South Lake Tahoe City Council backpedals on VHR ordinance |

South Lake Tahoe City Council backpedals on VHR ordinance

Claire Cudahy

On Tuesday, City Council convened for what was supposed to be a straightforward first reading of a revised vacation home rental (VHR) ordinance hashed out at a meeting two weeks ago. Instead, some members of council stated they had changed their minds on certain aspects of the ordinance, putting into motion another lengthy discussion on a permit cap, distance requirement, occupancy — and a temporary moratorium on VHR permits.

“I’ve spent a lot of time, as we all have, in the last couple of weeks looking at our proposed ordinance, and of course had a lot of discussions and got a lot of emails,” said Mayor Pro Tem Wendy David. “What I found was that we are really putting an incredible amount of teeth into this ordinance right now.”

The proposed ordinance agreed upon at the Oct. 7 meeting called for a cap of 1,400 VHR permits, 150-foot distance requirement between VHRs, an increase in fines from $250 to $1,000, a bear box mandate, and a reduction in occupancy from two per bedroom plus four to two per bedroom plus two. Additionally, council called for an increase in permitting fees to allow for the hire of three additional VHR community service officers. After three strikes in two years, VHR owners would lose their permits. (These rules do not apply to VHRs in the tourist core.)

“I am going to put out there that I am in support of a cap, but I am no longer in support of the distance,” said David, joining councilmember Brooke Laine who has said since the beginning that she does not believe that both a cap and a distance requirement were necessary.

“I’ve struggled with that since the onset,” said Laine. “Let’s make slow change so we can determine what is effective and what isn’t effective.”

Councilmember Jason Collin said he was in favor of making data-driven decisions, increasing enforcement and making incremental change.

Mayor Austin Sass was visibly unhappy with the turn of events.

“I don’t agree with eliminating the 150 feet. I don’t agree with not reducing the occupancy,” said Sass. “I think this is a total disregard for the people that live here and vote here. I think these changes are beneficial to vacation home rental property owners who don’t live here, but it looks like there are three votes here so that won’t happen.”

Councilmember Tom Davis was recused from the meeting due to his part ownership of the Tahoe Keys Resort.

Council did not reach a consensus on the cap number for VHR permits. They directed city staff to perform an analysis and come back with a data-backed number for consideration.

Between now and the next regularly scheduled council meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 7, staff will rewrite the proposed ordinance to eliminate the 150-foot distance requirement, keep the occupancy limit at what it currently is (two per bedroom plus four), and decide what VHR rules will apply to owner-occupied houses.

Ultimately City Council decided to hold a special meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 24, at 5 p.m. to enact a temporary urgency ordinance that will freeze the number of VHR permits at the number that exists that day. Currently, there are 1,352 outside of the tourist core.

The urgency ordinance is in effect for 45 days, but can be extended with another vote. This will allow the council time to sort out the ordinance without a “run on the bank.”

If City Council agrees with the cap number brought forward by city staff on Nov. 7, as well as the rest of the ordinance, it will be considered a first reading and a vote will follow. All four councilmembers must vote for it to pass on to the second reading.

CORRECTION: This article originally stated council would hold a special meeting on Oct. 23. The meeting is on Oct. 24.

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