JOSHUA TREE — About 50 Morongo Basin residents gathered in the Bob Burke Government Center to partake in a public forum Thursday morning on possible changes to short-term rental ordinances in the mountains and deserts.
The San Bernardino County Planning Commission called a second hearing to vote on proposed language that would update the county development code. The ordinance would allow short-term rentals like Airbnbs in unincorporated parts of the Morongo Basin, but would also place more conditions of their operations.
Staff member Suzanne Peterson presented the Land Use Department report, which she said was created with the input of code enforcement to expand the range of allowable short-term rentals and address concerns about issues like occupancy limits and parking standards.
The report was originally presented in August and has since been updated to address some public comments brought up in the first public forum.
The county originally proposed to require rental owners to keep records on renters and their vehicles. The ordinance also banned additional dwelling units, or ADUs, like casitas and RVs from being used as short-term rentals.
“People had comments on ADUs, advertising, pet restrictions, record keeping, density limitations and more,” Petterson said. “We also heard a lot of people say that the desert is different than the mountains.”
After the August hearing, the ordinance was updated to allow for electronic record-keeping to take place on a host website, like Airbnb.com. Updates also allowed accessory units to be used as short-term rentals if the owner or manager occupies the property’s main house.
While these changes addressed some of the concerns brought up in the last meeting, the public still had several issues with the ordinance.
One group of speakers voiced that they still believed there is no place for short-term rentals in the desert. Another group voiced that the restrictions were too harsh. They said short-term rentals were vital for the desert economy and the restrictions would make it so that the only people who could earn money from short-term rentals were large-scale developers.
Jane Jarlsberg, of Yucca Valley, was concerned that the influx of short-term rentals would worsen the housing crisis, lowering the number of affordable long-term rentals in the Basin.
“My concern for many years has been affordable-housing long-term rentals,” she said. “I think these regulations need to include something to limit the conversion of former long-term rentals to short-term rentals.”
Several people from Morongo Valley echoed her sentiment and added that, in their community, short-term rentals bring in people who do not know how to live in the desert. They said these visitors often don’t know how to drive on dirt roads and can damage private roads that locals have lived on for years.
David Irwin with Terra Projects in Joshua Tree said he also believed that short-term renters can be harmful to the local ecology. He hoped in the future there could be a way to tax the rentals so the community can put that money back into fixing their roads and parks.
“When renters do come here for the short-term rentals, they don’t have the same love for the community that we do,” he said.
Clint Stoker, a planning commissioner with Yucca Valley, thought some of the current language did not address specific desert issues because the ordinance was not taken from the desert region.
“I think campfires are something that need to be addressed and have been a problem in the past,” he said.
The ordinance allows campfires in short-term rentals in the desert but bars them in the mountain regions.
Mirian Seger, from Joshua Tree, agreed with him that the language could be more specific to the desert, noting that the ordinance includes information on snow plowing.
After hearing from the people, the planning commission voted to send the ordinance to the board of supervisors.
“I would remind everybody that you have another chance to talk about all of these issues when it goes to the board of supervisors,” Chairman John Weldy said.
The board of supervisors will hold its next meeting at 10 a.m. Tuesday. The meeting will be available for viewing at the Bob Burke Government Center in Joshua Tree.