It stands to reason a city could consider and confront issues, resolve how to manage them, and then move forward to consider new challenges and opportunities. Businesses do it, people do it, single-celled organisms do it: Evolution is all the rage.
Yet, in Santa Fe, one has to wonder if there is a Sisyphean curse that demands perpetually grappling with the same tired issues at the expense of true progress. We’d like to dive into alternative energy, public transit and solving affordable housing for real, but we just can’t figure out what to do about vacation rentals—even though there was a huge public debate and official adoption of a short-term rental ordinance last year.
In fairness, there is progress on all of these fronts. But the snail’s pace of governmental proactivity does little to reduce the frustration that so much time and energy spent has so few results, especially when the land of mañana feels more like the land of ayer, as though we are actually moving backward in time.
Santa Fe’s short-term rental ordinance essentially sanctions a long-term illegal activity: renting out one’s house or guest house for periods of less than a month, usually to tourists and sometimes to visiting performers and the like. The ordinance decrees the practice is copacetic so long as no more than 350 such units exist, each offers no more than 17 rentals per year and each pays a fee of $1,000 annually.
Legal short-term rental units have always included hotels, bed-and-breakfasts and units within the city’s mixed-use Business Capital District. The ordinance effectively legalizes outlaw units in residential neighborhoods, with the promise of using revenue from the fee to enforce the attendant regulations.
Naturally, people who had been making Humvees full of money decided to sue.
State District Court upheld the ordinance in January of 2009 but suggested the city revisit the amount of the fee. Many expect the Santa Fe City Council to do so by the end of August. Charles Goodman, CEO of Kokopelli Property Management, has been spearheading a movement to push for refunds. Thus far, $300,000 in fees has been collected and, according to city Land Use Director Jack Hiatt, spent.
However, it appears not to have been spent on enforcement. One owner of short-term rentals in the BCD forwarded SFR more than 700 internet listings advertising current vacation rentals in Santa Fe. An examination of the listings shows significant overlap across multiple websites, but ample evidence of far more than the 350 legally allowed. If the city hasn’t been able to enforce the ordinance after collecting $1,000 per legal license, how will it do so when collecting less?
None of us like absentee landlords or vacation rentals filling up our neighborhoods, but the bottom line is we have no right to tell private property owners what they can and can’t do with an asset as significant as a home. If someone wants to offer the occasional short-term rental, that’s fine.
However, we can certainly limit what property management companies do. Kokopelli, with 200 vacation rentals under its flute, isn’t the victim here and it isn’t the defender of justice—it’s the problem. Restrict companies like Kokopelli to managing long-term property rentals, and the overabundance of vacation rentals and the exhausting level of enforcement vanishes instantly. Let people manage their own properties how they please—and track the fees, licensing and bookings on a publicly accessible database—and nobody’s rights get stepped on while the community does the policing.
Another problem we may never escape is the crazy developer. Many in the community were alarmed by an Aug. 10 email that went out to a curious list of recipients and stated, “Fantastic New Santa Fe Specialty Retail & Entertainment Complex Under Consideration.”
The email went on to detail how a 26-lane bowling alley, an 18-hole mini-golf course and a laser tag gaming center will accompany an outdoor amphitheater, a holistic healing facility, a used book store and a nature reserve in the form of bee hives and ant farms.
Laser tag? We really are living backward in time.
My response to the sender, who identified herself as Teresa Romero: Is this a hoax?
Her reply to me: “Not hardly. This is seriously being worked on.”
Romero claims the principal partners have opened communication with Public Service Company of New Mexico about its land abutting the Baca portion of the Railyard, and intend to buy it and begin working on the $14 million build out by the end of this year. She described herself as a “PR student” and a “friend of the principal.”
Romero also claims the anchor tenant—a branded theme restaurant, specialty-food manufacturer and microbrewery—has already been identified and discussions have been initiated with I-5 Design & Manufacture as the project designer and contractor for this “eco-conscious complex.” I-5 Design’s stated specialty? Casino design.
In other words, this ain’t never going to happen. But it might get a bunch of people in a tizzy and distracted from making real progress on real issues.
Remember: Even if it’s not a hoax, it might still be a joke.