In Wake of Shooting Spree, Orinda City Council Proposes Ban on Non-Hosted Short-Term Rentals 

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(Sally Hogarty, Photographer)
A large memorial to the victims of the Oct. 31 shooting in Orinda covers the old Theatre Square fountain at Brookwood Way and Moraga Way.

    One by one attendees at Orinda City Council’s Nov. 5 meeting took to the podium expressing their views or pleading their cases as the council took public comment on its Short Term Rental (STR) Ordinance and the horrific events of Oct. 31. The size of the crowd required city staff to set up speakers in another room to accommodate the overflow of interested residents and visitors.
    Four and one-half hours later, the City Council instructed city staff to draw up an Urgency Ordinance banning non-hosted STRs in Orinda. Vice Mayor Darlene Gee stated that while the council was sensitive to the needs of non-hosted property owners, where property owners rent out an entire house and are not present, “we need to do this now. The safety of our residents outweighs their concerns.” The council is expected to approve the ordinance on Nov. 19.
    The Halloween night party, which triggered the ordinance, took place at a non-hosted short-term rental at 114 Lucille Way. According to police, more than 100 young people attended the event, which was advertised on social media. At about 10:50 p.m. shots rang out leaving three dead at the scene, police said. Two more young people died at the hospital where another person is in a coma.
    Several speakers wanted to know why it took the Orinda Police more than an hour to respond to noise complaints by neighbors. The first complaint came into dispatch at 9:35 p.m. but police didn’t respond until almost 11 p.m.
    According to Police Chief David Cook, the usual two officers were on duty but were called to Lafayette to respond to a home invasion robbery involving at least one firearm and the assault of the home’s occupants.
    “While not insignificant, there were no indications of violence associated with the noise complaints, so the Lafayette call took priority,” he said. “The officers had finished in Lafayette and were heading to 114 Lucille Way when they received reports of shots fired. Officers from other locations were also dispatched to Lucille Way, including seven forensics experts who spent 16 hours combing the scene for evidence.”
    Cook noted that if a high-priority call had been received in Orinda while the officers were engaged elsewhere, police units from nearby jurisdictions would have responded as part of a mutual-aid agreement. Cook also said it was very unusual to have two major violent events at the same time in Lamorinda. “Two officers is our usual number on duty, and we’ve never had a problem like this before.”
    At the Nov. 5 meeting, Orinda resident Terry Murphy said the owner of 114 Lucille Way had found a way to run a hotel without the usual regulations or large brick and mortar building.
    “Airbnb nor the absentee owner care about Orinda,” he said. “This could have been much worse. The shooter could have gone to a neighbor’s home. This isn’t a safe situation for Orinda. Give the police chief and the city staff the tools they need to enforce regulations.”
    Elise Torres, who lives on Lucille Way, gave an emotional plea saying, “My family doesn’t feel safe now. They could have shot into my house and killed my babies. We’re all scared and having trouble sleeping, but what can we do? We can’t sell the house. No one will want to buy a house on Lucille Way now.”
    The speakers included some of the 21 Orinda homeowners registered as having hosted short-term rentals where guests stay in a room, second unit or guest house with the owner onsite.
    Tracy Apple, a widow who rents out the back part of her house, said she has had very positive experiences with her guests. An elderly man, who began renting two rooms and a bath in his home through Airbnb following the death of his wife, said, “I’m a former Peace Corp volunteer and with my guests I feel like an ambassador again and I’m no longer lonely.”
    Other speakers who have hosted spoke to how the extra income allowed them to stay in their homes and meet financial obligations. Others noted that many guests were parents of Saint Mary’s College students or relatives visiting family in the area.
    Michele Hubinger, one of the 11 people who provide non-hosted rentals, said she raised her children in her large Orinda house but, following the death of her husband, she couldn’t afford to keep up the payments. She said she moved elsewhere and lists her property for short-term rentals.
    “The kids love the house and don’t want me to sell it,” said Hubinger. “I do an extra level of vetting of guests than Airbnb does and take more precautions. I’ve talked to my neighbors about it and have had lovely people stay in our home without any problems.”
    In addition to the more than 55 speakers at the meeting, 39 emails or letters were sent to the City Council on the topic, including one from Greg Fulcher, a short-term rental host who rents out a small in-law unit attached to his owner-occupied home. “I would like to see additional regulations put in place to better protect our community from the various exploits becoming more common on numerous rental platforms, in my case, Airbnb. While we have not experienced any problems outside a few untidy guests, I have de-listed our in-law unit from Airbnb out of respect for the community. We would like to continue with our STR unit, but not until there are more regulations in place at city and platform levels.”
    Michael Young Wang and Wenlin Luo, owners of 114 Lucille Way, registered their property as an STR with Orinda in November 2018. A complaint was received on Feb. 11 regarding a large party impacting the neighborhood with noise, parking and trash. The owner received two Notice of Violations for exceeding maximum occupancy and violating STR parking requirements. In July, the city received complaints on overfilled garbage cans resulting in the owner purchasing larger bins. According to police records, the next complaint was the one about noise on Oct. 31.
    Orinda passed its Short Term Rental Ordinance on Sept. 5, 2017, effective Oct. 5, 2017. The impetus for the action came from a property in Orinda being used for a large party in 2016. The party had been advertised on social media and resulted in the serious injury of one of the participants.
    All short term rentals must be registered with the city and pay a Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT). The TOT, which from 2017 to September 2018 amounted to $74,817.68, goes into the city’s general fund. Stays must be less than 30 days with a maximum occupancy of three persons plus two persons per bedroom. Orinda has 51 properties registered as STRs but only 32 of those are currently actively available for rental. Of these, 21 are hosted and 11 are non-hosted. Staff time to process the registration of STRs is covered by the registration fee paid by the property owner.
    The city contracts with Host Compliance, LLC to help monitor STRs within city limits. Data collected by Host Compliance helps city staff determine whether a listing is active and is hosted or non-hosted.
    When complaints are received, the city sends a courtesy letter to the property owner followed by a Notice of Violation, if one is determined to exist. If the property owner fails to resolve the code violation, a citation can be issued with fines starting at $250 for the first violation, $500 for the second and $1,000 for the third and subsequent violations.

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