Expedia muscles in on Hood River short term rental debate

Travel behemoth Expedia.com hosted an unannounced town hall on short term rentals at the Hood River Elks club yesterday.

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During the meeting, Joy Langley, Expedia’s government affairs manager for the Pacific Northwest, offered to help “Lovable” Hood River, a pro-STR business advocacy group, fight future regulations curtailing the number of rentals allowed in the Columbia Gorge community.

Langley referred to Expedia’s involvement in a similar short term rental battle in Monterey County, California. “We’ve gotten involved politically there,” said Langley, according to an audio file of the meeting. “There’s a county supervisor who is markedly anti-short term rental, and there’s been an investment made from a local group there, for his opponent,” 

Oregon Business first reported here on the battle brewing in Hood River over short term rentals. 

In the past few years, the number of STRs in this gorge community has increased from 54 to more than 100. The city already faces a shortage of affordable workforce housing, and there is limited land on which to build because of the National Scenic Area restriction and Oregon land use laws governing agricultural land. 

Hood River’s city council put a temporary moratorium on new short term rentals last month. Council had considered limiting short term rentals according to the model adopted by the city of Portland, which restricts operations to owner operated (as opposed to investor-owned) units.  

But the proposal failed to win the required 80% supermajority vote. Of the seven city council members, two recused themselves because they run their own short term rentals. The remaining five members split three to two

Laurent Picard, one of the city council members who recused himself, resigned last week because he thought council should take a stand on the issue, says Jon Gehrig, president of Livable Hood River, a local nonprofit working to limit short term rentals.

Picard supported the Portland plan model.

The council is now taking applications for new city council members. 

Bill Irving, a realtor who opposes the Portland model, says Picard’s resignation has added a new, unsavory, dimension to Hood River’s short term rental debate.  

“It’s become messier and more political,” says Irving, who sits on the Hood River planning commission. “It’s a move by opponents of short term rentals.”  Because of the council’s leaning, the new appointee will inevitably take a hard line against short term rentals, Irving says.

Outside forces are exerting undue influence on the process, Livable Hood River members counter.

Expedia’s involvement in Hood River raises a red flag, Gehrig says.  “When Expedia comes to a town of 7,500 people, it’s a warning about corporate influence,” he says.

It’s a familiar warning. Just last month, Hood River County passed a ballot measure blocking global food and beverage company Nestle from building a bottled water plant in Cascade Locks.

Expedia has yet to return requests for comment.  Check back for updates.