No solution to South Lake Tahoe vacation home rental issue
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE — It does not appear there will be a compromise to settle a lawsuit over the city’s voter-approved ban on vacation home rentals.
The City Council unanimously decided Tuesday to defend Measure T — a ballot question that bans vacation home rentals (VHRs) outside the city’s tourist core and commercial areas — against a lawsuit alleging it is unconstitutional.
In detailing the council’s discussion, which occurred in closed session, City Attorney Heather Stroud said the council was recognizing the will of the voters. At the same time, the council noted there could be future ballot initiatives aimed at altering the city’s VHR regulations.
Measure T supporters credited the council for its decision while opponents said the vote was expected.
“The City Council has acted in good faith by voting to defend the people’s ballot initiative (Measure T) that protects zoning in residential neighborhoods,” the Tahoe Neighborhoods Group said in a statement emailed to the Tribune. “The TNG agrees with this council and their efforts to serve the broader community and not just real estate speculators and out-of-town investors.”
The Neighborhoods Group was responsible for putting Measure T before voters in 2018.
While some people at Tuesday’s council meeting were surprised by the decision, others in the community saw it coming.
“We all anticipated the city would defend this and ultimately this will end up in court,” said Mark Salmon, a local realtor who is among a group representing the South Lake Tahoe Property Owners Group.
The Property Owners Group filed the lawsuit against the city arguing Measure T is unconstitutional.
“We would have preferred to find a compromise with the city and the opposition,” Salmon said before alluding to the Neighborhood’s Group refusal to participate in attempts to reach a compromise.
Tuesday’s decision came a little more than a month after City Manager Frank Rush privately proposed a compromise to both sides. It was intended to settle the lawsuit.
Prior to council’s meeting, Rush told the Tribune it was meant to be a true compromise, with each side realizing some victories while also making concessions.
“I think it was a very thoughtful and fair compromise,” he said.
Consensus was viewed as critical because under Measure T any changes to the city’s VHR regulations must be put to a vote of the people.
The proposal, among other provisions, would have allowed VHRs within 2,000 feet of the shoreline, canals in Tahoe Keys and Heavenly Mountain Resort’s California base lodge.
The Tahoe Neighborhoods Group rejected the proposal and said it would not participate in mediation.
“There is no question that this proposal has rekindled the lack of trust in government that fueled the initiative in the first place,” the group wrote in an email to Rush.
Although the anti-Measure T group did have some issues with the proposal, it was willing to continue with the discussion, Salmon told the Tribune. When the Neighborhoods Group refused to continue the discussion, it became apparent the litigation was going to continue, he added.
“We really have no choice,” he said. “Ultimately we are seeking compromise and that’s why the group we’re representing is pursuing this (litigation).”
The next scheduled court appearance is Nov. 18 for a case management conference. Because the original judge in the case recused himself, the case is being heard at the El Dorado Superior court in Cameron Park.
Depending on the outcome of the litigation, voters could be looking at another ballot initiative.
If Measure T is ultimately struck down, Salmon said the city would revert to its previous regulations, which he argued are proving to be effective.
The city experienced a 59% reduction of VHR complaints over the first three months of 2019 compared to the previous year, according to Rush’s proposal. However, there could be different explanations for the decrease.
If Measure T is upheld in court, Salmon said the Sustainable Community Alliance will move forward with putting an initiative on the 2020 ballot.
The Alliance, for which Salmon serves as co-president, attempted to put a competing initiative on the 2018 ballot. Had they been successful, it would have gone up against Measure T, which passed with 58 votes in an election that saw nearly $500,000 directed to the “No on Measure T” effort.
But the Alliance failed to get the necessary number of valid signatures needed to put the initiative on the ballot. Salmon said those mistakes would not be repeated in 2020.
“We are much more organized this time,” Salmon said prior to Tuesday’s meeting.
Ryan Hoffman is a staff writer with the Tahoe Daily Tribune, a sister newspaper of The Union.