Faced with a crisis in housing availability that affects the economy of the entire county, and advised by the county manager that “the ‘vacation rental industry’ will continue to grow for the foreseeable future” (“Clatsop County ready to tackle vacation rentals,” The Daily Astorian, Sept. 26), the Clatsop County Commission is choosing, paradoxically, not to limit, but merely to regulate, short-term rentals — with full knowledge that the conversion of a growing number of dwellings into vacation rentals is a major source of frustration, not just for prospective employees desperate for a place to buy or rent, but for their potential employers, as well.
The city of Gearhart would seem to have a better grasp of the connection between vacation rentals and the housing crisis. By enacting legislation aimed at keeping short-term rentals to a minimum, it has taken a major step toward alleviating the shortage of homes to buy or rent long-term. In Gearhart, existing vacation rentals, recognized as illegal commercial activities in residential zones, have been grandfathered (at least until they are sold), while no new short-term rental conversions are permitted.
Over time, the recent explosion of short-term rentals will be reduced by attrition; prospective residents are already finding more Gearhart dwellings available to buy or rent on a long-term (over 30 days) basis. The permanent and seasonal community of Gearhart has been rescued from the onslaught of vacation rental agencies that use the Internet and direct mailings to attract customers; thanks to the 2016 city ordinance, the community will be able to preserve, after all, its traditional integrity and stability.
That community is currently celebrating its hundredth birthday. From 1890 to 1918, Gearhart was a summer resort full of short-term vacation rentals, amusements and commercial attractions. “Gearhart Park” was managed by a series of syndicates who treated the settlement like a cash crop, and whose benign neglect finally led to the loss by fire of the hotels that were a main source of revenue.
A one-room schoolhouse for the children of resort caretakers was the only evidence of a permanent resident population. But it was that core population who, in late 1917, rose up in frustration at the mismanagement of their town, and demanded an election for incorporation of Gearhart as a city in its own right, with its own government, including police, fire, roads, utilities, etc.
The election, held on Jan. 28, 1918, was successful, and marked the beginning of Gearhart as an independent community of permanent and seasonal residents. And eventually Gearhart, like most other municipalities, adopted zoning laws that separated areas of commercial use from areas of residential use. Gearhart is facing today another fateful election, an election that will determine whether the dates 1918-2018 will be inscribed on a milestone or on a
Failing their attempt with the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals to find flaws in Gearhart’s law upholding the zoning ordinance and limiting short-term renatls, absentee (predominantly out-of- state) owners and vacation rental agencies have now resorted to a public referendum, Measure 4-188, to repeal and replace the law, forcing a vote of the people in November.
Through their well-financed propaganda machine, proponents of the measure argue that it will “protect the property rights” of homeowners to convert their homes into short-term rentals. Nothing is said of protecting residents from an assault on the zoning ordinance on which they’ve relied: Measure 4-188 would revoke their right to live in neighborhoods free from commercial activity.
If that ballot measure passes, people who bought or rented homes in the expectation of living in a residential neighborhood will find themselves potentially surrounded by dwellings that are more like motels than houses, with all the attendant noise and profound disruption. And, there will be no more community. Gearhart will step back a hundred years; once again merely a destination resort, it might as well give up its identity as an independent municipality.
If Gearhart wants to save itself and uphold its current city law, the vote against Measure 4-188 must be not just successful, but overwhelmingly successful. It’s a vote that matters, not one that can be skipped. Otherwise, moneyed interests will continue to pose an existential threat to the community.
Ironically, one of the group spearheading the drive for Measure 4-188 is a member of the Clatsop County Commission, a public body supposedly committed to finding solutions for the current housing crisis. Let’s hope that this anomaly doesn’t reflect the position of a majority of Commissioners, and that Clatsop County will, like Gearhart, take action to limit the scourge of short-term rentals.