City Council to discuss short-term rental regulations, general fund reserve

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Berkeley City Council will discuss short-term rental regulations, the increase of contributions to the general fund reserve and the allocation of funds generated by the city’s tax on sugar-sweetened beverages at its regular and special meetings Tuesday.

During the regular meeting, City Council will consider city staff responses to short-term rental regulation questions raised by council members during a July meeting. City staff was asked to address issues including tracking short-term rentals and renting out accessory buildings, such as sheds and garages.

According to Carol Johnson, director of Berkeley’s Department of Planning and Development, short-term rentals are residences temporarily occupied for fewer than 14 days. These rentals are in a class separate from hotels or motels and are typically associated with companies such as Airbnb and Vacation Rentals by Owner, or VRBO.

Johnson said using zoning certificate numbers to track these rentals would allow Berkeley to verify that hosts have gone through the correct city processes.

“Every day we don’t adopt regulations, we are losing affordable housing and losing revenue,” said Councilmember Kriss Worthington.

City Council will also discuss a plan for increasing contributions from city surplus revenue to Berkeley’s general fund reserve from 8 percent of the surplus to a minimum of 16.7 percent or a maximum of 30 percent. The general fund reserve is intended to provide funds for the city in the event of a recession or emergency. It also is indicative of fiscal responsibility and could help the city receive lower interest rates in the long term, Worthington said.

The city has not approved increased contributions to the general fund reserve for the last few years, but Worthington said last year’s $7 million surplus made an amendment to the reserve level seem plausible.

Currently, the plan would require 50 percent of the annual surplus to be transferred to the reserve until these contributions make up 30 percent of the general fund. The remaining 50 percent of the annual surplus will be distributed for other purposes as determined by City Council.

The regular meeting will also include discussion about the allocation of funds collected from a sugary drinks tax to Berkeley Unified School District and nonprofit organizations in Berkeley. Last January, Berkeley City Council voted to distribute almost $1.5 million to the school district and community programs aimed to reduce sugary drink consumption, and at Tuesday’s meeting, the council will decide the distribution of the funds over the next two years.

City Council will also hold a special meeting in which the city’s Parks, Recreation and Waterfront department will provide an update on the status of funds for Berkeley’s resident camps — through which the city offers outdoor programs for youth and families — that were catastrophically damaged by natural disasters, according to a city agenda memo.

Contact Gibson Chu at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @thegibsonchu.