Vacation Rentals, Tourism, and Big Sur

With the Herald article I published Tuesday, and with the public comment period underway for STRs (Short Term Rentals), this seemed like an appropriate topic for today’s post. There is a conflux of issues with the STRs and overtourism here in Big Sur. It is one reason this post is WAY longer than I usually post. There just seemed to be so much to cover in this battle to save our community.

One concern, of course, is that as tourism increases, the spending at our local establishments does not keep pace, this is one of the factors in the equation that must be considered. People who are staying at STRs – Airbnb, etc. – are not staying in our local hotels and motels, which then takes away more business from the establishments when the hotel/motel guests would normally patronize their restaurants and stores and are not doing so. Additionally, local businesses have difficulty finding employees And often must provide housing, if they can, or hire people who have long commutes just to get to work in the service industry. Imagine a Big Sur with no Nepenthe or River Inn or Fernwood or Deetjen’s or all the other local businesses.

STRs take housing away from locals so that the owners of the property can support their inflated purchase prices, or simply make money, and then the businesses have trouble getting and keeping employees. No where is this more apparent to me than down here on the South Coast because it is the area with which I am most familiar.

Staffing for the local school has always been a challenge. Some staff must commute all the way from Cambria, which is especially difficult during road closures.  Others live in trailers on the school property. In speaking with USFS staff at the Big Sur Fire open house, and then Tuesday with the District Ranger, Tim Short, I discovered that  staff housing for the USFS Pacific Valley Station has created a dangerous situation. It does not have the staff  it needs to provide an Engine to this community for fire season. It is hoping to rectify this before fire season completely kicks off, but at this time, there is a housing shortage for any future staff.

Other popular tourist destinations are finding that the Airbnb or other STRs are modifying the nature of the community and in many instances, destroying it.

“The plight of Barcelona shows the damage Airbnb can do, exacerbating urban inequality and freezing out young locals.” (

“Airbnb rentals reduce the supply of long-term rentals in communities, creating economic costs that outweigh the benefits, according to research presented by Economic Policy Institute Research Director Josh Bivens in a new paper. Local policymakers should pay heed, says Bivens, and certainly not change local regulations and tax structures to benefit Airbnb.”

Airbnb and Miami Beach Are at War. Travelers Are Caught in the Crossfire.” ““You get to a point where you feel like you’re living in a hotel room,” said Kathaleen Smarsh, a resident of Flamingo Park. “You don’t know who is coming and going at all hours.”

For me, personally, I am saddened to watch the loss of community that is experienced with the growth of STRs. People bought homes that were zoned residential for the community. Instead, they find themselves grappling with living in a hotel-like area.
Therefore, I wanted to post a reminder to concerned folks to send comments about the STR ordinance in Big Sur.  This post gives everyone time to check out the drafts etc from county. Last day of comments is May 24.
Pertinent links & submission addresses are below:
Vacation Rental Draft Ordinances and associated environmental analysis are available for public view at the following link:
In the link above you will find the following:
  • Notice of Public Availability of Proposed Vacation Rental Regulations [PDF]
  • Draft Ordinance Amending Title 20 (Coastal Zoning) Relating to Vacation Rentals [PDF]
  • Draft Ordinance Amending Title 21 (Non-Coastal Zoning) Relating to Vacation Rentals [PDF]
  • Draft Ordinance Amending Section 7.02.060 and Adding Chapter 7.110 Relating to Vacation Rental Activities [PDF]
  • Environmental Analysis
Vacation Rental (Aka Short-Term Rental) Ordinances (Coastal – REF130043 & Inland – REF100042) 
TO SUBMIT COMMENTS: We welcome your comments on this matter.
To submit your comments by e-mail, please send a complete document including all attachments to: 
To submit your comments in hard copy, please send a complete document including all attachments to the name and address below. FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION CONTACT: Melanie Beretti, Property Administration/Special Programs Manager Monterey County Resource 


And finally, a Big Sur resident’s perspective from the North Coast:

“Continued [from the comments made on my Tourist Tuesday post] – One of the many reasons why none of the 3 categories of Vacation Rentals should be allowed in Big Sur, and why the County should continue to prohibit them is … See TITLE 20 – Definitions – Section 20.06.360 … the short version “Dwellings …. occupied exclusively for non-transient residential purposes.”

We all know why the two categories of “Vacation Rentals” categorized as Short-Term Rentals (STRs) are bad for our small community … its because they both eliminate whole houses, therefore taking away valuable employee housing options.
The Vacation Rental categorized as a Homestay can be rented out by the Night. A revolving door of transient strangers 365 Nights a year. It will also remove employee options. How you ask? Well many of our Big Sur community folk can’t afford to purchase a home, nor can they afford to LTR a whole house, but they can afford to LTR a room in a neighbors or friends home (Not to be confused with a boarding or rooming house). This too is a time-honored way for communities like ours to continue to survive and thrive, a win, win you could say!
So I very much have to disagree with the County. 1st – a Homestay is for transient use, and our dwellings or residential homes are not. They are for residents to LIVE in, not for visiting tourist to VACATION in. 2nd – Homestays are NOT a residential use like some folk would like us to believe, and they too remove housing options in our community.
In the past 6+ years I have reached out to Mayors, Supervisors, Commissioners, Councilman/women and Enforcement Officers in some of our local cities and counties, and as far away as Marin, Sausalito, New York, and a little rural town in Colorado. What I’ve learned along the way is that a lot of areas wish they had never opened the doors to Vacation Rentals! Also that the Majority of Vacation Rentals are in cities, or urban areas where you might be able to enforce a Vacation Rental Ordinance because all the tourist rentals are located on city or county streets (public streets), where they “might” be easily enforced (if you had the means to enforce).
Whereas the Vacation Rentals in Big Sur are on private and shared rds. and usually set back so far that it would make enforcement difficult or more then likely impossible. I mean if PG is struggling with the enforcement of only say 200 or so Vacation Rentals located on city streets within 2 square miles. How will or how can the County Enforce a Vacation Rental Ordinance for the unincorporated county when there are approximately 2,750 sq. land miles (water & city square miles deducted), and a unknown number of Vacation Rentals
 And why would anyone that is already illegally renting out to the transient tourist go out and apply for a Limited STR or Commercial STR License when they can easily apply for a Homestay License, and save money!


If you made it to the end, I would like to thank you for caring, and hopefully, you can now visit the links above and craft a meaningful comment to be considered on Monterey County’s draft STR ordinance.