Questions, concerns, ideas raised at El Dorado County VHR forum

Community members and El dorado County officials gather for a public forum regarding the VHR ordinance.
Provided/Ashleigh Goodwin Tahoe Daily Tribune

MEYERS, Calif. — Dozens of local residents came together Wednesday evening for a public forum El Dorado County District V supervisor Brooke Laine held regarding potential amendments to the ordinance governing the vacation home rental program.

Laine told the Tribune an unprecedented amount of county officials were present to listen to the facts as curated and presented by El Dorado County deputy director of Tahoe planning and stormwater division Brendan Ferry.  

“The people who needed to hear the issues,” from the council, planning commission, and director of code enforcement, among other agencies joined a large crowd of concerned citizens at Lake Tahoe Environmental Science Magnet School, Laine added. 

“The VHR ordinance has been in place since the early 90’s,” Ferry said and added “the ordinance has been changed nearly every year since 2018 in response to concerned citizens and issues. We, as the county try to be dynamic, responsive to the public and that’s really what we’re trying to do tonight.”

Ferry launched into a comprehensive presentation which he had been previously prepared to provide in March but was delayed due to snow. The Board of Supervisors are scheduled to hear the full presentation on May 2 at the regular meeting.

Ferry provided the three requirements for any VHR owner/operator included the necessity of a permit from the planning department, a business license, transient occupancy tax certificate required to be filed quarterly on profits.

“The voters affirmed to increase that tax to 14% which is being used to help repair Pioneer Trail,” according to Ferry.

The present ordinance also limits occupancy, requires a local contact person be available 24/7/365 less than 30 minutes away as a “first responder for incidents.”

This individual, Ferry said needs to become certified through a specific protocol in place to ensure compliance to codes such as requiring occupants be edified regarding local ordinances for parking, trash, noise and other information deemed necessary for mountain living with wildlife. 

Those not in compliance with the ordinance face a fines which progressively increase for repeat offenders.

“With a total of 827 permits, a total cap of 900 permits, and a waitlist of approximately 200, the highest areas of VHR concentration are Montgomery Estates, Meyers proper, and Tahoma,” Ferry said.

According to county data provided in the presentation, out of the existing legal VHRs, there was a total of $36,000 assessed in fines through 71 cases, an estimated average of $507 per fine. 

Ferry also acknowledged the countywide ordinance does not pertain to the city, nor does it account for hosted rentals.

Among the proposed recommendations concluding Ferry’s presentation included increasing the fines considerably to “give them teeth,” he added health and safety are among the top considerations to be addressed May 2. 

Fire inspections are currently required, according to Ferry, however the inside is the focus. He proposes the introduction of defensible space requirements to the ordinance. 

“Everybody’s voice is welcome today, please be respectful,” Laine invited public comment at the close of Ferry’s presentation but prefaced the invitation with a plea for civility.

Both sides of the issue were represented at the podium where one-by-one residents passionately, but respectfully, delivered their comments, suggestions and questions.

Carol Gatien, a 40-year resident of Meyers, business owner of cleaning and maintenance company as well as a local contact for 14 VHR homes in the county, said “I’m a local and I hate tourists … I don’t like VHRs but I’m making a phenomenal living off of it.”

Gatien said in addition to making a living off of being a first responder for multiple properties she also has a hand in making sure they are in compliance. She added she has had to “boot” occupants for noncompliance in the past.

Executive director of local nonprofit Lake Tahoe Boys and Girls Club, Jude Wood, spoke on her intimate knowledge of hosted rentals.

“Nearly nine years ago I made the crazy decision to run a local nonprofit, our costs are extremely high and it was a great way to supplement our income. We rented out a single bedroom and only permit two people maximum. We deal with trash, snow removal, in the eight years there has not been a single complaint and we pay our TOT,” Wood said and added she’s on a street with three VHRs, one a six bedroom home with up to 15 occupants every single weekend. All of which have owners that are not local, she added.

Having fire restrictions and snow removal aspects of the ordinance amended was suggested by resident Lisa O’Day.

O’Day asserted the ordinance should prohibit fire pits with hard fuels as the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit has with fire restrictions.

“This should be a no brainer but apparently some of our hosts have no brain,” O’Day added hosts need to have snow removal contracts and provide shovels/ice melt for the guests.

In light of the challenges O’Day finished by asking for more structure for owner/operators.

“Our responsibilities are different today than they ever have been, instead of telling people they need to include info about not parking on the street during snow removal, maybe the county should be providing the wording,” O’Day said.

Roxanne Rain, of Tahoe Exclusive Exotic, stood in opposition of the majority during the public forum and despite obvious displeasure from many in the crowd Rain presented a different perspective. 

“I love that tourists come here, yeah we have to strike a balance, a happy medium, harmony, it’s not us against them it’s all of us together working in harmony with our guests that come here and I don’t think they need to be the beast of burden for us,” Rain said “Not 100% of the VHRs are the problem 100% of the time.

“Tourism is our bread and butter,” she added. “That’s ludicrous and ignorant. [Cutting off tourists] is like cutting off the blood supply to your body while still expecting to live.” 

Rain told the Tribune she’s not in opposition of all comments that were made, in fact, she said she agreed with many of them including the idea of creating an app to provide “irrefutable evidence” and allow for complaints to be validated. 

Rain told the Tribune after the forum that her interest peaked when Laine recommended an advisory committee composed of all sides of the argument, “to balance to scales and come up with solutions,” and that she’s excited to see what comes of the meeting with the supervisors next month.

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