Tahoe Daily Tribune: Measure T in South Lake Tahoe? (opinion)
Imagine you just bought a house — the biggest investment most of us will make in our lives.
You raised a family in that house. You had neighbors. You had community. This was your home.
Sure there were houses that sat empty throughout the years, but you would always warmly greet the Johnsons when they visited on President’s Day, Fourth of July and other holidays.
Now it’s 30 years later. Most of the homes on your street are dark. The weekend comes and a few of those houses come alive. Unfamiliar faces file in.
You no longer have your neighbors, your community. You have strangers staying next door. You wonder what happened and you start to get mad.
Throughout South Lake Tahoe too many of us find ourselves wondering: What happened to our neighborhood?
It is a complicated question and unfortunately Measure T is not the answer. We strongly recommend voting “no.”
The measure, put forward by a group of dedicated residents, would effectively eliminate vacation home rentals (VHRs) outside of the tourist core — a small part of town that stretches down U.S. 50 from Stateline to Ski Run — and commercially zoned areas in three years. Permanent residents would still be allowed to rent out their home for up to 30 days a year.
Opponents have gone to great lengths to frame Measure T as economic Armageddon. We believe this is an exaggeration, but it will hurt … in the form of about $2 million in transient occupancy tax and many millions more in related visitor spending.
We find it unwise to eliminate revenue at a time when our City Council is considering lowering reserves to pay for a short-term road rehabilitation program and with a literal crisis coming down the pike in the form of CalPERS.
However, we could look beyond this financially foolish move if it solved a real and urgent problem. That is not the case with Measure T.
Supporters say Measure T is about putting an end to insufferable party mansions that resemble fraternity houses rather than family homes. It’s about solving the housing crisis. It’s about zoning and keeping “hotels” out of residentially zoned areas, they say.
While reasonable at face value, the reality is more complex.
For starters, the nuisances simply aren’t that numerous. The data backs this up, as do our experiences. We, like you, live here in neighborhoods spanning from Ski Run Boulevard to Christmas Valley. We, like you, live among VHRs. Although there are loud and obnoxious visitors every so often, they are few and far between. Many of these visitors are families, and truth be told, they typically behave better than some of our actual neighbors.
If blown-out parties fueled by noise and drunken revelers were truly a pandemic pulsating through our neighborhoods, we would likely support Measure T. But that is not the case.
We also could see our way to supporting Measure T if we knew it would make a sizeable difference in addressing our housing nightmare.
Unlike nuisance issues, Tahoe’s housing crisis is a real threat — it’s also a problem impacting the entire state and other areas across the country.
Measure T offers little when it comes to actually easing this burden.
The reality is we have a second home problem, and with VHRs outside the tourist core only making up about one-fifth of the vacant homes in the city, Measure T does little to solve the problem of non-residential homeownership.
Do we really believe all of these VHRs will suddenly turn into long-term rentals? (Why would you own a second home in Tahoe if you could never visit it?) Do we think the real estate market will suddenly be flush with homes at a price people — teachers, firefighters, hospital employees — can afford? Or will they simply remain second-homes that are now empty all the time (depriving our area of tax dollars and jobs)?
Neither side can say for sure, which makes Measure T a gamble. Such an issue should be treated with greater scrutiny than a game of craps at Harrah’s.
Supporters also make the case that VHRs are incompatible with residential zoning. However, those same people were willing to put that point aside to reach a compromise before it failed due to a lack of political will on the part of South Lake Tahoe’s City Council.
This is an important point. Rather than push toward the extreme, and we believe Measure T is extreme, we are calling for compromise. We can lower the cap to a more palatable level. We can change zoning laws to slowly nudge VHRs out of areas that make zero sense. We can levy fees on second homes to both discourage non-residential home ownership and generate funds for workforce housing.
We can avoid years of costly legal battles, which we’re confident will happen if Measure T passes. We can strengthen our neighborhoods and welcome tourists.
Some have looked at the city’s strict VHR regulations implemented a year ago and commented “you can’t put a Band-Aid on cancer.”
Well, you also don’t perform open-heart surgery to cure the common cold.
Vote “No” on Measure T and demand our elected leaders do more than the status quo.