Do You Have a Hotel in Your Neighborhood?

–More Civics 101

My second deep dive into local government was to begin researching the overreach of vacation rentals in our small, quiet neighborhood.  Oh, how naïve I was.  I actually thought that residents’ voices, if backed by facts and logic, would count.

What I learned was that what counts is money.  I hear you snickering and saying to yourself, “You’re just now figuring that out?

Let me give a little background

There is a small barrier island just north of St Augustine Florida.  It has deep historic roots into Spanish Florida. The Minorcan family who farmed the land and fished the waters provided food for the large hotels in St. Augustine and ferried Henry Flagler’s wealthy guests across the river from St Augustine to enjoy oyster roasts and outdoor activities.

The Usina family settled into what is now called North Beach in 1877 on land nestled between the Atlantic Ocean and the Intracoastal Waterway. The land was eventually parceled and sold as lots, and many residents have lived here for decades.

The property is slightly longer than one mile north to south, and less than ½ mile east to west – from the Atlantic Ocean to the Tolomato River (the Intracoastal Waterway).  Some 40%+ of the properties are now vacation rentals. What was a quiet community where children could safely wander outside has become a revolving door for tourists, their parties, trash, and vehicles.

The process of discovery

When I first became involved with a local group organized to oppose the proliferation of vacation rentals, the first plan of action was to present a fact-based and logical argument why the County should no longer allow these ventures.

Well, that didn’t work. Come to find out that the State of Florida passed a law that prohibited local government from limiting vacation rentals.

The County staff wanted to help but their hands were tied. They did encourage us to bring our issue in front of the state legislators for our County when they visited to “hear from us” about what was important.

We told sad stories about the noise, parking, and trash as well as facts about how, of the 40%+ properties that were now vacation rentals, over 75% of them had been built or bought in the past four years.  How can anyone in their right mind ignore those pleas for help?  We even spoke individually with some of them after that meeting and were told, “We will not make a change to allow local government control over vacation rentals. Period.”

Where we are now

In this past 2023 state legislative session, just completed in early May, a Senate Bill which would have taken away even more local government authority from regulating vacation rentals died in the House.  While the bill was being debated, we became involved with a larger state-wide network to activate citizens calling and writing to their representatives to ask them to oppose the bill.

How much impact those calls and letters had will remain unknown, but the death of the bill was caused by the Senate and the House not reaching agreement on the content before the end of the session.

As I listened to those with far more experience than I had with state politics say that the bill would be back next session and we had to be prepared, I had a glimmer of hope that we could rally the citizens early and put the kibosh on its return.

The root cause of the problem

In the science of problem-solving, you always want to find the root cause of the problem so that you are not wasting time and money solving something that really isn’t the problem.

Cutting right to the bottom line, we have identified the root cause of the proliferation of vacation rentals.  It costs companies like Airbnb, VRBO, and HomeAway too much money to set up different administrative processes to deal with local communities that all have different rules.

It saves these new megacompanies significant money by having only to deal with one process – or rather 50 – state governments.  So, they lobby the states to wrestle control from local government.

It’s not just Florida, which has always been business-friendly.  Google vacation rentals and see how prolific these pseudo-commercial ventures are across the country, as well as internationally.

Residential neighborhoods everywhere are struggling with the revolving door of tourists invading their neighborhoods.

Money trumps logic and fact

Over the years, Airbnb has become a lobbying force showing its political muscle.  In 2022, AirBnb Political Action Committee alone spent over $ 1 million in lobbying government at all levels.  And that’s only one organization.

But I still couldn’t figure out why they were working so hard to take control from local government.  Surely these were homeowners, and many were probably impacted by the very problem that Airbnb’s cause. Didn’t they have a heart and soul?

It wasn’t until someone mentioned the cost of doing business with local government, compared to the streamlined administration where they only had to deal with 50 states, that I recognized how futile it is to fight a big fire with a garden hose.

That is depressing.

Where to go from here

We can’t just say, “Oh well.” Perhaps we can hold off more restrictions on local government for another year, and another year, and maybe a third.

What troubles me about all of this is how long we citizens have allowed business to run our governments, many of us without even realizing it.

What will it take to realize that our voice can only count when it is heard as loudly as our opponents’ voice? 


Carol Anderson
Carol Anderson
CAROL is the founder and Principal of Anderson Performance Partners, LLC, a business consultancy focused on bringing together organizational leaders to unite all aspects of the business – CEO, CFO, HR – to build, implement and evaluate a workforce alignment strategy. With over 35 years of executive leadership, she brings a unique lens and proven methodologies to help CEOs demand performance from HR and to develop the capability of HR to deliver business results by aligning the workforce to the strategy. She is the author of Leading an HR Transformation, published by the Society for Human Resource Management in 2018, which provides a practical RoadMap for human resource professionals to lead the process of aligning the workforce to the business strategy, and deliver results, and writes regularly for several business publications.

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