City Council grapples with affordable housing ordinance |

City Council grapples with affordable housing ordinance

Susan Wood

It’s been said: If you can reach one person, you’ve made a difference.

That was at least one premise behind the South Lake Tahoe City Council approving Tuesday a draft ordinance designed to convert poorly performing motels into affordable housing complexes.

Following a three-hour discussion, the vote was 3-1, with Councilwoman Judy Brown absent and Councilman Hal Cole opposing because he said the ordinance fails to go far enough in meeting building standards.

A final ordinance will need to return to the panel.

Although the ordinance may only affect a few parcels that qualify or want to convert, the city, real estate agents and property owners support the concept because it brings to the table solutions to two major problems at the lake.

It came about after the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency modified its code standards.

“There’s an understanding that we have a glut of motels that no longer meet the market demand of the tourist trade,” city planner Lisa O’Daley said of lodging establishments deemed eyesores.

It also aims to answer the increasingly troubling issue of the mass exodus of the Tahoe work force leaving the area because people can’t afford rising home prices.

Real estate broker Deb Howard said the rising costs of homes “underscores the reason we’re here today.”

And that’s just the people who can buy.

The city has figured half the population in El Dorado County falls into the affordable housing realm.

While Howard considers the draft “a worthwhile effort,” she and others such as Planning Commissioner Pat Frega suggested more flexibility in the rules. Frega posed the question of whether the draft is too limiting.

The city boiled down prospects to seven seriously interested parties. Of this handful, many point to the property enhancements as cost prohibitive while other proporties don’t meet the qualifications. Motels on major thoroughfares – Highways 50 and 89 – are ineligible.

But the problem was hard to ignore by most people in the council chambers. At least 1,000 motel units have been identified as not competitive enough to stay open for the long haul.

Some Tahoe residents are already living in motels because of the lack of affordable housing, but many of the units don’t comply with health and safety codes. Residents cook on hot plates, along with having insufficient storage space and parking. The draft calls for 1.5 parking spaces for each one-bedroom unit.

Fire Chief Mike Chandler and Housing Director Patrick Conway said the city has no enforcement mechanism in place. But during a break in the meeting, Chandler added that this may come down the pike if, say, a fire breaks out in one of the units because of it.

As part of the ordinance, the Housing Department has pledged to monitor the complexes at least every other year.

Dave Kurtzman, who runs Aspen Realty, even asked if the ordinance precluded activity at his apartment complex. The answer was no, as the city is mainly concerned with new projects.

– Susan Wood can be reached at (530) 542-8009 or via e-mail at

Support Local Journalism

Your support means a better informed community. Donate today.


See more