El Dorado County supervisors approve recommendations on VHR regulations
If applause accurately depicted audience sentiment, the gymnasium of more than 100 people Wednesday appeared in favor of a moratorium on new vacation home rentals in unincorporated El Dorado County.
Applause, though, is far from an accurate reflection of a crowd’s desire, and some of the more than 20 people who spoke in the South Tahoe Middle School gymnasium urged the county Board of Supervisors to take a more measured approach. Drastic changes, those people warned, could bring a spate of negative press attention similar to what the city of South Lake Tahoe recently experienced after adopting new VHR regulations.
Ultimately the supervisors, citing a desire to pick low-hanging regulatory fruit before considering more sweeping actions, advanced a package of changes to penalties, occupancy caps and other regulations.
“These are just the start,” stated District 5 Supervisor Sue Novasel, who represents the Tahoe portion of the county.
The recommendations would increase penalties from a warning for the first violation, a $250 fine for the second and a $500 fine for the third violation within a year, to a $500 fine for the first violation, a $1,000 fine for the second and a $1,500 fine for the third violation within an 18-month period.
Novasel, who serves on a VHR ad hoc committee along with District 4 Supervisor Michael Ranalli, clarified the fine would be assessed to the owner, who would then presumably pass the fine to the visitor.
The policy is different than the one in the city of South Lake Tahoe, which assesses a fine to both the owner and the visitor. That policy, some have argued, essentially fines the visitor twice, as most owners pass their fine to the visitor.
Other recommendations include requiring inspections before issuing a VHR permit, requiring a sign on the outside of VHRs, eliminating subjective terms such as “best efforts,” mandating bear-proof trash receptacles and capping the number of occupants allowed in VHRs between 10 p.m. and 8 a.m.
Another recommendation would extend the VHR ordinance to the entire county, rather than just unincorporated areas in the Lake Tahoe Basin.
The suggestions will come back before the supervisors in the form of an actual ordinance on May 22. Assuming it is approved by the board, the ordinance would take effect in early July, according to county staff.
Applause repeatedly erupted each time a speaker called for the county to enact a moratorium on all new VHRs — a move that District 2 Supervisor Shiva Frentzen again affirmed her support for, but one that the board did not consider.
Supervisors shot down a proposed moratorium in January with Frentzen casting the only vote in support of it.
Despite the cheers and clapping, a moratorium wouldn’t solve the problem, Novasel told the Tribune after Wednesday’s meeting ended.
Support for a moratorium started building after South Lake Tahoe’s adoption of stricter regulations in late 2017. The thought, Novasel explained, was that there would be an influx of VHR permit applications due to fear that the county would follow in the footsteps of the city.
However, numbers provided by the El Dorado County Treasurer-Tax Collector’s Office indicate that the number of permit applications so far in 2018 is up approximately 13 percent from the previous year, which is in step with the overall trend in recent years, according to Novasel.
“The data show us there isn’t a run on the bank yet. People aren’t trying to necessarily get their permit in quicker than … in the past.
“The bottom line is: Will it solve the problems? No, a moratorium won’t solve the problems. It’s just a stop. … We’re working as fast as we can to enact good, sensible legislation into our neighborhoods,” said Novasel, who is up for reelection and seeking a second term.
Her three opponents (Kenny Curtzwiler, Norma Santiago and Jeffrey Spencer) have all stated their support for a moratorium, either publicly or directly to the Tribune.
While some residents called for a moratorium, others from the VHR industry cautioned supervisors against enacting overly burdensome regulations.
Jim Morris, owner of Lake Tahoe Accommodations, pointed specifically to a piece that recently aired on CBS This Morning. The segment highlighted the $1,000 fines for VHR-related violations, among other regulations adopted by the city of South Lake Tahoe.
The piece was viewed by the Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority and others as damaging to the South Shore’s image as a tourist friendly destination.
“Look at the blowback South Lake Tahoe is facing,” Morris observed.
Joshua Priou, director of product development at Lake Tahoe Accommodations, later added that there are some people in the community who are inherently opposed to VHRs.
“It will never be enough,” he said of regulatory efforts that fall short of banning the rentals.
Multiple speakers Wednesday clarified they do not oppose VHRs — they oppose large mansions being built in residential areas.
“This is not a residential house, this is a small hotel,” stated one man who explained that a three-story home had recently been built in his neighborhood.
At one point or another, each of the four supervisors present — Supervisor John Hidahl was not at the meeting — addressed the apparent frustration that the changes have been slow to materialize.
Wednesday’s meeting in South Lake Tahoe was a continuation of one that started Feb. 1. That meeting ended shortly after it started — the crowd in South Lake Tahoe City Council chambers exceeded the maximum allowed under the fire code.
Several more efforts to host the continued meeting were canceled due to inclement weather.
Echoing sentiments shared by several supervisors, El Dorado County Chief Administrative Officer Don Ashton explained the recommendations discussed Wednesday represented an attempt to get the ball rolling while continuing to consider larger issues and changes.
“We can’t try to bite off the whole apple at once or we’ll be talking about this for a really long time.”