South Lake Tahoe residents will decide whether to slash nearly 1,400 vacation rental homes from the area's rental market after a controversial proposal qualified for the November ballot last week.
The Tahoe Neighborhoods Group, which backed the measure, submitted 1,636 signatures to the South Lake Tahoe City Clerk’s office for review on April 30, surpassing the 1,036 petition signatures required for the citizens initiative to qualify.
This measure would cut vacation home rental (VHR) permits by 75 percent and was prompted by opposition of some residents to encroachment of more and more visitors in their neighborhoods.
"It's disappointing from the city's view," South Lake Tahoe Mayor Wendy David said of the successful initiative drive. She said adequate measures were taken by the city last year to address the swell of tourists in South Lake Tahoe residential areas.
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The city strengthened ordinances related to VHRs in December by imposing stricter fines for parking and noise disturbances and by limiting future growth, according to the mayor.
She said those ordinances "need more time" to take effect and be noticed by the community. They already have resulted in a decrease in violations, a decrease in complaints from neighbors and fewer citations, she said.
Of the 1,847 total permitted vacation rentals within the city, 450 are within an area designated as the tourist core zone. Under the initiative proposal, the 1,397 elsewhere in the city would be phased out, reducing the number of permits by approximately 75 percent. The current VHR permits outside of the tourist core zone are distributed relatively evenly throughout the rest of South Lake Tahoe, David said.
The tourist core zone is surrounded by the Heavenly Valley, Bijou Park, Tahoe Meadows and Stateline residential neighborhoods, according to South Lake Tahoe's city website. There would be no cap on the number of VHR permits in that area.
Another group, the Sustainable Community Alliance, has submitted a petition for a competing ballot measure called the "South Lake Tahoe Vacation Home Rentals Restrictions Initiative" that would not result in a harsh cut in permit numbers.
The countermeasure would block renewal of a VHR permit if the property generates less than $1,500 in tax revenue in the year before it expires. It also would decrease the number of occupants and visitors per bedroom of a rental property and prohibit the use of speakers at VHRs at all times, according to the group's website.
"We have reason to believe that the community would be more oriented towards restrictions, not bans," said Steve Teshara, a member of the Alliance's executive committee and chief executive officer of Tahoe Chamber, which supports the Alliance. Other supporters of the Alliance's countermeasure include realtors, construction companies, rental and property management services and painting, cleaning and pool service companies, according to the website.
Some supporters of the measure to cut VHR permits see it as a way to address the affordable housing shortage that is making it harder for some residents to rent long term, due to the popularity of shorter-term rental options popularized by websites like Airbnb.
"There are just no places to rent in Tahoe," said Bill Martinez, executive director of the South Lake Tahoe Family Resource Center. Martinez said the swelling number of vacation rental units has pushed some families into motels and forced low-income workers into farther commutes.
Residents who might be facing housing instability include those working in service jobs and tourism, and both Martinez and David acknowledge that the issue is complicated.
“VHRs need to open up to rent long term; we need to find other housing for the low-income community,” said Martinez.
The mayor agreed that housing availability is an important issue in South Lake Tahoe, where a staggering 78 percent of houses are second homes or vacation rental properties.
But David said the VHR permit conversation is different from the ones around other housing issues.
"I think it's unclear to draw a direct nexus between VHRs and affordable housing," said David, who suggested VHRs aren't properties that would otherwise meet the need for low-income housing.