Mammoth residents introduce single family rental ballot initiative
On Feb. 2, Mammoth Lakes residents Kathy Cage, Michael Agnitch, and Tom Gaunt filed a ballot initiative regarding nightly home rentals in residential neighborhoods. Their intent, according to a recent press release: to “require the Town Council to seek voter approval before changing the laws regarding transient rentals of homes in residential zones.”
The press release noted that the new Town Council tackled the controversial subject of short-term single family home rentals (SFR) by placing the topic on its list of priorities last year. Cage expressed dismay that three Councilmembers voted in favor of changing the current Zoning Code to allow for a possible expansion of SFR.
According to Town staff during a Council presentation on SFR in October of last year, there are 167 stand-alone homes currently available for legal SFR. SFR is allowed in certain resort corridors (projects such as Stonegate), as well as RMF-2 (Residential Multi-Family) zones, which are peppered around town near Canyon Lodge and along Lake Mary and Old Mammoth Road, among other locations.
Proponents of SFR, including Mayor Pro-Tem Michael Raimondo, have proposed expanding SFR to other residential areas, if not to all residential areas without prohibitive HOAs and CC&Rs in Mammoth.
At the October 2014 presentation, staff estimated that between 100 and 150 other homeowners rent their homes illegally—not counting illegal condo rental, which has yet to be assessed.
Staff has since begun an SFR work program to compile available data and seek additional data on legal and illegal rental and TOT enforcement.
However, Cage, Agnitch, and Gaunt expressed frustration that the decision of whether or not to expand SFR in Mammoth would fall only to Town Council.
“We’ve been debating this issue for over 10 years,” Cage said. “I don’t believe the current Council majority who want to allow the commercialization of our residential neighborhoods reflects the values of our community.”
She went on to argue that “When neighborhoods are opened to nightly rentals, locals get pushed out as the cost of rentals rises and availability drops. We think quality of life for residents trumps the financial interest of property investors.”
“Whether you’re for or against single family rental, it’s so important and people have such strong feelings about it that it’s something that should be decided by the voters,” added Mike Agnitch at the Feb. 4 Town Council meeting.
Tom Gaunt, an adjunct professor at Cerro Coso College in Mammoth and not to be confused with the old ball coach Tom Gault, argued that voters should decide on an issue that will affect them for decades to come. “This decision is virtually irreversible,” he said.
Once Town Attorney Andy Morris has reviewed the ballot initiative, the proponents will have 180 days to gather signatures. Should the initiative receive signatures from 10 percent of Mammoth residents (roughly 800 people), Council can either adopt it, or it will go on the General Election ballot. Should it receive signatures from 15 percent of residents (1,200 people), Council can either adopt it, or the initiative will go to Special Election.
“Then it needs a simple majority,” Cage said. If the majority votes “yes,” the initiative will fix all the current zoning in place.
“If Council wants to propose taking a trial neighborhood and opening it up to single family home rental, they would have to put that on the General Election ballot and have the public vote on it,” she said. “It shifts all of the decision making on this particular issue to the residents.”
Mayor Jo Bacon declined to comment on the initiative, saying only, “Citizens have a right to do this at any time they wish, that’s what the democratic process is about.”
Other Councilmembers could not be reached for comment.