Tahoe Keys resident at odds with bear box requirements

Cheyanne Neuffer
A garage that was broken by a bear.

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — A Tahoe Keys resident has run into hurdles installing a bear box and has contacted several community members, including the city manager, via email expressing his concerns.

The resident said bears smelling trash have recently broken into his garage several times. To alleviate the problem he has been working on getting a bear box installed but has run into problems. The man wished to remain anonymous out of fear of being squeezed out of the association or face other repercussions.

His email said over $2,000 in damages have been incurred to his home and car in a two-week period.

The Tahoe Keys Property Owners Association does not allow general-use bear boxes for residents. The TKPOA was exempt in 2018 when the city required their nearly 300 vacation rentals to have bear boxes. The exemption was allowed because of TKPOA’s submitted bear management plan.

If a homeowner wants any exterior-modifications, including a bear box, an architectural plan must be submitted to the Architectural Control Committee. The ACC reviews each case individually.

If the request is approved there are regulations that the special storage design is not allowed within 20 feet from the front setback and may need to be screened from view.

While some Keys homeowners have been approved for the special design, this comes at odds with South Tahoe Refuse regulations that bear boxes cannot be more than 10 feet from the driveway to be serviced.

STR also will not collect trash from backyards, garages or even next to the house per safety of employees and increased time for idling trucks.

Irvin told the Tribune that he has received one email on the issue.

“I completely empathize with the [individual’s] issue,” Irvin said.

He said that per the city’s code of operation, homeowners associations have the authority to determine the use of bear boxes for VHR’s.

As stated in the codes of operation, “The requirements of this subsection shall not apply to any person whose vacation home rental is within a common interest development subject to the Davis-Stirling Common Interest Development Act; provided, that the board of directors of the association governing the common interest development has implemented rules or regulations requiring and enforcing the regular disposal of trash within such common.”

This means that a common interest development such as TKPOA has their own authority regarding bear box regulations.

“There has been no direction to change the city code at this time,” Irvin said.

According to the Keys Breeze March 2020 newsletter provided by TKPOA, the association asked for the exemption for reasons that included:

Tahoe Keys residential lots are generally small and close together with little space between lots where they meet at the curb.

If bear boxes are placed at the curb, this minimizes space for parking, snow storage and first responder access.

If all residents had bear boxes, it would feel like owners are blocked in by a “wall of steel.”

Vacation home rentals would be required to have multiple bear boxes depending on overnight stay capacity.

TKPOA has a community bear-proof garbage receptacle at the pavilion and STR provides free garbage drop offs.

Bear boxes are costly to purchase and to service.

TKPOA’s Bear Garbage Management Plan was seen as sufficient evidence to the city to receive the regulatory exemption. The newsletter states that calls and complaints by homeowners have ‘evaporated’ since the initiation of the Bear Management Plan in 2015. Also, in the March newsletter they stated that only two or three individual bears were counted last in the TKPOA portions of the Keys.

TKPOA’s Bear management plan included:

Garbage must always be secured away from animals and can only be set out for pickup after 6 a.m. on Fridays. If violated, fees will be charged to the homeowner.

Animal resistant garbage receptacles with lock tops are encouraged.

TKPOA provides a bear-proof trash receptacle at the pavilion.

TKPOA provided Information and education plan handouts for guests and tenants.

Homeowners are not allowed to plant fruit trees. Existing fruit trees can be kept if managed properly and ripe fruit is removed.

TKPOA has security and ACC compliance officers for trash violations.

However, some don’t agree that the plan has mitigated issues.

“It [The Tahoe Keys] is the hotspot,” said Denise Upton, animal care director at Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care. “We by far get more calls in that area than any other concentrated area.”

Upton said that these break-ins can constitute for the bears getting killed. The most recent bears seen were a mother bear and two cubs. She says that the calls not only come from bears, but other wildlife like the resident geese. She said that if people are storing garbage in the garage, the bears will try to get into it. Bears are attracted to that area because they know that garbage is easily accessible, she said that they have been taught that there is food behind that “big square door.”

“The addition of bear boxes would reduce the issue,” she said. “People are frustrated. Let’s get together and have a meeting about a solution. We can do better as a community.”

Peter Tira, public information officer for California Department of Fish and Wildlife said that their biologist estimated that there are six to eight bears in the Keys area which includes the surrounding meadow.

“We do receive calls regularly about bears in the Tahoe Keys area,” he said. “Nothing out of the ordinary, except for occasional hot spots of activity.”

In late July, he said that they were actively trying to trap a bear in the Tahoe Keys area but were unsuccessful. He said that this year they have had a slight increase in incidents around Tahoe, but nothing off the charts. Tira also says that CDFW recommends the use of bear boxes in bear country.

Along with the increase in incidents, since the pandemic STR has been picking significantly more trash than usual. “There has been a 30% increase in garbage on a daily basis,” said Jeanette Tillman, sustainability program manager at South Tahoe Refuse Co Inc.

Tillman says that when people come to visit from out of town, many don’t quite understand how we have to manage trash.

“Not everyone knows how we (locals) do things and it is hard to tell people what to do who are only here for a few days,” she said. “We’ve had a huge increase in animal access. We went a bit backyards with animal mitigation.”

Tillman said that STR has been unable to clean up messes created from wildlife getting into trash due to federal COVID-19 guidelines.

STR or Clean Tahoe would normally clean up the mess and notify the residence. However, with COVID restrictions, workers can no longer clean up the messes. Tillman also said that if wildlife gets into trash, items cannot be recycled anymore. As the sustainability program manager, Tillman is very passionate about sustainability and reducing waste.

“Our hope is to always try to reduce the carbon footprint and environmental impact,” Tillman said and added that they also offer a bear box loan program for those in need of one.

“If bear boxes aren’t working, they are not being used properly, it is 100% operator error,” Tillman said.

Tillman says that bear boxes a re the only effective use for animal mitigation right now. If the boxes are not broken and used correctly, they work.

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around the Lake Tahoe Basin and beyond make the Tahoe Tribune's work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Your donation will help us continue to cover COVID-19 and our other vital local news.