I read with great interest the editorial submitted by John-Paul Leonard. As the county supervisor for the Morongo Basin, I’ve worked with passionate community members on both sides of this debate to craft an ordinance that addresses the concerns of everyone involved. However, there is a significant amount of misinformation circulating and I want to use this forum as an opportunity to set the record straight.
Mr. Leonard asserts this ordinance is a draconian set of regulations that will restrict the availability of vacation rental housing in Joshua Tree. The problem with this assertion is that STRs are currently banned in the unincorporated areas of the Morongo Basin. In other words, if the STR ordinance is approved by the board of supervisors, vacation rental owners will no longer be operating illegally. The strength of the STR market in our region is undeniable, and I want to see this industry thrive legally as opposed to hiding under the shroud of a black market. Only in the unincorporated mountain communities are STRs allowed by the county, and this ordinance will give unincorporated desert communities competitive parity.
This ordinance also gives STR owners certainty that they won’t be arbitrarily shut down by code enforcement. Scores of STR owners have invested their life savings to purchase homes as vacation rentals. Without an ordinance in place to legitimize this type of business activity, their dreams of small business ownership could be dashed at a moment’s notice due to a baseless complaint lodged by a vindictive neighbor. This isn’t the type of environment in which businesses should operate.
Mr. Leonard also mentions that nuisances arising from problematic STRs can be mitigated by canceling their permits. This is patently false, as there is no permitting process for vacation rentals in the unincorporated areas of the Morongo Basin. Again, they are illegal under current county code and none of them have permits. By enacting this ordinance, the county is creating a permitting process by which code enforcement can take legal action against owners who are out of compliance, which includes revocation of operating permits.
Another inaccuracy in his editorial is Mr. Leonard’s claim that the ordinance requires STR owners to live on-site. This is not true. Owners will be required to respond to complaints within one hour if they live off-site. In a situation where there are two dwellings on the same parcel, only one of those units will be permitted as a vacation rental.
Mr. Leonard appears to take great umbrage with the occupancy limits outlined in the draft ordinance. While I respect his opinion, he can’t, in all seriousness, be insinuating that vacation rentals should be permitted without a cap on occupancy. In that scenario, what would prevent a guest from hosting a wedding reception for 300 people? The answer: nothing. But the worst part is that this sort of thing happens frequently, much to the chagrin of surrounding homeowners. Furthermore, all forms of commercial lodging (hotels, motels, B&Bs) have occupancy limits, so why not vacation rentals? I’m open to debating the number of occupants that should be allowed, but I would be derelict in my duties as a county supervisor to support an ordinance that lacks a limit.
Finally, Mr. Leonard’s contention that the proposed ordinance will reduce the supply of vacation rentals doesn’t hold water from my perspective. There is no density cap. Any property owner will have the ability to use their home as an STR, so long as they are legally permitted. Moreover, by establishing a permitting process and legalizing the vacation rental industry in the Morongo Basin, the county is creating the type of market certainty that attracts real estate investors and increases supply.