The only item on the Nov. 2 election ballot to be voted on by all Lincoln County residents is Measure 21-203, which, if passed, would require the phasing out of short-term rental homes in unincorporated residential areas in five years, ban new licenses in those areas, and impose additional restrictions on vacation home rental operations.

The petition to place the measure on the ballot was circulated by the organization 15neighborhoods, formed by a group of county residents who first turned to the Lincoln County Board of Commissioners to address their concerns regarding STRs in 2019 before taking their case to the electorate with a petition in spring 2020. They announced Aug. 4 that the county clerk accepted 1,566 signatures, 112 more than was needed to qualify for the ballot.

In vocal opposition to the measure, VIA Oregon represents property owners and management companies on the central Oregon coast who first came together in 2018 to advocate for vacation rental businesses as local municipalities looked to implement tighter regulations regarding short-term rentals of single-family homes. It took on a more public face with the circulation of the petition for Measure 21-203, which would impose provisions more drastic than any local municipalities have created or proposed.

We asked representatives of both groups the same five questions. Their answers follow:

VIA Oregon

1. What is the single strongest argument for/against Ballot Measure 21-203?

We believe the measure is overreaching and essentially turns control of long-standing property rights over to the county.  It is also reckless to vote “yes” without considering the financial effect on working families who support themselves with jobs caring for short-term rentals. 

No one on the “yes” side has yet to answer how the county will make up for the loss of $3.6 million in projected STR tax revenue dollars for 2021/22 (projected to be $4.9 million in 2022/23). This is per the county. Our opponents keep saying we’re making up numbers, but we are doing our homework. And it doesn’t take a mathematician to know that if you cut off a vital source of tax revenue from one area of a budget, you have to make that up somewhere else.  That somewhere else is likely to be out of local taxpayer pockets.

2. What do you make of statements by public officials, including county counsel and members of the board of commissioners, regarding potential litigation should this measure succeed at the polls?

Lincoln County Counsel Wayne Belmont has warned several times that the effort to ban STRs could, in his legal opinion, “lead to litigation and county exposure to monetary claims.” Oregon land-use law protects property owners from having counties take away an existing, lawful use of their property. It will waste taxpayer money to put the county in a position of defending a ballot measure they know is likely to be unenforceable in court.

3. Why do you think the ballot petition was successful?

The vocal minority, 15Neighborhoods, has been effective in spreading dramatic tales of short-term rental houses run amok through community news outlets. Their NIMBY messaging, without data to back up their claims, has led enough residents to believe rentals are the reason for all county livability issues.  

They have successfully pushed disinformation that STRs are increasingly turning neighborhoods into mini-motel zones. That’s simply not true. Over the last two years, the number for STRs has actually decreased, as the county stopped issuing new licenses. Because of the March 2020 county-imposed moratorium on new STR licenses, the count is now 523 (from 601) per the recent board of commissioners meeting. Total STRs are only 3.6 percent of housing in unincorporated Lincoln County.

15Neighborhoods has also done a good job at falsely tying the “lack of affordable housing” argument that is statewide to STRs. In unincorporated Lincoln County, the median value of a STR is $585,950. The median Lincoln County home price as of July 2021 is $384,080. At that price point, phasing out STRs in unincorporated Lincoln County is not going to magically open the housing market to working families. It’s an oranges and apples argument. Building new affordable housing units offers a realistic solution to begin to equal the scale. By cutting off tax dollars, the ballot measure would cut off a potential source of funding for affordable housing solutions.

4. Do you think the success or failure of this ballot measure could have an impact on other jurisdictions?

It certainly will serve as a cautionary tale if it passes, and one of the consequences is that visitors simply go to other coastal communities to spend their vacation dollars. Another ripple effect will be on businesses and their ability to retain patrons and ultimately keep jobs in the county. It doesn’t take a crystal ball to see that if this measure passes, the cities in Lincoln County are likely to see similar petitions to ban vacation rentals in all the cities. The Oregon coast has a long tradition of public access, so closing the doors to others is a selfish solution that is not very Oregonian.

5. With your remaining space, please share anything else you believe voters should know about this ballot measure and/or the overarching issue of short-term vacation homes in residential areas.

We support the weeding out of bad actors by issuing hefty fines and immediate eviction if guests violate the noise or occupancy ordinance. If a guest is engaging in wrongful conduct, they should be responsible to pay a fine and leave. We also support the county using lodging tax revenue from vacation rentals to build affordable workforce housing. Our county has always been a special balance of retirees, working families and second-home owners, and we support balancing the rights of all county stakeholders.

During the shutdown, there was a rash of enforcement calls to Lincoln County about “party” houses. Every call the sheriff took was either not a vacation rental at all, not in their jurisdiction, or was a second-home owner or long-term renter using their own property.  This makes sense, because second homes make up one-third of all Lincoln County housing, per the U.S. Census, where vacation rentals are only 3.6 percent of housing units. The county may want to look at stricter enforcement of parking, noise and occupancy for all houses, regardless of whether the disturbance is coming from a renter or an owner, or a vacation renter.  

Punishing law-abiding homeowners is not the answer.

15 Neighborhoods

1. What is the single strongest argument for/against Ballot Measure 21-203? 

A “yes” vote on Measure 21-203 is a vote for restoring livability in family-friendly neighborhoods, more available housing, and a robust and resilient economy. In 2016, the board of commissioners heard a cry for help from residents in low-density residential zones of unincorporated Lincoln County, whose neighborhoods were being disrupted by short-term rental (STR) “party houses” springing up around them. Instead of enforcing zoning laws, they created a business license regulation program. They opened a floodgate, inviting additional STRs into these areas zoned for single-family residential living. The rate of growth exceeded 20 percent in one year.

In June 2016, the commissioners reported that “25 to 30 percent of the housing stock in our county is now being used as VRDs” (STRs). The housing shortage was already recognized, yet the commissioners adopted an STR licensing program that further reduced the housing stock. Businesses throughout the county suffer when there is insufficient housing for workers. “Help wanted” signs are on display along Highway 101. Jobs are available but workers cannot find housing. Our communities depend on medical providers, teachers, technicians, skilled laborers and craftsmen. Volunteers, who support important activities, including local fire departments, are residents of Lincoln County, not visitors.

A robust and resilient economy consists of much more than the small portion of the tourist lodging industry that STRs comprise. It can withstand the impact of phasing out, at most, 530 STRs over a five-year period. Lincoln County residents support local businesses: we eat out, buy goods and services, pay property taxes and support our schools. The survival of our schools depends on student enrollment, related federal funding and teachers being able to find housing. At the end of August 2021, the district was seeking 59 school staff. Some prospective teachers and hospital workers have turned down job offers because they couldn’t find housing. We have a diverse economy, from fisheries to forests. Tourism is important, but we cannot let vacation rentals ruin neighborhoods and take needed housing from our local workforce for the profit of outside investors.

2. What do you make of statements by public officials, including county counsel and members of the board of commissioners, regarding potential litigation should this measure succeed at the polls?

Nearly every provision in Measure 21-203 has already been enacted in Oregon local jurisdictions, and has withstood all legal challenges.

The STR industry threatens litigation, and the county seems to be influenced without carefully analyzing the issue. They raise Measure 49 “takings” concerns. Our land-use attorney notes that takings claims are hard to establish, and this measure would only restrict business use of houses, not normal residential uses for which houses are built in residential zones.

After years of inaction, why are these officials now weighing in just days before the election to influence the outcome, rather than waiting until the voters have spoken?

Gearhart recently banned STRs in single-family residential zones. STR owners appealed to the state Land Use Board of Appeals and lost, then put a measure on the ballot to overturn the ordinance. They lost by a 77-23 percent margin. People voted for peace and quiet where they live, not businesses.

3. Why do you think the ballot petition was successful?

People are upset about having their neighborhoods invaded by mini-motels. Residents bought homes in quiet neighborhoods to live in, not business zones. They did not expect their neighborhoods to become commercial. This is not a case of people “moving in next to the airport then complaining about airport noise.” Instead, disruptive businesses are moving into the neighborhoods later, impacting established residents. We bought homes relying on R-1, R-1-A and R-2 residential zoning protections to maintain neighborhood character, but our commissioners failed us. 

Since the commissioners implemented the STR business licensing program in 2016, STRs have rapidly spread into quiet single-family neighborhoods. As in 2016, citizens again approached the commissioners in early 2019. Residents finally got fed up with county inaction and signed the petition.

This measure is non-partisan. Supporters come from various backgrounds. Our one common factor is that we live here. The people who brought Measure 21-203 to the ballot are personally impacted by the intrusion of businesses into single-family residential zones where they live. These ordinary citizens of Lincoln County are not wealthy investors; they are homeowners trying to protect their way of life in the place they chose to live. Many people living outside the zones directly affected by the measure also signed. They can imagine what it would be like to have home, neighborhood and financial security threatened, as has happened to the petitioners. They know the impact the housing shortage has on our communities. They clearly see that this STR issue affects everyone in Lincoln County.

4. Do you think the success or failure of this ballot measure could have an impact on other jurisdictions?

Yes, and it frightens the STR industry. This citizen’s initiative is the first of its kind to make it to the ballot in Oregon; it will encourage other jurisdictions. Clatsop County, the city of Coos Bay and others are working on the issue. Clatsop County enacted minimal regulations several years ago, primarily addressing septic system adequacy, but did not limit STR numbers. Housing shortages there have significantly worsened since, workers can’t find places to live, and neighborhoods have been increasingly impacted by transient renters who show little concern for people living next door. Clatsop County is revisiting the issue. Coos Bay recently began to consider restricting STRs. Numerous other jurisdictions in Oregon and elsewhere have recognized the problems of unrestricted STRs and are acting to limit them. Depoe Bay long ago recognized the problem of STRs in residential neighborhoods, banning them in 1996. The city has many STRs today, but in appropriate zones, not single-family residential zones.

5. With your remaining space, please share anything else you believe voters should know about this ballot measure and/or the overarching issue of short-term vacation homes in residential areas. 

It is crucial for the citizens of Lincoln County to read the ballot measure. Not all STRs are impacted, contrary to opponents’ campaign statements. Much misleading or false information has been spread by opponents about Measure 21-203, in written and radio ads, and on websites. Opponents have even registered a website name almost identical to 15neighborhoods.com and posted propaganda on it to confuse voters. 

Quoting from the Measure 21-203 official summary on the ballot:

1) “It would apply only in the unincorporated areas of Lincoln County.” That means none of the STRs within city limits are impacted. Roads End STRs are not in danger. 

2) “New STR licenses would not be issued in residential neighborhoods zoned R-1-A, R-1 and R-2.” There would be no restriction on the issuance of STR licenses in other zones. 

3) “STRs in those zones would become ‘nonconforming uses’ of real property…and would be phased out within 5 years, with some hardship exemptions available.” 

4) “A process is provided wherein R-1-A, R-1 and R-2 subdivisions may be down-zoned to allow for STRs.” If enough residents in a subdivision want to change to zoning that allows for tourist lodging business, they can petition the county to do so.

Vacasa opened a real estate office in Lincoln County. Its stated mission is to promote buying and selling properties for vacation rentals. STR companies actively solicit house owners to rent their houses short-term to transients. They cater to investors buying income-producing properties. The motivation is profit, not quality of life. Why here? Because Lincoln County has done nothing to enforce zoning laws.

Consider this fact: Most of the profits generated by STRs do not even pass through Lincoln County, going directly to out-of-area owners and internet listing companies based elsewhere. A small group of wealthy outsiders is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to spread falsehoods about this common-sense measure, all to protect the profits they are siphoning out of our county and out of Oregon.

(1) comment

Steve

Please, Please vote no on this overreaching measure 21- 203. All for strong and strict code enforcement, limits on the number of STR. Elderly Pensioner, blue collar retiree on a fixed income. This will kill me financially. STR my home about 30% of the time, live in it the rest. Never any problems with my quiet separate house, strict, no parties, occupational limits, parking. This measure will devastating to our quaint small town of Waldport. The measure is overreaching in size and eliminating STR where there are no problems. If Lincoln city is having major problems it should enact its own regulations for its area.

Steve

Waldport

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