Morro Bay city leaders warn hotels, AirBnb hosts to avoid hosting people vacationing from out of town

Posted at 11:43 PM, Apr 28, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-29 02:43:52-04

After seeing an influx of "overnight visitors," the city of Morro Bay is warning people about traveling from out of town and staying in area hotels.

The city says some hotels, vacation rentals and Airbnb hosts could be fined up to $1000 if they are found to be hosting guests for non-essential reasons.

Morro Bay City Manager Scott Collins says only people who are essential workers, those who are here to assist family members, or of lower economic means should be staying at local hotels.

Some hotel owners are now questioning, however, if it’s discrimination to decide who can stay in their rooms.

Access to Morro Rock may be closed but that isn’t stopping some people from visiting Morro Bay.

"We don't have anything like this where I'm from -- it's all desert. It's nice to get out and get fresh air," said Donald Larsen, a tourist visiting from Bakersfield.

City leaders are now reiterating their stance to stop people from coming from out of town to stay on vacation while the shelter-at-home orders are in effect.

City Manager Scott Collins says in a statement:

We greatly appreciate the sacrifices made by our lodging partners as they have complied with the order since mid-march. We did see an uptick in overnight visitors this past weekend. Therefore, we are reminding them to continue to abide by the order. Enforcement efforts may be taken if they do not voluntarily comply with the order, only after warnings are issued.

Several hotels and Airbnb hosts we spoke to agree with the city, even though this comes at a time when some they say they are financially hurting.

"You have to be safer renting a room and be careful these days," said Jack Panchel, Owner of the Morro Bay Beach Inn.

"If you were to paint a picture of an at-risk community, Morro Bay would be that painting; the only thing we're missing is density," said Anna Patel, General Manager of Beach Bungalow Inn and Suites. "We have a very aged population and we're right here in a central hub where people travel from all over and come right through here."

But not everyone is on board. A Morro Bay hotel owner who asked to stay anonymous tells us:

We do not agree with the city on this subject and believe that hosts and hotels should be allowed to conduct business without implementing discriminatory restrictions based on where a guest lives, which could lead to hosts and hotels having to defend costly litigation in the future. The city, if they truly wish to restrict out of town guests staying in town, we ask them to issue a statement of a blanket indemnification for all hotels and hosts so that any litigation arising out of this will be covered by the city.

Some visitors from out of town agree.

"I think it would be revoking my rights as a U.S. citizen to legally do what I want," Larsen said.

The city is already estimating losing about $1 million of transient occupancy tax, or TOT, from March to the end of June and are looking at places they can make cuts in their budget to continue to stay afloat.

Morro Bay is projecting losses of between $2-to-3 million overall from the pandemic. They say those losses are primarily from the occupancy tax and sales tax.

The city is projecting that number to increase to $4-to-5 million in the next fiscal year.