How can two people better keep tabs on who is flouting Napa’s rules on vacation rentals, housing safety and business signs? That question will come before the City Council on Tuesday.
Napa planning officials will discuss the state of code enforcement in the city, whose flourishing tourist industry has given rise to numerous in-home rentals to vacationers – many of them listed on Airbnb and similar websites despite lacking city licenses for short-term hosting.
Two full-time employees are responsible for responding to complaints ranging from dangerous building conditions to zoning violations, trash build-up, and unpermitted construction. However, the enforcement of Napa’s vacation rental ordinance has become a topic of vigorous debate in recent years, as local housing prices and rents have steadily climbed while vacancy rates have shrunk, pressuring Napa’s housing supply.
Currently, one code enforcement officer spends 50 percent of her time investigating violations of Napa’s vacation rental ordinance, while the other officer devotes 25 percent of his hours patrolling downtown and major streets for illegal signs, according to Vin Smith, community development director.
Under an ordinance that took effect in 2016, homeowners wishing to host tourists in their homes must apply for a city permit, pay a fee, and collect the same 14 percent room tax charged by hotels and bed-and-breakfast inns. Napa also allows whole-house rentals at about 40 residences under a 2009 law, but has not added to that number since.
The city’s current two-year budget, which runs through June, identifies vacation rentals as a priority for proactive enforcement, as well compliance with sign regulations.
A new sign code the council approved in December loosens some standards on the size and height of storefront displays. In place of Napa’s old limits of 24 inches per character and 10 percent coverage of a business’ front-facing area, the new code bases maximum sign size on a façade’s linear width. For example, a location 40 feet wide may include up to 40 square feet of labeling.
Still illegal in Napa for now are A-frame sidewalk displays outside businesses, although some dissenters, including Councilmember Mary Luros, have argued that such signs aid merchants who otherwise would see customers kept away by road and street construction.