Update Dec. 7: South Lake Tahoe's Measure T won by only 58 votes, according to El Dorado County. It passed 3517 to 3459.
The fate of short-term vacation rentals in South Lake Tahoe is on the ballot this election, and the issue is dividing the community.
South Lake Tahoe is the lake's only incorporated city. There are roughly 22,000 permanent residents, but during peak tourist periods the population can swell to nearly five times that size.
A growing number of those visitors are turning to short-term rentals, such as Airbnb or VRBO, which some residents say squeezes the already-tight housing market.
Enter Measure T.
If passed, it would allow for unlimited rentals in commercial zones, but partially ban them outside the tourist core. Permanent residents would still be able to rent out their homes for up to 30 days per year.
Sharon Kerrigan is with the South Tahoe Association of Realtors, which is part of a group called Sustainable Community Alliance working to defeat Measure T. She said tourism is essentially Tahoe's only industry and Measure T would hurt that sector.
"So, if we start to limit folks coming to our area, that just kind of decreases the income coming to all of our local businesses, and then it impacts jobs," Kerrigan said. “There are managers, there are reservationists, there are cleaning companies, there are people that do maintenance, there are people that do security checks.”
Kerrigan said visitors depend on the supply of short-term rentals during peak times, when hotels and motels are full. If the total number of available units is decreased, that will force tourists to head elsewhere.
Peggy Bourland is with the Tahoe Neighborhoods Group, which got the measure on the ballot. She said jobs are an issue, but not as being portrayed.
"What we have really is a labor-shortage crisis and that is related to the fact that there are so few places to live,” Bourland said. “We have people that have found work here, but then they can't find a place to live."
Bourland said at the core, it's a zoning issue. Short-term rentals are businesses, operating in residential neighborhoods.
She said while the rentals are popular, they only account for a small portion of the lodging stays in the city and generate little in lodging taxes, also known as a transient occupancy taxes or TOT.
“Interestingly enough, relative to our total lodging stays in South Lake Tahoe, [short term rentals] make up less than 14 percent of our hotel tax collections,” Bourland said. “Eighty-six percent of our visitors and our TOT collection comes from our traditional lodging properties; hotels, motels, condominiums and timeshares.”
Opponents say the homes currently being used as rentals are also vacation homes for the owners, so they would likely not turn into housing options for the job sector.
Several other tourist cities in California have enacted rules similar to Measure T through their city councils, including Anaheim, Carmel, Dana Point, Napa, Ojai, Palm Desert, San Luis Obispo and Sonoma according to the Yes on T campaign.
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