El Dorado supes weigh travel enforcement measures; Sheriff warns he will not enforce
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — Last month county health officials issued a no-travel order to the Lake Tahoe area, telling visitors and second homeowners to stay away to curb the spread of COVID-19 in the basin.
Now, county officials are weighing options to give those orders some teeth.
At Tuesday’s El Dorado County Board of Supervisors meeting, District 5 Supervisor Sue Novasel, who represents the South and West Shores of Lake Tahoe, said non-primary residents have swelled the small vacation town’s population — even after orders from the county and city for second homeowners to stay at their primary residences.
“It’s been tough up here in Tahoe,” Novasel said. “… We’re still having a substantial amount of people coming from out of town into their second homes.”
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Not only can out-of-area residents potentially further spread coronavirus in the region, but they can thin South Lake Tahoe’s already lean medical resources, she said. The basin’s only hospital — Barton Memorial — has just nine intensive care unit beds.
“Our hospital is very concerned about this,” she said. “It’ll be difficult if there were an outbreak. They won’t be able to respond properly because there are so many people up here. Yesterday, when China started relaxing their stay-at-home orders, people flocked to vacation areas. I see this as a ticking time bomb.”
Supervisor Novasel called on the board to consider further ways to reduce travel into South Lake Tahoe amid Gov. Gavin Newsom’s statewide stay-at-home order.
County counsel David Livingston is expected to come to the board in the next week or two with an emergency ordinance aimed at further curbing the use of vacation home rentals for unessential purposes in the county for the duration of the state and county directives. The ordinance could involve fines or further civil penalties for offending parties.
But to enforce the ordinance upon second homeowners was a separate, more worrisome matter. Livingston noted that legal concerns have already been raised over potential restrictions on second homeowners. He added that the courts are “generally more protective of one’s right to the quiet enjoyment of their own property than one’s right to utilize it for commercial purposes.”
Supervisor Novasel said that a large majority of “new residents” are second homeowners rather than VHR visitors.
Enforcement of the orders on second homeowners is a step too far for El Dorado County Sheriff John D’Agostini.
“It concerns me very, very, very much when we have our own county counsel telling us that there are probably serious constitutional issues dealing with this matter,” he said. “I can tell you right now, my deputies will not be doing any type of enforcement as far as arrests or issuing citations to those visiting their property in the Tahoe Basin — or anywhere in the county.”
Citing the county’s relatively low coronavirus numbers, District 3 Supervisor Brian Veerkamp said county initiatives, including ongoing educational efforts, should be enough for the time being.
“We’ve made orders and directives, the governor has made orders and directives, I struggle with taking it a step further,” Supervisor Veerkamp said.
If needed, the Board of Supervisors indicated that county officials may still consider enforcement measures on second homeowners going forward.
The number of coronavirus cases in El Dorado County is up to 29 as of Wednesday evening. Nine of those cases are in the Lake Tahoe region.
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