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Editorial: Last Minute Changes to Short Term Rentals

The following editorial is submitted solely by a citizen of Lincoln County, Robin Hochtritt.  The views and opinions of Robin Hochtritt do not necessarily reflect the views and/or opinions of NewsLincolnCounty.com and its staff.

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Submitted by:  Robin Hochtritt

Who are your Constituents?

The Lincoln County Commissioners surprised their constituents at their weekly meeting on September 29. 
 
 What began as a presentation of proposed changes to the County Code relating to short-term rental licensing took a dramatic turn to a topic not even on the Agenda: Ballot Measure 21-203.  

It started innocently. Commissioner Jacobson asked Assistant County Counselor Belmont what she should say when someone asks her why the Commissioners are acting now, just a month before her constituents vote on Ballot Measure 21-203 that would phase out some STRs?  
 
 Good question. I wondered the same thing. Were I an elected official, I would have welcomed hearing directly from my constituents as only an election allows.  

Counsel could have said that the Citizens and the Commissioners agree that there are significant problems with how STR licensing and enforcement are managed in unincorporated (non-city) Lincoln County.  

Counsel could have said that the Citizens and Commissioners agree that the most suitable mechanism to address STRs is to amend Lincoln County Code Chapter 4 (Business Licenses), not Chapter 1 (Zoning).  

Counsel could have said that the most significant difference between what Measure 21-203 proposes and what County Counsel Belmont proposes is that Measure 21-203 would phase out all existing licenses in single-family residential zones. The proposal he gave to the Commissioners would reduce numbers west of 101 by 20% but not eliminate them from residential zones where some neighborhoods are more than 40% STRs. I would have liked to hear the rationale for adding 111 STRs east of 101 that, as Commissioner Jacobson noted, would have the effect of increasing the number of STRs in unincorporated County until voluntary attrition kicked in. As Commissioner Hunt had already stated, no one knows how long it will take before the existing STRs relinquish their licenses.  

Finally, Counselor Belmont should have said: You are right, Commissioner Jacobson. The Board had its chance to act for two years, but it didn’t. When the Petition qualified, the Board should have directed staff to wait until after the election to present you with our proposal. Waiting a month would show you respect for your constituents. Acting at the last minute makes it look like you are trying to undermine the election. 

But undermining the election was the intent. The unanimous vote proved it.

The STR Industry wants to sow fear of lawsuits and “crippling impacts” among the public. But why did the Commissioners buy into this scare tactic last Wednesday? 

Can the County be sued for “takings” by the STR Industry? Sure. Anybody can sue, but that doesn’t mean the industry will win. Takings cases are difficult to establish. 

Will the County lose? Not at all likely, if represented by competent counsel.  

15neighborhoods does not share the Commissioners fear of legal challenges stoked by an Industry that has little regard for the concerns of Lincoln County’s full-time residents. Measure 21-203 only amends Code Chapter 4 (Business Licenses). It does not change the development code or other land use regulations, giving rise to takings claims. 

The Oregon Supreme Court has already upheld a local government’s ban on transient housing (STRs) in residential areas when a ban “substantially advances legitimate governmental interests” in “securing affordable housing for permanent residents and in preserving the character and integrity of residential neighborhoods are legitimate governmental interests ….”
 
After two years of inaction, why don’t our elected officials wait a few more weeks to learn the people’s will and support it unequivocally instead of adopting a complex but half-hearted approach?  

I was a constituent who participated fully at every workshop until the County stopped all engagement. When the Board delegated the authority to the County Counsel to develop a regulatory program, and County Counsel never returned phone calls or responded to email, residents are left waiting for the next deadline to come and go. The Board could have hired a contract attorney to write the STR Code if County Counsel’s office was too busy. 

15neighborhoods did the Board a favor: 15neighborhoods undertook an electronic signature campaign … the first in the County … and built a website that included legal and public policy resources, letters to the editor, the Viewpoints of the 15neighborhoods Steering Committee and a link to the STR Complaint process.

15neighborhoods wanted an informed public when the time came to vote. 

Commissioners, 15neighorhoods had your back. You could have blamed 15neighborhoods when Meredith Lodging, who so far has donated over $210,000 to Save Lincoln County Jobs PAC, threatened to sue the County. (Hint: But Meredith won’t.) Statewide, the Industry has too much to lose if the Oregon Supreme Court upholds Cope v Canon Beach and rules correctly that Yogman v Parrot is a contract, not an STR, case and inapplicable.)

Likewise, Commissioners, you could have shrugged when the nine local donors to Via Oregon’s PAC (Lauri Hines, Patrick Covelle, Jason Asch, Jon Lynch, Brian Higa, Nikki Hamilton, Taj Richardson, and Mary Price) who contributed just $7,713 or 10% of Via Oregon’s total contributions to date, resumed their complaints about their rights and about needing to rent short-term to cover expenses. (Hint: They are not only covering expenses, but are investing their profit and the equity into more existing housing to turn into STRs.

Once the 21-203 passed, you could have washed your hands of the matter. Your constituents had spoken: They want the certainty of a phase-out.

I am still angry about the hubris, the self-conceit of your decision to disregard my vote.

Vote YES on 21-203.

Respectfully,
Robin Hochtritt
Unincorporated Lincoln County

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