Fight over Measure T in South Lake Tahoe heading back to court
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — It does not appear there will be a compromise to settle a lawsuit over the city’s voter-approved ban on vacation home rentals.
City Council unanimously decided Tuesday to defend Measure T — a ballot question that bans vacation home rentals (VHRs) outside the city’s tourist core and commercial areas — against a lawsuit alleging it is unconstitutional.
Following the decision in closed session, council cited the will of the voters as the reason for its decision.
“We feel like this is what we’re expected to do,” Mayor Brooke Laine told the Tribune.
The challenge, Laine added, was the narrowness of the vote. Measure T passed by 58 votes in 2018.
“It’s kind of out of our hands, because a majority did support this.”
In announcing the vote, council did state there could be future ballot initiatives that seek to change the city’s VHR regulations.
But crafting those initiatives should be up to the public, Laine said.
Measure T supporters credited council for its decision while opponents said the vote was expected.
“The city council has acted in good faith by voting to defend the people’s ballot initiative (Measure T) that protects zoning in residential neighborhoods,” the Tahoe Neighborhoods Group said in a statement emailed to the Tribune. “The TNG agrees with this council and their efforts to serve the broader community and not just real estate speculators and out-of-town investors.”
The Neighborhoods Group was responsible for putting Measure T before voters in 2018.
While some people at Tuesday’s council meeting were surprised by the decision, others in the community saw it coming.
“We all anticipated the city would defend this and ultimately this will end up in court,” said Mark Salmon, a local Realtor who is among a group representing the South Lake Tahoe Property Owners Group.
The Property Owners Group filed the lawsuit against the city arguing Measure T is unconstitutional.
“We would have preferred to find a compromise with the city and the opposition,” Salmon said before alluding to the Neighborhood’s Group refusal to participate in attempts to reach a compromise.
Tuesday’s decision came a little more than a month after City Manager Frank Rush privately proposed a compromise to both sides. It was intended to settle the lawsuit.
Prior to council’s meeting Tuesday, Rush told the Tribune it was meant to be a true compromise, with each side realizing some victories while also making concessions.
“I think it was a very thoughtful and fair compromise,” he said.
Consensus was viewed as critical because under Measure T any changes to the city’s VHR regulations must be put to a vote of the people.
The proposal, among other provisions, would have allowed VHRs within 2,000 feet of the shoreline, canals in Tahoe Keys and Heavenly Mountain Resorts California base lodge.
The Tahoe Neighborhoods Group rejected the proposal and said it would not participate in mediation.
“There is no question that this proposal has rekindled the lack of trust in government that fueled the initiative in the first place,” the Group wrote in an email to Rush.
Although the anti-Measure T group did have some issues with the proposal, it was willing to continue with the discussion, Salmon told the Tribune. When the Neighborhoods Group refused to participate, it became apparent the litigation was going to move forward, he added.
“We really have no choice,” he said. “Ultimately we are seeking compromise and that’s why the group we’re representing is pursuing this (litigation).”
While it’s unknown what a judge may decide on the specific details of Measure T, Laine said she agreed that the measure was not blatantly flawed on the surface which makes it different than a 2016 ballot measure on the U.S. 50 South Shore Community Revitalization Project, more commonly known as the Loop Road.
In that case, the city ultimately agreed with a lawsuit alleging the measure was unconstitutional. It was struck down in court.
The next scheduled Measure T court appearance is Nov. 18 at 10:30 a.m. for a case management conference. Because the original judge in the case recused himself, the case is being heard at the El Dorado Superior court in Cameron Park, 3321 Cameron Park Drive.
Depending on the outcome of the litigation, voters could be looking at another ballot initiative.
If Measure T is ultimately struck down, Salmon said the city would revert to its previous regulations, which he argued are proving to be effective.
The city experienced a 59% reduction of VHR complaints over the first three months of 2019 compared to the previous year, according to Rush’s proposal. However, there could be different explanations for the decrease.
If Measure T is upheld in court, Salmon said the Sustainable Community Alliance will move forward with putting a ballot initiative on the 2020 ballot.
The Alliance, which Salmon serves as co-president of, attempted to put a competing initiative on the 2018 ballot. Had they been successful, it would have gone up against Measure T, which passed with 58 votes in an election that saw nearly half a million dollars directed to the “No on Measure T” effort.
But the Alliance failed to get the necessary number of valid signatures needed to put the initiative on the ballot. Salmon said those mistakes would not be repeated in 2020.
“We are much more organized this time,” Salmon said prior to Tuesday’s meeting.
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A $20,000 fine and permanent ban could eventually await those operating vacation home rentals in Douglas County without a permit.