West Marin’s natural beauty and historical attractions draw many visitors to the area. Every year West Marin’s popularity has continued to grow, and with it, an influx of visitors. Although tourism is part of our history and vital to our economy, the reality is that tourism is stressing county resources and, from what I’ve heard, negatively impacting many West Marin residents.
During my campaign in 2016, at our community office hours, at meetings and one-on-ones throughout District 4 last year and at Senator Mike McGuire’s 2017 community forum and working group meetings, I have consistently heard that more needs to be done to assure that our communities remain vibrant with sustainable schools, employee housing and adequate services for both residents and visitors.
Setting accommodations aside for serving visitors affects available housing, which leads to a reduction in full-time residents and subsequent difficulty in finding and retaining employees for local businesses. Visitors also increase demands on county infrastructure—from overcrowded roads to overflowing toilets—and stress our already overburdened services, including trash clean-up, law enforcement, safety personnel and volunteer fire departments. Yet we also have an obligation to welcome visitors: the California Coastal Commission mandates that we provide accommodations for citizens visiting the seashore. To preserve our communities and their quality of life, we must find a balance between supporting our rural communities and welcoming and accommodating visitors.
Concurrently, the size of West Marin contributes to the stress on infrastructure and county services. West Marin is vast and expensive to maintain. It accounts for 89 percent of the county’s total geographic area for fire coverage, and 58 percent of fire calls originate in West Marin. Additionally, 47 percent of the total 421 miles of county-maintained roads are in West Marin.
To help mitigate the impacts of tourism, I propose a ballot measure to increase the Transient Occupancy Tax, or TOT, in West Marin. The TOT is a tax on those who rent accommodations for a period less than 30 days. The current rate in unincorporated Marin is 10 percent. It is important to note that the TOT is not a tax on the business operator; it is a tax on the tourist that is collected by the operator on behalf of the county. The county generates on average $3.4 million a year in TOT revenue, less than 1 percent of total general fund revenue. West Marin, with the highest concentration of short-term rentals, generates approximately 75 percent of Marin’s total TOT.
TOT funds go directly into the county’s general fund, meaning there is no specific designated use of the funds. Similar to property tax, sales tax and business license revenues, TOT revenues fund a variety of county services, such as public parks, historical and environmental preservation and infrastructure improvements and maintenance. The TOT also supplements crucial services that our residents depend on, such as fire protection and local law enforcement.
I propose a ballot measure that would increase the TOT rate from 10 percent to 15 percent in West Marin only. Revenue from the additional 5 percent would not go into the general fund; instead, it would be held separately to benefit the “West Marin Tax Area.” This newly proposed area would encompass Muir Beach to Dillon Beach, Nicasio to the top of Big Rock ranch, and the San Geronimo Valley to the top of White’s Hill.
Three-fifths of the 5 percent of the additional funds collected would be allocated for long-term affordable housing under the proposed measure. The remaining two-fifths of the additional funds would be allocated for fire and emergency services, split between the volunteer fire departments and the Marin County Fire Department for use in the West Marin Tax Area. In order to ensure local control, an advisory group consisting of West Marin residents, West Marin business leaders and county staff would monitor the distribution of funds. This proposed ballot measure would require a two-thirds majority vote, as it is a measure to increase tax.
As your supervisor, it is my responsibility to find solutions to our communities’ complex problems. I believe that this new funding stream would be a good start toward mitigating the negative visitor impacts on our West Marin communities. I recognize that it would not solve all of our issues, but with your help and collaboration, I am confident that we will find the other answers we need.
This TOT ballot measure is just in the planning stages. I look forward to hearing your thoughts and ideas, not only regarding the TOT tax, but on the issue of visitor impacts at large. Please feel free to call me at (415) 473.7331 or email me at DRodoni@marincounty.org if you would like to discuss this or any other proposal.
Dennis Rodoni, a former contractor, has served as District 4 county supervisor since January 2017 and prior to that as a board member North Marin Water District. He lives in Olema.