Guest column: New South Lake Tahoe VHR enforcement measures fall short (opinion)
April 23, 2018
At the recent City Council meeting, I addressed council with a concern. I believed that vacation renters who were breaking the rules were being tipped off before the Community Service Officer arrived at the scene. It was my suspicion that either the property owner or management company was alerting the renters to settle down or move the cars before enforcement arrived. I suspected they heard over the scanner that the CSO was dispatched to the address. Well, I was correct in that they were being alerted, but wrong in the method.
Unbeknownst to me (maybe you, too) the property owner or rental management company receives a robo call from Host Compliance, giving them an opportunity to correct the situation before the CSO arrives on the scene. A warning, if you will. It was confirmed by Maureen Stuhlman with the South Tahoe Police Department that we have a dual notification system set up this way by design.
Dispatch should become even more refined if and when the planned purchase of a $4 million communication system is put into place.
This is in the hopes that the problem is resolved more quickly, and the CSO will not have to write the citation. Councilman Jason Collin would cite 99.8 percent effective, but I challenge that number. If you ask the residents next to the VHRs, often the noise/extra people/etc. return as soon as the CSO leaves.
Residents then have the impression of there being no point in calling because nothing really happens and the arduous task of going through an 8-10 minute automated system isn't effective. Yes, I know that you may have heard it takes about two minutes, but I can assure you it does not. You also may have heard that it takes 7-10 minutes for a CSO to arrive but 45 minutes was my experience.
All of this helps the numbers look good, though in reality the problem still exists. I do not believe that it was ever fully explained to the public that violations would receive a courtesy call. Would the residents have been in agreement had the process been made clear?
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This brings up a battery of questions. The first question is why did we need to hire 3.5 additional community service officers? Yes, they are primarily paid for through VHR licensing, but what about the revenue promised through citations? Upward of $90,000 has been written in citations but not even a third of that has been collected.
How much will it cost to actually receive what is due the city through appeals and collections? Do we really need a third party service like Host Compliance (out of San Francisco) to field the calls when it could be done directly by the CSO officers?
If we are cracking down on VHRs, why are we issuing a courtesy warning when the new code says "no warnings," or is that just referring to the written warning owners received before? Were you accosted into signing the VHR ballot initiative? If I am robbing a bank will dispatch be kind enough to notify me that a complaint has been filed and SLTPD is en route? Wouldn't they just show up and arrest me? Yes, yes they would.
We have been misled by the council (no way) into believing that they were going to get tough on violators and restore peace to the neighborhoods. What I see happening is a lukewarm attempt at giving the residents the illusion of a situation controlled. There was even talk about those VHR owners who were behind on paying their TOT be granted some grace when it comes to renewing their permit, otherwise the city would never be able to collect. What?!
The message I receive from that thought is as an owner the best way to ensure that I keep my VHR permit is to stay behind on my TOT payments. Great logic.
The success rate of 99.8 percent is askew. The CSO calls are for dramatization purposes only. The fines may or may not generate revenue. We now have additional staff that was brought on in hopes of having nothing to do when they show up at the VHR after renters are warned. We have forced the residents of the neighborhoods to become VHR watchdogs.
The best question of all would be how do the residents feel about how the new ordinances are working? I am not asking the Realtors, the property managers or council members. Do residents feel that the 99.8 percent success rate is accurate? If not, how do you see it?
There is a lot of speculation about what will happen if VHRs are voted out in November. The truth is no one knows. Some say it will devastate the economy, families will be forced to move and jobs are on the line. Quite possibly my own job is on the line!
Council paints a picture reminiscent of the ghost town, Radiator Springs (oh wait, that is what I think of when I process the Loop Road in my mind … sorry, different soap box!).
Are we to stand by and let visitors run the show just because they bring money? Is that how we show respect to our city? Is that any different than letting SnowGlobe trash the place so long as they pay? We are prostituting South Lake Tahoe at the cost of our residents.
Since the cap was implemented in the city, there has been a run on permits in the county — approximately 109 in four months … that is a big jump! During the county VHR meeting last week, El Dorado County Supervisor Sue Novasel stated that both the county and the TRPA legal counsel agree VHRs are a permissible use in R1 zones. In other cities they are concluding something much different.
Maybe we need to take this issue to the courts and let them decide. Possibly we should confer with Palm Springs and other California cities with a ban in place to see how they intend to transition.
I believe it to be worth mentioning again that the council is a panel of elected officials representing the people. In light of the recent controversy regarding secrecy and wrongdoing, they really need to get this one right! Council should figure out how to be true to residents and restore trust in the community.
Brandie Jordan Griffith is a South Lake Tahoe resident and Realtor at Realty World Lake Tahoe
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