Neighborhood noise moves to council chambers
Charter tourist buses, beer kegs, portable toilets and public urination characterized a divisive meeting Tuesday to review South Lake Tahoe’s proposed vacation-home ordinance.
But the rancorous meeting barely scratched the surface of the drafted ordinance. Instead, the focus turned to the difficult dilemma that placed at odds a packed council chambers of property managers, homeowners and residents who have been victimized by rowdy, obnoxious South Shore visitors.
The meeting was continued to a date to be announced to give interested parties a chance to stew over the draft modeled after ordinances in California cities such as Newport Beach.
For starters, South Lake Tahoe’s proposal requires management agencies or owners receive a business license, pay transient occupancy tax, register with the city, post a rental sign and designate a local contact person. Units are only allowed two people per bedroom and no extra parking spaces.
Fines of up to $1,000 may be issued to the host of large parties.
But it was the sheer legality of vacation homes under the auspices of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency planning area statement that occupied much of the session.
The city adopted the zoning rule in 1999, a planning law that conflicts with the town’s own tax code, City Attorney Catherine DiCamillo said.
“Right now, you take this to court, and it’s a mess,” she said, adding a judge would be forced to weigh the city’s interpretation of the law with the effects on property rights.
“Everywhere you turn, you face a potential lawsuit,” DiCamillo said. “This is a difficult situation the city is faced with, so I hope people appreciate that.”
So the committee, with the help of the city attorney staff, agreed to plow on because determining the legality of the grey interpretation of the law would take years to rectify.
And the serious nuisance up and down streets like Beach Drive exists now.
Addressing the panel, TRPA Deputy Director Carl Hasty stopped somewhat short of labeling vacation homes as illegal, saying the “activity is not in compliance to what the regional plan states.”
He added TRPA would look to the subcommittee for guidance and participate in the process.
Hasty emphasized how unruly vacation-home renters represent but a tip of the iceberg in far-reaching issues in the Lake Tahoe Basin such as quality of life, motel occupancy, tourism economics, affordable housing and the flight of residents to the Carson Valley.
“I don’t think this is a quick fix to be honest with you,” Hasty said. “The trick with crafting any ordinance is that if it requires a change in the (TRPA) regional plan, then that’s a bigger thing.”
The city lies in an apparent no-win situation, as some residents have pledged a lawsuit if the local government continues to allow the 30-year practice that most recently has significantly affected the profile of the town.
The informal group even passed around a sign-up sheet identifying those in opposition of using homes as income property in residential neighborhoods.
“We shouldn’t be ruled by money. We should be ruled by reality,” said subcommittee member Karen White, who started the campaign with fellow resident Dick Powers, who also serves on the panel.
The meeting was sprinkled with horrendous stories of obnoxious neighbors making noise at all hours, crowding the streets and households as well as driving portable toilets to parties.
“I don’t know what can be done, but we’re fed up with it,” Beach Drive resident Pam Goode said, bringing pictures as visual aids of her plight. She said two weddings were held in one weekend on her street.
At the same time, vacation rentals constitute a quarter of revenue generated by overnight stays. In some cases, livelihoods and retirements of property managers are tied to the business.
“I devoted 22 years of my life to a business I thought was a legal activity,” said Greta Hambsch, who runs the Accommodation Station.