My statement for Matthew Gilbert’s article in Orcas Issues Monday July 6th
“Being a favored tourist destination gives us bargaining leverage when dealing with the State and Federal governments about open space, wildlife, ferries and fisheries issues. Also, many of the businesses we locals enjoy probably would not be here without the extra income tourism provides. That said, tourism must exist in harmony with our rural way of life. We cannot offer our guests a good experience if there are too many of them here at the same time. We also cannot provide for them in case of a major emergency or disaster.
The results of the survey on tourism say business owners, residents and visitors all agreed that at the height of a normal summer we are at capacity. Through smart planning decisions about lodging and transportation, we can manage visitor numbers and reduce the environmental impact of tourism on the islands, while still allowing guests to enjoy time here. Planning should also make the islands friendlier to both guests and locals with disabilities.
Our islands haven’t always been so tourist-dependent. We should nurture parts of our existing economy like small trades, health care, and home repair/renovation, that do not count on tourists or building new vacation homes. We must encourage young people to settle here to do this work and bring entrepreneurial ideas and energy. That means addressing affordable housing and taking good care of our schools. That brings us to vacation rentals.
The problem, as I see it, is vacation rental owners who view the islands as an investment opportunity rather than as a year-round community. It makes sense to me to let people who live in the County offer vacation rentals at their address of residence. This county is also a traditional summer-house spot for a number of families, so they should be allowed to rent out one vacation/second home for a limited number of weeks per year. The proliferation of vacation rentals shrinks year-round rental stock, drives up real estate prices and prices the middle class out of our housing market. Permits should be issued to the owner, not the property, and expire when a house changes hands. Anti-nuisance ordinances should be enforced and provide for penalties that include revocation of permit for repeated violations.
According to the tourism survey, long-time residents think we should accept less environmental damage in the name of economic development than do recent arrivals. Perhaps they have lived through a few boom and bust cycles and know it is worth finding a way to get through the tough times while preserving the best things about this place. Quality of life has drawn people here for 10,000 years, it’s what tourists come for and it’s our most important legacy.”