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Napa's Airbnb crisis: Resistant to change, slow to adapt, sure to be overthrown

Napa's Airbnb crisis: Resistant to change, slow to adapt, sure to be overthrown

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The city and county of Napa continue to allow new hotels to be built and existing hotels to be expanded upon at an alarming rate, yet they severely restrict any and all short-term rental permits that would allow revenue generated by overnight guests to remain in the hands of our locals. At best, this shows the narrow-minded and short-sighted nature of bureaucrats operating under a defunct paradigm, at worst, this is evidence of blatant collusion between our elected officials and the hotel industry.

Not that long ago, it would have been dangerous to hop in a stranger's personal car or sleep in their home, but today, thanks to apps like Lyft and Airbnb, collaborative consumption allows the consumer to get a cleaner, faster, more efficient ride and it allows families and friends to feel at home while on vacation, to cook and share meals together and to see their destination through the eyes of a local. This shift in how people choose to spend their travel dollars supports the local economy, creates a more interesting, diverse and affordable array of accommodations, reduces non-local workforce traffic, and makes living in Napa more affordable for the thousands that are looking to move out-of-state due to rising housing costs.

If more overnight guests can be supported by our local tourism industry, we should be looking at short-term rentals as the answer, not expanding upon or adding more big hotels. Allowing more Airbnb and VRBO permits would help Napa with some of the biggest issues we face, yet our elected officials are working hard to vilify them under a protection racket designed to insulate the hotel industry from rising competition from the sharing economy.

Times and technology have changed. We can embrace the inevitability of disruptive technology and be on the right side of history, or be left to play catch-up later on down the road.

A few of our biggest issues and how short-term rentals could help:

- Out of Control Housing Costs: More locally owned short-term rentals would allow Napa Valley residents to earn income from their homes. Vacation rentals would enable locals to rent their homes while they are out of town, or to turn a spare bedroom into an additional stream of income. This additional revenue could be the catalyst that allows residents to stay in their homes instead of moving out-of-state in search of lower housing prices.

- Traffic: Short-term rentals don't require the large number of employees that hotels do. This means less need for a non-local workforce to commute into and out of Napa Valley, or up and down Highway 29 and Silverado Trail every day.

- Money where we need it the most: Legal short-term rentals pay their taxes, illegal rentals don't. The dearth of short-term rental permits has led to hundreds of illegal listings bringing in millions of dollars a year and not paying a penny of Transient Occupancy Taxes. Short-term rentals are subject to a 12% Transient Occupancy Tax and an additional 1% assessment for Affordable & Workforce Housing. The city and county depend on this revenue. Only those vacation rentals that are permitted are paying that tax. If more short-term rental permits were granted, those alone could generate millions of dollars for our local communities.

- We're losing what makes us special: Napa's wine industry was founded by trailblazers defying centuries of winemaking tradition. Napa used to be the underdog in the annals of winemaking, now this valley would be better depicted as the big, greedy, overdeveloped villain squashing out the small farmer, vintner, businessman and homeowner. The businesses in this valley are increasingly owned by outside interests while the hotels, supermarkets, drug stores, etc. that were once locally owned are now gone.

The last thing Napa needs is another big corporate hotel chain. What Napa needs more of, is locals opening their doors and sharing the spirit of hospitality that has made us famous.

Shauna L. Abbott

Napa

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