Local Elections

Airbnb’s future in South Lake Tahoe remains up in the air as ballots trickle in

A grassroots effort to ban short-term home rentals from most South Lake Tahoe neighborhoods held a slight lead Wednesday with most city precincts reporting. But proponents were refusing to declare victory.

“It’s promising, it’s trending in our favor, but we’ll have to wait,” said Peggy Bourland, part of a group that put Measure T on the city ballot.

The measure had 51.2 percent of the vote as of early Wednesday. That, however, amounted to a slim 113-vote lead with an unknown number of ballots outstanding.

El Dorado County elections spokeswoman Linda Webster said the county will have a better idea by noon Thursday how many ballots remain to be tallied.

Measure T, pushed by local homeowners called The Tahoe Neighborhoods Group, would ban short-term home rentals in most areas of the city, other than in a section of the city defined as the tourist zone near the casinos and Heavenly Valley ski resort, as well as along a strip near Highway 50.

Currently, city officials estimate about 12 percent of the city’s housing stock is being used by owners as short-term vacation rentals. Of those, 450 homes are in the tourism area. The city currently allows another 1,400 permits for short-term home rentals in the rest of the city.

Although homes have been used as rentals for decades in the Tahoe basin, the recent emergence of online services such as Airbnb and Homeway has increased the number of rentals, riling some residents who say it is turning residential neighborhoods into hotel zones, Bourland said.

Measure T, if passed, would kick in on Jan. 1, 2022, eliminating those 1,400 permits, with one key exception: Homeowners outside the tourist zone who are “permanent” residents in those homes can still rent out those homes for up to 30 days a year.

“This will create more stability in residential neighborhoods,” Bourland said.

Opponents, including the Lake Tahoe South Shore Chamber of Commerce, called the measure “extreme” and said it will harm the local economy by making it harder for tourists to stay in the area, and will put a large dent in the city budget that pays for police, fire and other basic services.

“The ... ban will severely reduce vital income for all of our businesses, professions, and trades,” the group wrote in its ballot argument. “Many local families and individuals will suffer job loss or drastically reduced work hours and be forced to leave the home they love.”

The group estimated the city of South Lake Tahoe would lose more than $3 million annually, reducing city services. “We will no longer recognize the community in which we live .... Measure T is not the solution. It’s an extreme measure South Lake Tahoe residents cannot afford.”

A similar citizen-led measure appeared headed toward passage in Pacific Grove, another major tourist destination. Measure M, which would restrict short-term rentals from most of Pacific Grove, had won 58 percent of the vote by the end of Tuesday.