Vacation rental conversation continues

Vacation rental conversation continues

By the Vacation Rental Work Group

This month is the one-year anniversary of the Vacation Rental Work Group’s Community Conversation about vacation rental regulations in the San Juan Islands. An overwhelming conclusion of the three community conversations that took place in 2019 was the public’s request for a moratorium on the issuance of Vacation Rental Permits. Despite letters to and testimony at Council meetings, the San Juan County Council has still refused to act.

In early July 2020, Orcas County Councilman Rick Hughes who is seeking reelection said, “I plan to expand vacation rental regulations, pausing new permits until the county is in Phase 4, setting an annual cap on new applications and a ceiling for total permits, reducing total allowed guests and safeguarding natural resources by requiring meters on all water use.” Hughes was responding to Orcas Issues reporter Matthew Gilbert’s question to each District 2 candidate for San Juan County Council (https://orcasissues.com/tourisms-mixed-blessing-district-2-candidates-respond/). Hughes repeated these ideas at the recent League of Women Candidate Forum.

In the same League of Women Candidate Forum, Rick was asked “If any County Council member is invested in vacation rental ownership, should they divest and/or recuse from the issue when it comes before the council?” His response was that he would leave that to the county Prosecuting Attorney. This was clearly a “yes or no” question. Mr. Hughes would not commit, fearing what might happen in the primary.

As San Juan County Council Chair, Hughes sets the agenda for the council meetings. He could easily bring up his ideas for vacation rental regulations at any time and call for a vote of the SJC Council. If Chairman Hughes is not willing to take action before the primary election, why should voters think he will take action in the future?

Councilman Hughes was present at the July 2019 VRG Community Conversation where some 200 Orcas residents participated and expressed their concerns about San Juan County’s vacation rental regulations. In December, the VRWG presented the County Council with a list of proposed regulations that were collected from the Community Conversations on Orcas. When the VRWG proposed a moratorium on vacation rentals while the county fixed its regulations, more than 2600 people signed in support.

On July 2 the VRWG reached out to all of the County Council candidates for a response to our eight-point program. The link to the eight-point program document is here: shorturl.at/cikrI

This document was originally submitted to the County Council on Dec. 18, 2019, and is part of the public record. Readers interested in all activity vis-à-vis the public’s engagement regarding vacation rentals are directed to the VRWG’s website, VacationRentalsOrcas.org.

As of the time this comment was submitted for publication, further attempts to reach Mr. Hughes have gone unanswered.

It is time for Chairman Hughes to put his proposed regulations before the County Council and call for a vote, before the Aug. 4 primary election. It is time for Rick Hughes to walk the talk.