To this observer of the hours-long Feb. 16 Auburn City Council meeting, one Councilperson’s multi-part amendment (which was adopted) to the “Short-term Rental/Homestay Ordinance” looks like an eleventh-hour strategy to undermine the years of work done by the Planning Commission and the Task Force assigned to produce an Ordinance on STRs/Homestays acceptable to the Council and to Auburn’s citizens (512 of whom signed a petition or contacted the Council to support the Ordinance as approved by the Planning Commission, as opposed to 20 who expressed opposition).
This ongoing controversy will, for better or for worse, greatly affect Auburn’s future, so I kindly ask the citizens of the “loveliest village on the plains” to remain engaged. City Council meets again on March 16.
V. Louise Katainen
For many years, I taught courses on Community Organization and Community Development at Auburn. One concept that carried over between the two described cities as a “Growth Machine.” In essence, the business of a city is seen by many leaders as economic growth. The Growth Machine is composed of a powerful coalition of actors, including developers, bankers, the construction industry, utilities, realtors, politicians and newspaper owners. Align these actors and little can stop them. We’ve all experienced this in Auburn.
The subject of short-term rentals (STR) is the most recent flashpoint where the Growth Machine coalition has become visible in Auburn. After two years of debate involving a special task force, public hearings and multiple drafts developed by the City’s Planning Department, an ordinance was drafted that allowed STRs, including “homestays,” in many parts of the city, but not in areas zoned as neighborhood conservation (NC). Space does not allow a full explanation of why over 500 citizens signed a petition or sent emails to City Councilors to pass the ordinance without change, to keep STRs out of NC zones; suffice to say that game day parties repeatedly have disrupted neighborhoods.
The Growth Machine coalition sees STRs and homestays as business opportunities, neighborhood tranquility be damned. One group of City Council members worked with the City’s administration to introduce an amendment, without advance notice, that effectively overrode years of public debate and reversed a carefully crafted ordinance. Those of us who watched the debate know that the manner in which this amendment was introduced sowed confusion among several City Council members.
Those favoring the amendment could have notified other City Council members in advance so that a productive debate could have taken place. Instead, citizens observed members of the Growth Machine wait until the last minute to exert their influence and ignore clear evidence of broad public opposition to STRs in the NC zone.
Fortunately, the STR ordinance comes up again on the March 16 Council agenda. Yet another opportunity to see the Growth Machine in action. Yet another opportunity for citizens of Auburn to make our voices heard. Send an email to the Council at email@example.com and one to Mayor Ron Anders at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Auburn City Council must be comprised of the smartest people in the world.
A Task Force of competent citizens, appointed by the mayor, studied the STR issue for over two years and made recommendations which the Council promptly ignored.
The Planning Department, a City staff of planning professionals, developed an all encompassing ordinance which the Council promptly ignored.
The Planning Commission evaluated the issue, worked in concert with the Planning Department, crafted a balanced and workable ordinance, and passed it on a 7-2 vote, which the Council promptly ignored.
Multiple hundreds of citizens signed petitions and sent emails to the Council in support of the proposed ordinance without amendments, which the Council totally ignored.
Why? What makes the Council smarter than all the above? It smells like FOTC — Friends of the Council. If you are a Council member operating an illegal STR, relax and recuse, the vote will go your way.
If you are an investor, an absentee owner or offer your property for STR in a prohibited NC Zone, not to worry, the City won't enforce it and then your Council buddies will change the rules to accommodate.
It is profitable for a very few over the protections of the majority. How smart is that?