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.


23 thoughts on “Vacation Rentals, Tourism, and Big Sur

  1. When you comment by e-mail, I would suggest you also send a hard copy.

  2. We’re experiencing the short-term rental issue here in Kona…the guy across the street rents out his place to up to 15 people at a time…..he doesn’t live on-property so the traffic and noise is really troublesome….my housemate has to get up early for work and her bedroom is on the street side of the house across from this guy……this is a residential neighborhood — no apartment complexes, motels, businesses, etc. … matter what she says or does (letters), nothing changes….these “renters” are on vacation so they’re partying, and in Hawaii that means spending lots of money and having lots of fun (making lots of noise)……neighbors live and deal with each other — strangers don’t seem to give a fuck!*!

  3. I am sorry you have to deal with this, too. Mollie. It is a nightmare for all of us who are lucky enough to live in the “destination” places of this planet. Enough is enough!

  4. Thanks Kate ….. you’ve surely got this one right

    See you Sunday…. Alan

    Sent from my iPhone


  5. Despite having a strong property-rights bias I must agree that on balance this type of rental is detrimental to the Big Sur community. It basically short circuits the zoning process and has the potential to create significant consequences in the very fragile micro-communities of Big Sur. There is the added problem that much of Big Sur housing is not nearly the type/quality of construction or have the access that would be familiar to those renting these properties. The Camp Fire of last year demonstrates how tragic that could be to people unfamiliar with getting out in a hurry or finding safe shelter.

    What this discussion really does is dovetail back into the discussion of promoting Big Sur to the world as a tourist destination without providing ANY infrastructure improvements. If we continue to focus on and discuss individual symptoms, I fear that we will not solve the problem of a serious deficit in the infrastructure required to host visitors or protect this amazing coast.

  6. I feel for the folks that have long term housing and may be unable to continue as they are getting older and have financial stress. If you house 2-4 long term rentals and have 1 str- you have extra finances to 1)improve the long term housing units 2) keep your 10-20 acres afloat into your old age and 3) help continue to keep the community a ‘community’- when billionaires buy property here it is not for str or ltr- and they usually are not even here more than a few weeks maybe months a year. Just my two cents.

  7. If that was the way STRs worked, it would be great, but it isn’t. Rarely does an STR landowner even stay on his/her property, and in Big Sur, only 1 main house, 1 caretaker unit, and 1 guest house are allowed, so not sure where you get 2-4 long term rental units from. And if all STRs only had guests that were conscious, it would be great. Take the Big Sur pledge

  8. Something we all need to remember. Area’s zoned for residential use here in Big Sur were never meant for visiting-serving purposes (Overnight Transient Occupancy). 5.1.1 Residential Land Use … The significance of the residential areas for planning purposes is that they have the capacity, to some extent, to accommodate additional residential demand. Unlike the larger properties or commercial centers, they are NOT well suited for commercial agriculture, commercial, or Visitor Uses: use of these areas, to the extent consistent with resource protection, should continue to be for residential purposes. (LUP, 5.1.1 – pg. 65). And unlike some of you believe, Vacation Rentals (Homestays, Limited STRs & Commercial STRs) are NOT a “residential use,” they are a visitor-serving commercial use for Vacationing Tourist …

  9. Just speaking from someone who is in the ‘know’ of a few old timers who have lived here for 40+ years, who live on their property 12 months a year. There are folks providing long term housing though, I suppose those units may not be “legal”- well, there is another can of worms. And hence the LACK of Housing in Big Sur; and let’s not forget about the Billionaire Factor.

  10. I’ve only been here for 33 years, and I know of a lot of “chicken coops” that became caretakers units. None of these are STRs that I know of. And if they are, and they are infringing on their neighbors privacy, safety, or peace, or putting the renters in jeopardy, then shame on them. It is the more recent influx, of people who buy above their means and count on STRs to make the payment; or the ones who have enough money, but simply want more, that are the biggest problem, but it goes deeper than that, and you know it. STRs change the nature of community. Did you bother to even read my post? What has happened in other parts of the world? ALL destination places are fighting back. I am just suggesting we join the fight. Take the Big Sur pledge

  11. Just speaking as an older old timer that was born and raised here … Vacation Rentals (Homestays, Limited STRs and Commercial STRs) do NOT belong in our residential neighborhoods, or Big Sur period … that is what our motel, inns and lodges are for!

  12. Let’s take care of our community and not the tourists for once. Don’t turn houses into hotels!!!

  13. I am not sure where you get your information. How much of this is actually verifiable facts, vs guess work on your part? Most of it, I believe to be inaccurate. STRs are on shared roads, behind locked gates, are close to neighbors in neighborhoods. Are you a STR landowner down here in Big Sur? Nepenthe is always packed, it is true, but it has no rooms for rent – it is a restaurant, so doesn’t even play into this discussion. You are entitled to your opinion, but don’t pretend you have the “facts” to support it. Take the Big Sur pledge

  14. I’m disappointed alladin is trying to demonize our volunteers who help protect Big Sur and its community. Kind of ironic as I know they are losing members because they can’t find housing!

  15. Mr Alladin, Don’t forget about all of us local restaurant workers to.

  16. Alladin … Where do you get your information? Those “High End” homes that you speak of were all pretty much Long-Term Rentals, housing Big Sur residents long before they were ever a Vacation Rental (Aka STR), or if not a LTR, they were owner occupied. And I don’t know where you came up with “none of those homes are near any owner occupied homes” because that’s total bull. Then there’s the Takeaway that you mention, Vacation Rentals do “Takeaway” from Big Sur motels, inns and lodges. They takeaway from those business’s during the slower periods , generally during the winter, and in a way these same Vacation Rentals also take away from the employees of these business’s, because now there hours will be cut due to lack of business (less take home pay). Plus these illegal Vacation Rentals also continue to operate during Fires, Flooding, and Road Closures when the commercial business’s evacuate their guest and close down for safety reasons, so it seems they do takeaway, and NOT just from the business’s. Now you’re talking 20 to 30 homes, again I ask you where are you coming up with these numbers? Then there’s also the problem of all these Vacation Rentals bringing in more vehicle traffic, therefore pushing the safe carrying capacity of Hwy 1 further beyond the safe limits. There’s a lot of issues having to do with Vacation Rentals, but I’ll end now and let someone else chime in!

  17. Dude, I mean alladin (as in teapot)? Something else that just dawned on me, why are YOU bad mouthing our local surfers and volunteer fire fighters? All of these fine men and women (kids too) work, and volunteer countless hours to our community. Whether they are picking up trash along the roadway because they can and care, or volunteering at book and bake sales or helping out at the Big Sur Historical Society, the Grange, or the BSVFB Muster, or directing traffic during emergency’s, and helping out a neighbor when they need help. then their’s others who sacrificed hundreds of hours to become Fire Fighters and continue to sacrifice even more hours fighting fires, rescuing residents and tourist alike, just to keep you and I safe … now tell us what is it that you do to help in our community?

  18. Thanks, and I would also like to make a correction to a post I posted yesterday. I had said how these Vacation Rentals also “Takeaway” from the employees and went on to say “when the commercial business’s evacuate their guest” when I really meant to say “when the ” legit ” business’s evacuate their guest” because as we know, a Vacation Rental is also a “Commercial” business! Thanks for letting me clear that up …

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