Supervisors: Nonessential travel to Lake Tahoe could bring $1,000 fine
El Dorado County is cracking down on nonessential travel into the South Lake Tahoe region as officials fight to curb the spread of COVID-19.
The Board of Supervisors passed an emergency ordinance Tuesday that gives teeth to a “no-travel” order brought down by county health officer Dr. Nancy Williams earlier this month.
Travelers may now receive a $1,000 fine for traveling into the Tahoe Basin area for nonessential purposes. Williams issued the order April 3 “to reduce the number of visitors and other non-full-time residents in the basin” as the area dealt with a swelling of population.
Enforcement officials will levy fines through the sunset date of the “stay-at-home” order, which is set through April 30. The emergency ordinance will remain in effect throughout the stay-at-home order if the directive is extended beyond April 30.
The city of South Lake Tahoe implemented its own $1,000 fine for those traveling to the area for nonessential purposes and staying in second homes or vacation rentals. The city has so far written three citations according to interim Police Chief Shannon Laney.
The county’s move implements enforcement measures for areas outside the city, such as unincorporated areas like Meyers, Tahoma and Meeks Bay. While much of the focus has been on South Lake Tahoe, District 5 Supervisor Sue Novasel said the vacation-home-packed West Shore has been hit hard by out-of-town visitors as well.
The move has more to do with ensuring the area’s only hospital, Barton Memorial, and other emergency services aren’t overwhelmed than it does with preventing further spread of the virus, according to Supervisor Novasel. The hospital has just nine intensive care unit beds and 68 acute care hospital beds.
“The services we have just won’t support the extra population,” Novasel said. “We’re just trying to deal with that very scary issue if (a surge) were to come to pass.”
Constitutional concerns caused county supervisors to stop short of levying fines to second-homeowners staying in their properties during the COVID-19 crisis. District 3 Supervisor Brian Veerkamp, who cautioned during an April 7 meeting against fining second-homeowners, said the ordinance is a sufficient opening move without overstepping onto people’s personal property rights.
“I think this is a first step in trying to limit (travel),” Veerkamp said. “If we don’t see that it works then maybe we gotta go to that next step. It’s either that or we make it all inclusive and just fine everybody, which I think we’re going too far if we go to that measure.”
Board members, especially Supervisor Novasel, who represents the Tahoe Basin, have heard the constitutional arguments from frustrated residents who may now be fined for traveling within their home county and state. Novasel said her obligation to keep residents safe and healthy comes first.
“I’ve had people call me Hitler and all kinds of nasty things, saying that I’m taking away their constitutional rights,” Novasel said. “The first thing the Constitution talks about, in the preamble, is the ability for us to take care of our citizens … Remember, this is just a temporary, emergency issue to try to limit illnesses and (promote) the safety of our public.”
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