City Addresses Important Issues: Vacation Rentals – Fence/Wall/Hedge Heights
The City of Ojai has some contested issues up for debate this year. I say this year because these issues will not be settled in one or two Council or Planning Commission meetings.
There are essentially three points to be made on this issue. (1) I bought in a residentially zoned neighborhood, and want it to remain just that: a neighborhood. Do not allow a commercial venture like a vacation rental to degrade my neighborhood. (2) I bought this land and structure and pay the taxes on both. Therefore I am allowed to do what I want with it as long as it is not illegal. (3) I bought this house some years ago and have since have become unable to make my mortgage payments (health and/or financial issues). Renting it out for a few weekends a year will allow me to retain ownership and live in Ojai.
Ojai is not alone in grappling with vacation rentals. Big Sur, Malibu and many other cities are having this discussion. The State of California has at least two bills before the legislature concerned with vacation rentals. The primary concern in Ojai is that we are a hot destination for visiting, and there are some who want to cash-in on this notoriety by buying houses and turning them into vacation rentals with no thought of ever living here. Ojai already has a problem with the price of housing: it is almost prohibitively expensive to move here, whether you buy or rent, and often rent can be equal to or more than the monthly cost of mortgage. Turn what few houses we have into short term vacation rentals and we will effectively eliminate our rental market, and (artificially?) drive up the cost of home ownership. Allowing vacation rentals could irrevocably change the nature of this community, by eliminating all income diversity.
On the other hand, where do private property rights begin and end? As long as a home owner is willing to all the City asks to become a legal and compliant short term/vacation rental, then who can say they should not? This may not be a long lived investment strategy, but why not make hay while the sun shine shines?
Some people are concerned about the proliferation of walls, fences and hedges in the height range of six feet, or more. Three foot fences, walls and hedges are permitted within the front setback without a permit. Anything taller needs to be permitted, which will almost always mean a trip or two before the Planning Commission.
Again, the question of private property rights (see above) comes into conflict with current zoning standards. Driving through Montecito, and seeing all of the 12 feet high hedges will give you an idea of how the fortress mentality can change the look and feel of a neighborhood. When Mr. Libbey designed the Arbolada, vehicles were smaller and not so common. The amount of vehicular traffic in Ojai was considerably less, too. Now the Arbolada has become a cut-through to avoid traffic on Ojai Avenue. No doubt this is a point of concern to the long term and even not so long term residents. Increased noise, headlights coming in windows after dark, and loss of privacy are some of consequences of the increased traffic.
What if residents comply with lower or no walls, fences and hedges within the front setback, and instead put the taller than three feet fences, walls and hedges three feet beyond the setback. Is that out of the purview of the City?