Election season can be an exciting time of year with anticipation of the possibilities, but this year in South Lake Tahoe election season is full of negativity that has pitted neighbor against neighbor. One year ago I wrote an editorial “Use the election to create a community of collaboration and teamwork,” and today I urge continuance of community, collaboration and teamwork.
Measure T is on the ballot to ban vacation home rentals (VHRs) in three years unless they are in the small area near the Stateline and Ski Run area of the community known as the Tourist Core.
It wasn’t a hard decision to say “no” to the measure that would change the way visitors experience South Lake Tahoe and the way many of our neighbors earn a living. While the current ordinance isn’t perfect and needs to be updated, a ban would obliterate an industry that pays above average wages and employs hundreds of locals.
Even those not in the direct vacation home rental business, such as grocery and retail stores, tourist adventures, gas stations, restaurants and bars would see a reduction in business. Business plans are created with facts and figures of both local and tourist spending and numbers, and with a large portion of visitors unable to stay in the city, much will be affected. These people are locals too, and your neighbors. There are no local businesses that can survive without tourist dollars.
There are not enough stock of decent motel and hotel rooms in South Lake Tahoe to accommodate those who want to stay in town. There are some fabulous units now built in the Tourist Core, but with price tags over $1,000,000, their nightly rents will be far above what the current VHR guest pays. During busy weekends in winter and summer, local motel rooms are already sold out which would leave thousands of guests driven elsewhere. Who benefits if there is a ban on VHRs in South Lake Tahoe? Stateline casinos, El Dorado County, Douglas County, Washoe County and Placer County.
Measure T has sparked debate over zoning, property rights and what makes up a neighborhood. And just like communities across the country that are facing a tight market and lack of affordable housing, the shared economy of vacation rentals may have reduced much-needed housing.
With just over ten percent of the housing units in South Lake Tahoe and the east side of El Dorado County being rented out as vacation rentals, eliminating the capability of a home owner to rent out short-term will not suddenly have long-term rentals flood the market.
Blaming vacation rentals for a lack of affordable housing is not a valid complaint. Yes, we do not have enough affordable and workforce housing units on the South Shore. Go to Reno, Carson City and El Dorado Hills you’ll find thousands of new housing options, including many apartments and condominiums, being built.
With the recession ten years ago builders did not build, homes were foreclosed on, and those with money to invest were able to grab up homes at a great savings. Many in South Lake Tahoe did not, or could not, jump in and join the buying frenzy. Most of those that did buy were not previously living in the area and saw an opportunity live in one of the most beautiful parts of the world, even if just for weekends and holidays. Rather than leaving the home vacant these new owners sometimes opted to rent their new house out on a short-term basis so they could still enjoy it when possible.
There is no evidence a ban on vacation rentals will bring more long-term rentals to locals. There is no clear evidence a ban would lower values, and if it did who is going to jump in an buy? Another group of out-of-towners hoping to own a home in paradise?
What we need are some new housing projects and higher density in some areas, and there are a few currently in the works with local officials. But will some of those opposing vacation rentals now join in the “NIMBY – Not in My Back Yard” opposition of affordable housing in their neighborhood? Time will tell (but let’s hope not too much time!).
Transient Occupancy Tax
There are many things the current transit occupancy tax (TOT) funds in South Lake Tahoe including police, code enforcement and, as voters backed, a future recreation center.
The City needs to seek a bond to pay for the new recreation center that would be paid back annually through collected TOT. With the future of vacation rentals in the air, no solid funds can be sought at this time.
A new, updated recreation center paid through only by tourist taxes was a win-win for the community and overwhelming support was evident two years ago at the polls.
A No on T will give the City the ability to get a bond to pay for the center, if Yes on T wins on November 6 it is unknown what will be available, and how the City could pay for it.
Neighbor Against Neighbor
It is so sad that bullies have sprouted wings and appear to be all over social media and at the local bar or coffee shop voicing their opinions. There are locals for the measure, and there are locals against the measure….so we’re fighting each other. Don’t forget we are all locals showing up at the polls.
Besides the sides going at each other we are also becoming very poor examples of a welcoming community to our guests. There are residents that call the police at the moment a car pulls into the driveway of a VHR, a car with a family ready to experience the life of a local, even if just for a few days. When did we become so upset that car door closures are a noise violation, or that common decency is tossed out the window just because the family next door chose to spend their money in South Lake Tahoe?
Of course it’s not just about the money, but that helps pay for what we enjoy: roads, police, fire department, good shopping and restaurants and a City that is poised to weather the next financial/recession storm.
As neighbors and friends, will we ever recover after the election? Let’s remember what it means to be a true local.
Vacationing in South Lake Tahoe is a dream of many, and for hundreds of thousands a year it is a dream that has been realized. The lake, mountain, fresh air, recreational opportunities and numerous other activities including relaxing and spending quality family time.
At the TRPA board meeting on October 24 about two dozen people spoke during public comment about the problems vacation home rentals cause in their neighborhoods……..too bad they didn’t stay for the rest of the meeting as they would have heard about how teamwork and cooperation between public and private entities can be successful and build a stronger community.
Instead of behaving like the neighbors both sides are, we are egging each other on instead of working together to solve the issue. There will be some that say the City Council did not facilitate compromise between those for and those against vacation home rentals, but if you attended every single public meeting on the subject you’ll know this is not true. The whole measure came about because those against VHRs did not get exactly as they asked for and a reduction of hundreds of permitted homes. Both sides gave up something. The whole ordinance is a result of everyone working together….does it need more work? Of course it does. The City Council has continuously said that they will give it a chance to work, bring back on the agenda with facts and figures, and adjust where needed.
If the ban goes into effect there will be no more community service officers to investigate illegal home rentals since their jobs are funding by the collected VHR fees and taxes. There will be no more compliance company to scan the rental websites to find illegal VHRs.
So where do WE go from here?
Thoughtful communication and collaboration will get us back to a good place, and why we’re at it we just might get to know our neighbors again.
A “No” on T does not mean we cannot work together to fix this. Education is key so I urge the public to watch City Council meetings to better understand the budget, see the subcommittees working with the community to solve an issue, and to better understand what is going on in government. Remember, just because you heard it on Facebook doesn’t mean it’s true. It’s easy to be a part of the solution.
Together we can get an ordinance that is even more enforceable and works for all in the community and rebuild what we used to have.
Source: www.southtahoenow.com by Paula Peterson