Lake Tahoe not alone in vacation rental quandary; Santa Cruz imposes 45-day freeze on new VHRs
Attend a city council meeting anywhere in the Lake Tahoe Basin, and more often than not you will find people coming forward during public comment to speak out against — or defend — vacation home rentals.
It’s a debate that’s been going on for years, and is fueled by issues of affordable housing and the ever-growing popularity of online booking sites like Airbnb and VRBO.
In one corner of the ring, opponents of VHRs argue that their presence is ruining neighborhoods and reducing long-term rental inventory for full-time residents. In the other, VHR supporters maintain they are a vital part of a tourist-based economy and any government interference is an infringement on property owners’ rights.
Not surprisingly, other destination towns are facing a similar dilemma.
Santa Cruz City Council voted last week to approve a 45-day moratorium on the creation of new short-term and vacation rentals, excluding owner-occupied properties.
With a population of just under 63,000, Santa Cruz is home to an estimated 400 VHRs.
The freeze is intended to give the city time to develop VHR regulations and prevent further loss of long-term rental stock.
South Lake Tahoe city council faced a similar decision last April, but opted instead to pursue enhanced permitting requirements, inspections and fees to curtail VHR growth.
As of September, there are approximately 1,850 VHRs within city limits — 400 of which are located in the tourist core.
According to city officials, roughly 200 of those have allowed their permits to expire, and another 200 are anticipated to drop from the program by the end of October.
The latest data tallies South Lake Tahoe’s population at over 21,000.
At the same time, city officials are test-driving a new proactive VHR enforcement technique, anticipated to begin sometime in November.
The city has hired an outside security firm to assist with VHR regulation. Previously a community service officer (CSO) would need to be accompanied by a police officer to respond to a VHR enforcement issue, which could range from a noise complaint to a garbage violation.
Without the presence of the police officer, who could have another law enforcement priority to attend to, the CSO would not be able to respond to the call.
An additional CSO is also being assigned to the VHR program. This translates to two teams of two out responding to calls in day and night shifts.
“The new individuals will be more proactive than reactive,” said South Lake Tahoe Mayor Pro Tem Austin Sass. “They will be driving around, checking on homes, noise, parking and trash — and address the complaints.”
The city has also commissioned a socio-economic study to determine the impact of VHRs on the community.
Michael Baker International — the same group that handled South Lake Tahoe’s 2014-2022 Housing Element Update — and California State University’s Public Policy and Administration Department are performing the study.
Using data trend analysis and projections, plus community surveys and stakeholder interviews, the study will aid the city in making a data-based decision on VHRs.
“The intent is to correlate data to variables using a statistically reliable method to produce unbiased findings,” Michael Baker International wrote in its proposal.
“Based on those findings, the analysis will then consider how impacts would change under three different conditions as listed in the [request for proposal]: no changes to existing policies, moratorium on new vacation home rental permits, and phasing out vacation home rental permits.”
The study is expected out this spring.
“I think it’s important to better understand the economic impacts and social impacts of VHRs. We have a lot of people that really like it and really hate it,” said Sass.
“We need the data to guide us in our decision making.”
Sass said that although we can look at what other cities are doing with VHRs, there are too many differences to simply mimic their actions.
“You look at what other cities like Santa Cruz have done and you look at other places that have banned it completely, every one of these places is different. We have what we have.
“It’s a rather large number compared to the larger towns, but a place like Park City addressed the problem before it got to be a bigger problem. No one had the foresight here back in 2000.”
The city initially adopted its VHR program back in 2003.
Sass maintains that getting rid of VHRs altogether is not an option — and in his opinion, the situation is getting better.
“The culture has changed. I base that on what I see in my own neighborhood, which is a heavily vacation home rental neighborhood,” he added.
VHR complaints should be directed to the VHR enforcement number, 530-542-6100.