Cars can stay in lot, for now |

Cars can stay in lot, for now

Susan Wood
Jim Grant / Tahoe Daily Tribune / The city zoning administrator, who oversees nuisance abatement rules, found John Runnels not in violation of registering his vehicles at the "Y."

John Runnels, who owns an automobile repair shop at the “Y,” received a favorable response to a city hearing last week that called into question whether the vehicles parked on his lot are considered a nuisance because they’re unregistered.

Runnels buys old cars and fixes them up at the highly visible intersection.

During the Oct. 4 hearing, city zoning administrator Hillary Hodges – who works in the Planning Department – pointed to Runnels’ valid California Department of Motor Vehicles’ dealer license and his use permit approved in 1979 by the Planning Commission as reasons for allowing his 34 vehicles to be parked at 986 Emerald Bay Road without registration.

“It is typical for an auto repair business to have vehicles that are in the middle of repair or waiting for repair parked on the property as is evident at other auto repair businesses throughout the city of South Lake Tahoe. There is no precedent for defining these vehicles as abandoned,” the determination issued on Oct. 6 by Hodges read.

One exception involves the vehicle owned by Runnels’ son.

“It’s over as far as the cars, but I still feel I’m in the cross hairs,” Runnels said Tuesday. The outspoken classic-car enthusiast, who has retained South Shore attorney Dale Sare, has remaining business with the city and Caltrans about his battle over getting the traffic turn-lanes at the corner.

The nuisance hearing was set after the police department served Runnels with a citation upon the guidance of City Attorney Catherine DiCamillo. She was asked by the council to oversee the matter – one that Councilman Ted Long admitted was by his initial request to ensure the nuisance abatement laws were being followed and they were fair to all.

Sare and Runnels claim politics was at play because Runnels supported Long’s opposition during last June’s race for El Dorado County supervisor, an office held by Norma Santiago for Tahoe’s District 5. One of Santiago’s cars is even parked on the lot.

The little battle has played out in a war of words in letters between Sare and Long. And the Runnels Automotive answering machine pokes fun at the perception he’s running a hillbilly outfit at the “Y.”

Either way, the battle may not be over for Long – who characterizes the matter as one that speaks to civic pride.

“I would advocate a change in the law because I think abandoned vehicles are a problem, and we have to make it equal enforcement. He has a key location in the city, and we should be asking what we can do to make it more attractive,” Long said, suggesting building surrounding planters or screens to diffuse or hide the 20 or so vehicles on the lot.

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