Buellton considers leeway for hotels without on-site management

An emerging trend within the hotel industry inspired Buellton officials to patch up a vacant corner of the city’s municipal code.

At its June 27 meeting, the Buellton City Council discussed two separate proposals from staff that address future hotel developments intending to operate without 24/7 on-site management, comparable to the approach of many Airbnbs.

click to enlarge Buellton considers leeway for hotels without on-site management
File photo by Caleb Wiseblood
HOTEL CALIFORNIA: The Buellton City Council recently directed staff to draft an ordinance on hotel management that would conform with state law and allow flexibility for properties without managers residing there 24/7.

“Currently, the city’s municipal code does not address any requirements for on-site resident managers for hotel properties,” Buellton Planning Director Andrea Keefer said at the meeting.

City Manager Scott Wolfe said that it’s “becoming more and more common” for hotels and motels across the nation to operate with remote managers and keycode entry methods for guests.

“This type of an operation ... is on the rise all over the state; all over the country,” Wolfe said.

The lack of any specific regulation in Buellton’s municipal code regarding this topic “became apparent when working with a local hotel operator,” according to Keefer, who did not name the hotel.

“This particular hotel has 20 guest units and is currently being operated and managed remotely by staff at a non-adjacent property located a little bit over half a mile from the subject site,” Keefer said. “Both of these particular properties are owned by the same business entity.

“It would be prudent to address this issue for any future hotel operators as well as for the current hotel operator in question,” Keefer added.

According to the staff report, no hotel properties, “that staff is aware of,” are managed remotely without on-site resident managers in Buellton, other than the unnamed hotel operator under scrutiny.

Wolfe described the establishment as functioning “just as any other motel or hotel would with the exception that the manager is off-site a short distance away as opposed to being specifically on-site.”

“So, the real question here is: Is this an acceptable practice in the city of Buellton?” Wolfe asked the City Council.

After some discussions with both the operator and the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office on safety measures and other issues to consider, staff drafted two potential ordinance options for the City Council to review.

The first option enforces the California Code of Regulations’ stance on hotel management “as written,” by requiring an on-site manager at every hotel with 12 or more guest rooms. The second option interprets this obligation as being fulfilled through alternative conditions, including several emergency plans in place and a hotel manager available within 1 mile of the property. 

Councilmember Hudson Hornick spoke in favor of requiring an on-site manager working on the premises around the clock.

“I think in terms of all the safety concerns, all the liability concerns ... it just makes sense to have a manager on site 24/7,” Hornick said.

Councilmember David Silva voiced support for the alternative option and noted that some hotels have staff members traveling beyond a mile to get to a separate side of the property.

“I used to do night audit in hotels ... so I’ve worked in properties where I was the one person on-site and the property had a 1-mile radius,” Silva recalled. “To get to the rooms farthest away was a 10-minute walk if I had to deal with something.

“The ask that we have right now ... could theoretically be similar to just putting one person in the center of a super large resort and have the same security concerns,” said Silva, who motioned to direct staff to bring back an ordinance in line with the second option and not require 24/7 on-site management.

The motion passed 3-2, with Hornick and Councilmember John Sanchez dissenting.

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