Guest column: Defending Measure T in South Lake Tahoe is the right decision (opinion)
The mission statement of our City Council is: “To represent the public interest and oversee the city’s operations and to plan for the city’s future.”
Last November the public interest with respect to vacation home rentals (VHRs) in residential neighborhoods was put to a referendum in Measure T. Every aspect was subject to public debate; the impacts on revenue, tourism, quality of life and housing affordability were all considered and vigorously debated.
That debate was long, grueling and bitterly divisive. But in the end, it was decided.
The lawsuit now challenging Measure T was as inevitable as it is baseless. It is supported by those who have lost money building mega-mansion hotels in our neighborhoods and speculating on acquiring future VHR permits.
The legality of land use zoning has been settled for nearly a century, and in recent years, courts throughout California and the country have specifically held them applicable to vacation home rentals.
The council’s recent decision to defend the outcome of the Measure T vote is the right decision. It is not, and never was, the place of the city to seek to overturn the will of those it represents. One need not look far to understand whose interests are served by turning our neighborhood homes into hotels.
I am sympathetic to the concerns of lost transient occupancy tax (TOT) revenue, but there are better sources of revenue.
The TOT itself should be raised from the current 12% to at least the same as San Francisco’s TOT, at 14%. We should also levy a property surtax on second homes, which are almost entirely unoccupied, and make up 50% of our housing supply.
Properly constructed, this would both raise revenue and incentivize their conversion to long-term rentals, a double-win for local residents.
Our municipal government has a long road ahead to regain the trust of the voting public, but this is a positive step. The needs of local residents must be the first priority of our government, not the casino’s, not Vail, and not the VHR owners.
The waitresses and cooks, bike mechanics and ski instructors, students and retirees, the people who live here and work here — these are the people who make this a place worth living, and not just visiting.
Scott Robbins is a local resident and member of the Tahoe Neighborhoods Group.