The sharing economy, in the form of short-term rental outfits like Airbnb, has become a disruptive force in parts of Woodside.
While Woodside residents may not be able to say exactly what they mean when they're talking about the town's rural character, they seem to know it when they're not seeing it.
"I'm living next door to a corporation (of 10 employees) living and working there," resident Dick Brown of Woodside Heights told the Town Council during an Oct. 11 study session. They're nice people, Mr. Brown said, but the previous corporate tenants were not and the next group may not be either. "The rural character of Woodside is extremely important to us," he said.
A resident of Ridgeway Road said he's lived there for 29 years and that the place next door has been turned into an event center. "The noise, sometimes whole day long," he said. "And the weekend comes, and it's just a disaster and it's totally changed why I wanted to live in Woodside. ... It's very miserable to live right next to people who turned their house into a hotel."
Sue Sweeney Burow prepared a list of communities that, she said, have found ways to regulate short-term rentals. "Certainly in Woodside we care about our rural character, and if people are running hotels in Woodside, I think it would destroy the rural character of Woodside, which goes against the general plan," she said.
Among the ideas offered: no rentals for less than 30 days, no corporate leasing within residential areas, limiting the number of rentals in a calendar year, and requiring the homeowner to be living at the property.
Group events are the primary complaint, Town Manager Kevin Bryant said. The problem in regulating short term rentals, he said, is in administering the regulations and enforcing them. Bans tend not to work, he said. The sharing economy has a peer-to-peer structure, so a key issue is how a city or town might insert itself into that relationship, he said.
Annie Kaskade of the Woodside Glens, a community of small homes, urged the council to note the positive opportunities that short-term rentals offer residents away for a week or two. Tenants in such cases may be pet sitters or nannies, she said. "I don't want to leave my house empty," she said. "It's a magnet for thieves."
She urged the council to develop a formal process for addressing complaints and to consider unintended consequences of regulations.
"The community has rights," Councilman Chris Shaw said. "Neighbors have rights. Running a for-profit short-term rental place for parties is not what we want for our community. ... If you're using your property for commercial gain, that's not what Woodside is about."
Councilman Daniel Yost, a Glens resident, said that while something must be done about group events, the issue deserves a lot of thought. Noise could be a trigger for intervention, he said. The council might consider a formula of two people per bedroom plus two. (The city of St. Helena in Napa County, noted by Mr. Bryant, uses this formula.)
Councilman Peter Mason suggested that the council focus on the worst cases. We need to "quickly put something in that allows us to defend the community," he said.
"It's behavior," Mayor Deborah Gordon said. "The new sharing economy has made it such that these behaviors are coming to every community." It may be appropriate, she said, to look at egregious behavior as a first step, but noted that it's difficult to define bad behavior in an ordinance.
"We have a very tiny resource," she added, referring to the few deputies that patrol the town. (St. Helena has a police force.)
The council asked staff to come back with six or seven approaches and a report on some common regulating threads, such as using nuisance laws.