I would encourage you to look at. You also have the opportunity to add your name to the letter if you agree with it, and add a comment of your own if you're so moved.

Statements like "If SJC limits permits too strictly VR owners will have to sell them" are disingenuous and manipulative propaganda. The VR industry in SJC now has a lobbying wing that has been very active, but not very trustworthy in how it has decided to interpret certain information for you. There have been no proposals that involve taking active permits away from VR owners. In fact, by capping future permits they would have less competition to contend with. The only reason a current VR owner would want to oppose those caps is that they plan on buying up more housing to turn into vacation rentals. With so many dozens of unused VR permits out there it makes you wonder how important they actually are to the livelihood of someone who already owns multiple homes. Or maybe they're just going unreported and untaxed.

We need to be moving in the direction of putting able-bodied people in homes and on land, not incentivize turning homes into commercial enterprises, more than half of which are owned by non-residents/entities. Which begs the question of why they are even allowed in areas not zoned for commercial use. There needs to be clarity around whether or not businesses like AirBnB, Vacasa, etc. are actually chains, and if so why are they being allowed to proliferate in our county which does not allow new chains because of the damage they do to local economies. We need to ask if with all the rules put in place for the use of vacation rentals in 2018 (born out of the complaints neighbors were having to make) if it is even possible to comply with them (many having to do with monitoring guest behavior and being available when things get out of hand) if they are not even living on the island. Even coming over from another island is not possible in the middle of the night.

At the moment the islands are being taken for patsies. Maybe you've been receiving junk mail from investment groups offering to buy your place sight-unseen. Do we want these businesses making land-use decisions for our county? Do they know about our fossil-water wells, rich Salish history, or that we have two species of orca and one is gravely endangered? I have spoken to elderly couples who are the last full-timers on their long road that is swiftly growing narrow with brush, a nightmare scenario in a wildfire. But none of the neighboring owners care enough to invest in doing something about it when asked. These are not the kind of "neighbors" I want to have when I am elderly (or ever), if ever I am able to find a place I can buy here.

In the 7 years I have lived here I have had 6 homes, including 1 summer in a tent, and another under a tarp, while I waited for rental opportunities. I've taken huge risks with my safety in attempts to earn money for land and build my own place. Can you imagine the amount of strain that would put on a parent? Or their children? The word "traumatic" comes to mind. Luckily I am now in a stable rental with landlords who are saints, but unfortunately, stable housing is may be more atypical than tent living, or at least "sub-standard" housing, for many in my demographic. I have friends who have lived, or currently live, in renovated chicken coups, vehicles, boats, self-built tiny homes, school buses, mud huts, barn lofts, and a fascinating array of cabins with varying degrees of plumbing, electricity, and insulation. Every year there's a big game of musical chairs as some of these homes become available or not. There is a constant need to watch for a place, like hermit crabs in a tidepool, each one eyeing their larger neighbor's shell so they can scurry into it when it's discarded by the crab that has grown too large for it, or is pecked out by a seagull who decides it would make a better vacation rental. These people are professionals running businesses you rely on. Some of them are raising kids or hope to soon. Many are gone now.

We're trading them for tourists.

Here again is the address to the planning commission letter: https://www.ipetitions.com/petition/lopezletterplanningcommission
Comment by Heike And Terry
Sep 4, 2021
Agree
0
Next Steps

- The DCD will develop an ordinance for Planning Commission review (and potential amendment) on 9/17.
- There will be a legal review on the legislation.
- The Planning Commission will hold a public hearin ... Read All
Comment by Nathan Donnelly
Aug 23, 2021
Agree
1
I wonder how far in advance an agenda is even fully known. It may be the previous Friday is the earliest they know that.
Council meetings are often posted here on Lopez Rocks ahead of time, but I don't recall if agendas are posted with them or how far in advance they are posted.
Comment by Janet Alderton
Orcas Island
Aug 23, 2021
Agree
2
Kenneth,
This raises another problem I have with our county governance:
I have not figured out a way to receive notification of County Council Agendas.
I have signed up to receive notification of Council meetings, but all I receive is highly annoying notification on the Fr ... Read All
Comment by Kenneth Ferrugiaro
Aug 23, 2021
Agree
4
Thank you Janet!
Does anyone know the date when the councilors are planning on voting on this?
It would be really good to have as many people as possible call, and email Jaime asking him to recuse himself from the vote, or support the 55 cap.
Comment by Nathan Donnelly
Aug 23, 2021
Agree
4
Mr. Stephens is a VR rental owner himself. I would expect he would recuse himself from decisions and discussions he stands to profit from so much. I'd be curious to know what the rules are regarding such a conflict of interest.
Comment by Janet Alderton
Orcas Island
Aug 23, 2021
Agree
2
Nathan and all people who live on Lopez Island who commented about the need for VR caps at the Friday, August 20, 2021 Planning Commission meeting,
I did not realize how severe the impacts are on Lopez because I live on Orcas Island. Councilor Stephens has been saying that there is no problem with VR impacts generally -though I t ... Read All
Comment by Nathan Donnelly
Aug 21, 2021
Agree
1
That topic actually came up a few times in the discussion they had afterwards Kenny. I had to get on with my day when they took a lunch break, but it would be nice to hear the rest of the conversation. Luckily they are recorded for anyone who wants to listen.
I believe their purview is limited PVR caps specifically, but maybe th ... Read All
Comment by Kenneth Ferrugiaro
Aug 20, 2021
Agree
2
Agreed Nathan.
There are so many issues and laws surrounding how land and homes can be used.
One of the topics that a women at the meeting said. I can't remember her name?
And this was about VR permits staying with the land/home after purchase? Or was it called runni ... Read All
Comment by Nathan Donnelly
Aug 20, 2021
Agree
2
The planning commission just voted unanimously to support capping VRP's at current active and compliant numbers (56 for Lopez and 405 for the county total)! This is the recommendation they will be giving the county council for the Comp Plan. Hundreds of people made their concerns known to the planning commission and it appear ... Read All
Comment by Heike And Terry
Aug 18, 2021
Agree
9
Why Lopez cannot support any additional tourism generated by new VR permits:

The Lopez working age population (18-64 traditionally) is critical for a functioning community with diverse businesses/organizations, and a solid EMS and fire departmen ... Read All
Comment by Jan Scilipoti
Aug 16, 2021
Agree
1
Hi Sandy,
I used to call workforce housing "housing that's affordable to residents", but it's an awkward phrase and people get it confused with affordable housing.

What do you call rental housing that's affordable to residents? (And yes, Nathan, I ... Read All
Comment by Sandy Bishop
Aug 14, 2021
Agree
4
Thanks for sharing your thoughts and reflections Nathan. I've been engaged in housing issues for over 30 years. I have always avoided the term "work force housing". It makes me cringe to think of "human beings" reduced to a work force. Humans need housing - and it is wonderful that many people are willing to work, volunteer and stew ... Read All
Comment by Kenneth Ferrugiaro
Aug 14, 2021
Agree
5
So poignant and well said Nathan!!
You reflect on many things that run through my mind daily about the culture we acquiesce to.
The issues are so big, they seem genetically modified in our indoctrinated brains. So big that it leaves people gobsmacked, or stunned into silen ... Read All