Sass Talk: Compromise needed on vacation home rental issue in South Lake Tahoe
September 9, 2017
More than a few people have asked me if I was frustrated by the last City Council meeting and the 6.5-hour discussion regarding the revised VHR (vacation home rental) ordinance. I thought the city manager's introduction on why we were looking at a revised ordinance and the staff presentation on the revisions were excellent and on point.
I was a little confused about some of the council questions to city staff and had to remind myself that the VHR sub-committee — made up of Mayor Pro Tem David and myself — have been living, sleeping and eating the VHR issue for over two years. Thus, no matter what the other council members questions were, patience was required and deserved.
Going into the meeting, the city staff and the sub-committee felt strongly that what we had arrived at was a very good compromise, but we knew both sides on the issue were going to be unhappy. We felt that we could not do immediate financial harm to all the people who invested in a VHR business in good faith and in a legal fashion.
Yes, some were just doing it for the cash flow, but many others were doing it so they could afford a second home or keep a first home here in South Lake Tahoe. We also recognized that there is a large cottage industry built on VHRs and we have no interest in harming them. Thus, we thought to place a cap at the current levels seemed fair and protected the current revenue streams for the industry and for the city.
On the other side of the equation are the residents who are tired of new neighbors every weekend, in addition to the noise, trash and parking issues resulting from vacationers who are here primarily to play. Bachelorette parties, birthdays, family reunions, frat parties and more cause numerous issues when they are next door to a full-time resident looking to sleep at night.
Many who have had it with VHRs want them banned and all licenses revoked like other cities in California have done. We believe that we have reached a tipping point and it's time to ramp up fines add additional measures to promote better behavior by VHR occupants and owners, and lock in the number of VHR properties. Allowing more would just add to the existing issues.
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We agreed that in the ideal world, enforcement was the key. However, there is not a practical solution to policing approximately 1,800 VHR properties and, to be frank, locals are exceedingly frustrated by their calls not turning into violations, leading many to give up on reporting.
Another group of locals is too intimidated to call and others feel it isn't their job to report these properties. Others have said that by the time the enforcement arrived it was too late. They had already been woken up or had a run-in with the partiers next door. People are fed up and I don't believe we can hire enough community service officers to prevent the numerous issues.
Adding to all of this is the issue of housing. There is simply not enough and locals are seeing the housing stock convert from long-term rentals to VHR properties. Many locals believe that VHRs are the main culprit in causing a housing shortage.
If this issue ever got to the ballot, on one side would be the VHR industry, coupled with the Realtors. On the other side would be city residents who have a strong distaste regarding VHRs and the many people who blame them for the housing issue. There is a group ready to put the VHR issue on the ballot in November of 2018 if a compromise is not reached by the council.
If this happens, I have no doubt that it will get very ugly. To that end, council will reconvene in four weeks and I am optimistic a revised ordinance will be agreed to by a majority of members. Compromise is the only way forward and anything less will rip our city apart.
We are also moving forward on the cannabis issue. Council voted to appoint council members Lane and Davis to a cannabis subcommittee. They will begin discussing how to tackle the ordinances required, a timeline and will select a group of stakeholders to participate in the process. All applicants should reach out to City Clerk Susie Alessi for an application and they will be forwarded to the subcommittee.
I hope everyone saw the article honoring Martin Hollay, our 96-year-old hero who skis 100 days a year.
The big takeaway is that the word "old" is just a state of mind. I don't believe anyone is too old (especially in Tahoe) to do anything if you take care of yourself. Staying young is about treating the body well and having a positive can-do attitude; just like Martin. The longer he skis, the longer I know I can do the same. Keep going, Martin! You are a true Tahoe legend and a hero to many of us.
With that said … be like Martin Hollay and get outside! I promise it will put a smile on your face.
South Lake Tahoe Mayor Austin Sass can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Facebook by searching Sasstalk.
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