EDITOR’S NOTE — This is part two of a two-part series; part one was published last week and the essay is published in full on www.hidesertstar.com.
Affordable rentals are a problem nationwide, not only in tourist areas. Home prices have soared all over California, although not as much as in Joshua Tree last year. Yet prices here shot up to today’s levels during the 2006 price bubble, too, when Airbnb was unheard of.
Instead of trying to draft the perfect detailed restrictions, the county might do better to just start issuing permits for now — and taking them away from the few bad apples out there. That will bring owners into line like nothing else. It will become clearer what rules are really needed.
The county should pass an enforceable noise and nuisance ordinance, to get at the actual problems that residents are suffering from most. Take away permits from short-term rentals (STRs) that continue to be problems.
Before deciding on capacity limits for STRs, the community should be made aware that this won’t help the housing shortage, but the reverse. See if this is what people really want by a poll or survey.
No one seems to have noticed that the two main types of complaints, nuisances and affordable rents, are opposed to each other. One is about the quality, the other about the quantity of housing. It’s hard to have it both ways. Fixing only what’s broken is the way to optimize these two conflicting goals — rather than making owners and renters suffer for the abuses of a few.
To ease into it, the county could start by requesting streamlined, online permit applications. Then start inspections and fines on those properties that generate complaints. Inspections would also be a good time to determine if parking limitations are needed for a particular property, since parking is rarely a real problem in Joshua Tree. Some borderline STR owners may find it’s not worth the $600 permit fee, and go back to long-term rentals. Running a BNB is not as lucrative as it looks, because of high vacancy rates in the hot half of the year and on weekdays. An exaggerated notion of easy money seems to motivate some of the emotional reaction against BNBs.
Restricting STRs is a bit like rent control. Owners and renters have opposing views on housing cost increases, but everyone should be in favor of a better quality of living — even tourists.
Travelers are people too. STRs have done a lot to make travel more fun and affordable, especially in peak season in tourist destinations. Some visitors still need to learn that Joshua Tree is not really the Wild West where anything goes, and STR hosts should help their guests understand that.
Joshua Tree is finally coming into its own. Until a few years ago, homes here were going for around $70 a square foot, about one-third of what they cost to build. This made it a refuge from high housing costs — my family bought our first lot here back in 1960. Unfortunately, there was no jobs base. The picture is changing fast, causing growing pains. It takes time to adjust. Eventually, in large part thanks to the treasures of the national park, as well as the efforts of vacation rental owners, Joshua Tree should become a bright spot in the economic landscape of San Bernardino County.
The California desert has virtually unlimited land for new construction. What the county board of supervisors could do for affordable housing here is to reduce the paperwork and cost barriers for construction permits, and not to choke the goose that brings the golden eggs from LA and beyond.