Airbnb providers hit with fees, restrictions under new Mountain View law

Mountain View residents offering short-term rentals on their properties will need to pay the city for that privilege after a new ordinance took effect last month.

The city council last October introduced an ordinance that establishes operating standards for such rentals, which are often conducted through online platforms like Airbnb. Under the new law, property owners offering short-term rentals (STRs) beginning July 1 were required to register with the city.

The process carries a host of fees. For starters, the city requires $165 annually for registration, which officials said is “designed to recover the city’s cost of regulating STRs.” Guests and renters also are subject to the city’s transient occupancy tax, equivalent to 10% of the rental costs. And renters must pay for an annual business license fee.

Such regulation stems from residents’ concerns in recent years that the proliferation of Airbnb rentals was adversely impacting neighborhoods by bringing excessive traffic, parking and noise.

Los Altos doesn’t allow any residential short-term rentals, defined as stays less than 30 days. The city council in May 2018 adopted an ordinance prohibiting such rentals, with the exception of hotels.

While Mountain View’s law allows unlimited hosted rentals where the operator is present on-site, the city limits unhosted rentals – where the owner is not present – to a maximum of 60 nights annually.

Unhosted rentals have sometimes resulted in parties generating noise, trash and overflow parking. The new law prohibits “special events, weddings, parties, corporate gatherings, and other similar events which have the potential to cause traffic, parking, noise, trash, or other impacts in the neighborhood are allowed at the short-term rental property during the short-term rental,” the ordinance states.

In addition, STR operators must provide the city and their neighbors with the contact information for a local person able to respond to concerns and complaints within 60 minutes. The city can revoke registration and prohibit a property from being used for failure to comply with regulations.

Operating without registration will result in a first-notice warning with 30 days to comply, followed by a $500 fine with the second notice and a $1,000 fine with the third notice. Operating with revoked or denied registration, or exceeding the 60-night limit for absentee operators can result in fines of $500 per day.

Shonda Ranson, the city’s communications coordinator, said Mountain View has more than 800 STR operators listed on various platforms over the past year, but only one had fully registered as of last week.

The city has extended a grace period to Sept. 1 to allow for registration “before we start checking for compliance,” she said.

Back to the drawing board: After feedback from Planning Commission, two developers to revisit designs

With a full dais that included new member David Marek, the Los Altos Planning Commission reviewed two proposed housing projects last week and gave feedback that ultimately encouraged the respective developers to return to the commission with updated plans.

Local residents took issue with both projects – one at 376 First St. and the other at 4898 El Camino Real – for the same reasons: lack of parking, the inclusion a rooftop deck, inconsistent design compared with other city housing developments and the number of affordable units.

Often a hit, this time a miss

The commission considered the proposal for the multifamily development at 376 First St. for the first time at its Aug. 1 meeting. Brett Bailey of the Dahlin Group architecture firm spoke on behalf of applicant Jan Unlu, introducing a condo complex comprising 15 units spread across four stories – eight one-bedroom and seven two-bedroom condos. Bailey’s design features a common roof deck and one level of underground parking with a mechanical lift system.

Currently, the site is home to the single-story Ristorante Bella Vita and 10 parking spaces. Three affordable units are included in the plan in exchange for height, setback and parking incentives and waivers.

Bailey reminded the commission that this was not Dahlin’s first rodeo: Los Altos Gardens and 100 First St., two projects Commissioner Ronit Bodner noted are often used as examples of good architecture in town, were also designed by the Pleasanton-based firm.

The contemporary gable look Bailey aimed for in his 376 First design is not similar to the firm’s other projects. While he considered it the more conservative design – an earlier iteration he tried to make “boxy and fun” received mixed reviews from colleagues, the senior associate admitted – multiple commissioners argued that the usual Dahlin Group quality just wasn’t there.

“There are a lot of good elements, with the material palette (showing) promise,” Commissioner Doo Ho Lee said. “I like the (use of) real wood, but there’s a loss of opportunity in having no entry on First Street. It’s not welcoming.”

Resident Jon Baer contended that the design is too modern for downtown; it could work on El Camino Real, he said. Later, Commissioner Phoebe Bressack agreed, calling for a design that reflects the “village” feel.

Marek, a lawyer by trade who was appointed to the commission by the Los Altos City Council June 11, said at first he liked the project, but after listening to critiques from fellow commissioners, he wasn’t so sure.

“I’m comfortable with the overall look, but a lot of these concerns are warranted,” Marek said.

The commission suggested a few design tweaks, including securing the building with a gate, lightening the color of the elevator tower to make it less intense, reorienting the entrance and breaking up the mass of the building with architectural elements.

“We have a lot of work to do, and I think you’ll be pleased when I come back,” Bailey said.

Brimming with juxtaposition

Commissioners compared components of applicant Mircea Voskerician’s Altos II project at 4898 El Camino Real to an assortment of structures: a commercial building, a cruise ship, an airport control tower and a prison tower. Overall, the group was unified in feeling that the building felt heavy largely because the long balconies that wrapped around each floor were “super-banded.”

The building has come a long way since the project’s Feb. 21 study session, commissioners agreed. Bressack called the design application “one of the more successful ones (commissioners) have seen” due to architect Jeff Potts’ willingness to incorporate their feedback.

Still, concerns with the mix of materials, the fact that the 21-unit project includes only three- and four-bedroom units and the lack of substantial detail on the rear elevation, among other objections, led to a unanimous decision to direct the 4898 El Camino Real team to return once more before the commission recommends approving the project to the city council.

If approved, the project will replace a one-story commercial building currently occupied by the Futon Shop, as well as a number of other offices and retail outlets.

Voskerician informed the commission that he and Potts had developed variations of the project with the same footprint that provide either 24 units or 28 units with one-, two- and three-bedroom models, depending on the preference of city leaders. The 28-unit option would allow an increase in affordable housing units from four to six, a major benefit to Los Altos, Voskerician said. His current design adheres to the city’s 35 percent density bonus – which allows developers to secure building variances in exchange for incorporating affordable housing units or public space in their projects – but he said would be receptive the city selecting any of the plans.

Design recommendations fall under the purview of the Planning Commission, but the density bonus decision are largely up to the council, Commissioner Sally Meadows said. Still, commissioners agreed to offer input on both the revised design and which plan they prefer – 21-, 24- or 28-unit – at their next meeting, scheduled Aug. 15.

Citizens voice concerns about 'Safe Lots' bill

Ron Ligon
Megan V. Winslow/Town Crier
Los Altos resident Ron Ligon, in red, voices his concerns about AB 302 at last week’s Los Altos Hills Town Hall meeting.

Although State Assemblyman Marc Berman is responsible for authoring two dozen bills this year, discussion at last week’s Los Altos Hills Town Hall meeting centered on just one: Assembly Bill 302, legislation that would require California community colleges to allow students in good standing to sleep in vehicles parked overnight on campus.

Bringing Los Altos up to date

Like other small cities in California, Los Altos – specifically downtown – is evolving for a number of reasons: online sales dealing a financial blow to brick-and-mortar stores, the housing crisis finding a home in any mixed-use district and residents seeking a livelier environment with heavier foot traffic.

Residents launch group to educate peers on city happenings

There’s a new citizen interest group in town.

Known as Los Altos Residents, the group – led by steering committee members Michele Coldiron, Freddie Wheeler and Fred Haubensak – seeks to “ensure Los Altos residents are accurately assessed and represented by City Council, commissions and staff,” according to its mission statement.

Los Altos residents fight installation of cell nodes near homes

Megan V. Winslow/Town Crier
A utility pole on Panchita Way serves as an example of the technology AT&T has requested a permit to install across Los Altos: small-cell node facilities, such as an extension for an antenna, to expand 5G service.

As they celebrated the country’s independence July 4, more than 120 Los Altos residents also fought cellular provider AT&T by signing a petition to protest the city granting a permit to the company – one that would allow it to install small-cell nodes near their homes.

As of the Town Crier deadline, that number had grown to approximately 440 resident signatures.

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