Douglas Commission candidates discuss Tahoe issues in forum

Laney Griffo

STATELINE, Nev. — Douglas County Commission District 4 candidates were given the opportunity to address Lake Tahoe specific issues on Thursday, May 12, during a forum hosted by the Tahoe Chamber.

Candidates Natalie Yanish and Janet Murphy are competing to take the spot from incumbent Wesley Rice, who is running for re-election.

All three candidates have a history of representing Lake Tahoe residents in different ways. Yanish has spent 12 years as an elected official on the board of the Kingsbury General Improvement District. Murphy is the administrator for the Tahoe-Douglas Utility District and has represented the basin at the Nevada Legislature. Rice has served as commissioner since 2018 and prior to that, he served as deputy constable for the Tahoe Justice Court.

The commission has been working over the past few years to craft a vacation home rental ordinance and the candidates were asked what they liked and disliked about the ordinance.

“This has been one of my sore spots for a longtime,” said Rice, who had pushed for a stakeholder working group to help craft the ordinance.

According to Rice, the group, which included Yanish, presented the commission with a beautifully crafted ordinance which the commission tore apart.

Yanish said the biggest issue with the VHR ordinance is enforcement but she also takes issue with the inequitable nature of the ordinance since it only allows VHRs in the basin and not down in the valley area of the county.

Murphy, who said she’s been compared to Donald Trump because she “tells it like it is,” has been a vocal opponent of VHRs.

“I dislike the hypocrisy that surrounds it,” Murphy said.

The hypocrisy that she referenced is that homeowners are allowed to operate businesses anywhere, while other businesses, such as timeshares, are forced to only operate within a zoned-area.

Several times throughout the forum, Murphy said she’d like to do away with VHRs. During a question about affordable housing, she said opening up the VHRs could go a long way in addressing the housing issue.

During the same question, Yanish pushed back, stating that even if those homes were opened up for long-term rentals, they would not be affordable to residents, especially since the wages in the county are so low.

The candidates were also asked about the events center and if they think it will provide a good source of funding for the county.

Rice said the building of the events center is one of his greatest accomplishments as county commissioner.

Murphy said she wants all businesses to succeed and this one is no different, but she is concerned about where the continued funding for it will come from.

Yanish said that because of the room tax that was passed as part of the project, most of it will be funded by visitors. All three candidates said they do think it could be a good source of revenue for the county.

Along the same lines, the candidates were asked about the microtransit that was a permit condition of the events center and whether or not a portion of county sales tax should be used for transit in the basin.

Rice expressed frustration with his fellow commissioners who don’t want to see the money stay in the basin. He said he strongly supports sales tax money being used for transportation.

He added that there is confusion that the sales taxes would also be used for roads, but he clarified that it would be for transportation only.

Murphy pointed out that the microtransit would only service about two miles on the Nevada side and about five miles on the California side but that Douglas County was shelling out more money than El Dorado County was. She gave the caveat that those numbers could be inaccurate but if they were correct, she is very concerned about the inequity.

Yanish said there needs to be a bigger investment in transit in the basin.

“There is no easy solution for our transit problems,” Yanish said.

Not only does she want to see the microtransit implemented, she wants to see the bus system expand services and she wants the community to become more walkable and bikeable.

During the forum, Douglas County Commission District 2 candidate Sharla Hales was also given an opportunity to introduce herself, although she was not asked any questions.

Hales is running unopposed and while her district will not cover the basin, she still showed knowledge of Tahoe issues and said she wants to make sure she considers Tahoe when making decisions for the county. Along those lines, she said she supports holding some meetings in the basin, which used to be practice but has gone away in the last several years.

She also said she supports the events center and microtransit.

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