Petition seeks to put VHRs in South Lake Tahoe residential areas to a vote
South Lake Tahoe residents may have the opportunity to vote on whether they think vacation home rentals should be allowed in residential neighborhoods.
At a special City Council meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 24, Mayor Austin Sass announced that the city had received word that at least two residents intend to circulate a petition seeking to put the issues of VHRs in residential neighborhoods to a vote.
Upon filing a public records request, the Tribune learned the Notice of Intent to Circulate Petition was filed by South Lake Tahoe residents Dr. Kenneth Weitzman and Daniel Browne, Jr. on Monday, Oct. 23.
“Vacation rentals are affecting the character and livability of our neighborhood,” reads the document. “A block that has been overrun with vacation rentals is no longer a neighborhood. It is a commercial enterprise zone consisting of unsupervised motels.
“When our city council failed to compromise with the residents and instead yielded to special interests, it became apparent that the voters must decide the future of our residential neighborhoods and community.”
The initiative that Weitzman and Browne hope to get on the ballot seeks to prohibit VHRs from any residential zone within the city of South Lake Tahoe, with a few exceptions.
The document proposes that permanent residents — defined as a “person who deems his or her residency in the City of South Lake Tahoe as his or her permanent domicile” and has tax documents to prove it — can rent out a portion of the residence at any time while “said owner is in occupancy.” It also suggests that a permanent resident in a residential zone “shall be entitled to rent the entire residence so long as said owner resides in the residence for the major portion of the year.”
Further, the initiative proposes that any existing VHR permits in residential zones be allowed to continue “until its expiration not to exceed one year.”
The initiative notes that VHRs in the tourist or commercial zones would be allowable.
In order to get the initiative on the ballot for a regular election, Weitzman and Browne would need to collect signatures amounting to a minimum of 10 percent of the South Lake Tahoe voters from the last reported registrations.
According to the El Dorado County Elections Department, the last reported registration was 10,353 voters. This means they would need at least 1,036 valid signatures from registered voters — not just residents — in South Lake Tahoe.
The signatures are crosschecked with the voter database and validated by the elections department.
To get the initiative on the ballot for a special election it would require 15 percent of the reported registration. The deadline for this November’s special election has already passed.
The original intent of Tuesday’s special meeting was for City Council to vote on a temporary urgency ordinance to freeze the number of VHR permits at the number that existed that day. Currently, there are 1,847 VHR permits, 1,397 of which are outside the tourist core in residential areas. Approximately 70 applications are pending that will be halted in the approval process.
The moratorium unanimously passed with four votes. Councilmember Tom Davis recused himself from the vote due to his part ownership of the short-term rental company Tahoe Keys Resort.
The urgency ordinance is in effect for 45 days, but can be extended with another vote or repealed at an earlier date. City Council opted to institute the temporary moratorium to prevent a “run on the bank” as it works to finalize amendments to the city code governing VHRs outside of the tourist core.
At the previous meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 17, council could not reach a consensus on whether both a cap on VHR permits at 1,400 and a distance requirement of 150-feet between VHRs were necessary.
Mayor Pro Tem Wendy David and councilmember Brooke Laine supported a cap but not a distance requirement, while Mayor Austin Sass was in favor of both. Councilmember Jason Collin said he needed more data to make the decision. City staff was directed to come back at the next regular council meeting with a proposed cap number with evidence to back it up.
The next regular council meeting is on Tuesday, Nov. 7.
This is far from the first time a citizen-generated petition has resulted in a ballot measure in South Lake Tahoe.
In May 2016, a group called Let Tahoe Decide submitted a petition with 1,459 signatures in order to get Measure T on the ballot — an initiative that sought to put any city decision on the proposed U.S. 50 South Shore Community Revitalization Project (Loop Road) to a citizens’ vote.
In July 2016, now-councilmember Jason Collin filed a lawsuit challenging Measure T, claiming the initiative was “flawed” and an unlawful interference of the city of South Lake Tahoe’s authority. Collin argued that the measure was misleading because the project is not a city project; it’s a federal bi-state project.
El Dorado County Superior Court Judge Robert Wagoner did not grant the request to have the measure pulled from the ballot. Instead, Wagoner said the court would reexamine the measure if it passed — which it did.
At the end of January, Wagoner ultimately ruled that Measure T was “fundamentally flawed,” “unconstitutional” and “unenforceable.”
This perhaps explains the final paragraph of the recent VHR initiative: “In the event any portion of this initiative is declared by any Court of competent jurisdiction to be unenforceable for any reason, the remaining portions of this initiative shall remain in effect…”