Two Initiatives: Short Term Rentals and ½ Cent Sales Tax Increase
Here we go again, a summer that will be filled with campaign ads for the November elections: from Presidential candidates all the way down the chain to local City Council and Mayoral candidates. Mixed in with all of these will be the plethora of initiatives that have become a part of California’s political landscape. Two of those initiatives will have a direct impact on Ojai residents. One will ask us to increase our sales tax countywide to improve our transportation infrastructure; one will ask Ojai residents to legalize short term rentals.
“Plan Don’t Ban” Initiative
The so-called “Plan Don’t Ban” initiative wants to legalize short term rentals (STR’s) within the city limits of Ojai. The real question for Ojai voters is whether doing so, and specifically doing so under the auspices of this initiative, will irrevocably change Ojai for the worse or not. Certainly if this passes, the zoning ordinances in Ojai will need to be re-written to come into compliance with the new ordinance (as it would become if passed).
There are points in the “Plan Don’t Ban” initiative that could easily provoke legal challenges, including limits on the number of STR’s, where they will be allowed, who can own them and where the owners must reside. If any or all of these limits are thrown out by a court’s decision, and the rest of the initiative is allowed to stand as drafted – as its language actually reads - then Ojai residents could end up with very little, if any, regulations pertaining to the short term rental business within the Ojai city limits. Furthermore, having no restrictions on the number, location or ownership of STR’s would necessarily bring an immediate change to the character of the residential zones within the city limits and the overall character of the city and Valley as a whole. This initiative only requires a 50% plus one vote to pass and become the law of the land.
Ojai’s hotels are full almost every weekend, and especially so on national holiday weekends and other weekends when we have festivals, tennis tournament and independent school graduations. Ojai is a small town with limited resources and a limited infrastructure. This must be considered when we think about allowing non-regulated short term rentals to proliferate. Tourism supplies the bulk of our income as a city. People come here for the quiet, natural beauty of this valley and to see what a true community is like. If our residential zones become over-run with short term rentals, we will no longer be what visitors come here to see. The Chamber has repeatedly spoken at City Council meetings concerning the issue of short term rentals, and we have said we believe that strictly regulating them through city ordinances and zoning restrictions is the best solution. However, this initiative is a bad solution to the issue. If this initiative is passed, the city will not be able to pass any ordinances that conflict with it. Any changes to the initiative will have to be passed by a vote of the residents of Ojai. In essence the city will lose all control of the short term rental issue going forward. Click here for the PDF file of the initiative.
1/2 Cent Sales Tax Increase Initiative
Ventura County is the only county in California that does not have a transportation infrastructure supporting tax. All the counties surrounding us do, but we do not. According to the Ventura County Transportation Commission (VCTC), voting in this 30-year increase will cost each person about $1 per week, but it will raise approximately $3.3 billion over 30 years, plus whatever matching funds we will receive from federal and state programs. Half of the funds raised will be devoted to local streets and roads. Ojai will receive about $500,000 annually, based on the percentage of lane miles within the city limits. This would be in addition to any funds the City of Ojai dedicates to improving our own streets. If the City can continue to spend $1,000,000 for street repair and maintenance each year, and also receive another $500,000 from this tax increase, we might have nice streets all over town within a few years.
Though the Chamber is generally against any new taxes, our transportation infrastructure needs to be addressed, and the county is leaving millions of dollars in matching funds on the table every year by not having this funding source. This initiative requires a 2/3 majority of votes cast to pass.
For the specifics on how the collected funds will be spent and the oversight of those expenditures click here for the PDF file.