Mike Vance was Mammoth’s Community Development Director from 1998-2003. He then returned to Whistler, where he served as Community Development Director until earlier this year. He is now a private consultant.
I called Vance this week to ask him about the latest proposal to legalize single-family home rentals in Mammoth.
He first touched upon the Whistler experience. He said Whistler has dealt with the issue on three separate occasions.
About 30 years ago, he said, Whistler approved a rezoning measure to allow some home rentals in subdivisions for pensiones and bed-and-breakfast establishments.
Limits were imposed as to how many there could be and how far apart they were located.
All have front desks, signage, business licenses and are members of the local resort association. All are mandated to appear like typical residences within the neighborhood.
These type of rentals have had few problems and have been integrated quite seamlessly into the community.
Later on, said Vance, there was a second effort to legalize the rentals of chalets and villas. This didn’t pass.
According to Vance, UK tour operators had been renting homes for the winter season (~4 months at a time), bringing in a person to look after it, and then continuously dumping tour buses full of guests in to stay. This led to a number of complaints from neighbors.
The third debate about rentals occurred fairly recently with the development of two subdivisions; one by a golf course and the other adjacent to the ski hill.
The proposal was to have all the homes be eligible for nightly rentals, and this proposal was advanced during the planning stages, so someone buying into the neighborhood would know exactly what they were getting into (before they ever moved in). The homes were required to have business licenses and memberships to the resort association and all had maximum occupancy requirements. This also passed.
As Vance said, “We drew a line in the sand that existing neighborhoods had to behave like neighborhoods.”
When he heard about Mammoth’s latest proposal, Vance said that further phases of Snowcreek’s development would present a logical opportunity.
He also thought something might work in Starwood using Whistler’s pensione/B&B concept.
But in general, he was wary. “If existing stock is renting at 35% [occupancy], I’d look carefully at how many [beds] I’m bringing on.” He added that whatever is brought on has to have a level of service and quality.
Vance then spoke briefly about a concept called Net Promoter Score (NPS). In short, NPS tries to measure the percentage of people who leave a resort with a positive impression and share that impression with their friends. Brand hotels aim for NPS scores in the high 80s or low 90s.
“If a unit doesn’t have a front desk, if the sheets aren’t changed regularly … that will affect the score.” In turn, that affects how people view Mammoth.
“What does it do to the Mammoth brand? How will it be viewed by the visitor community? Will it grow the market, or displace the existing market?”
Properties that rent through whistler.com, for example, all have an NPS score, said Vance.
In particular, Vance said the Town should seek more data before pushing forward with the home rental idea. If the Town is looking at the Canyon area as one possible opportunity, it should know what the current occupancy percentages are at Mountainback and 1849, for example. In Whistler, average occupancy is at 65% but the idea of bringing on even more rental units is contentious. In Whistler’s most recent version of a General Plan review, said Vance, the community opined that it didn’t want any more commercial development or any additional nightly rental units.
“The idea sounds great, to grow the pie,” Vance concluded, “but boy, I’d be careful … Mammoth is fragile [right now] … and there’s no such thing as a quick fix. [Fixes] usually take time.”
Simas blasts BID
Count Grumpy’s owner Gregg Simas as a vocal opponent of the proposed BID (Business Improvement District) plan.
The plan, as outlined by MMSA CEO Rusty Gregory, calls for an aggressive Town marketing campaign so we can “grow” ourselves out of the current economic morasse exacerbated by the $48.5 million airport litigation judgment. It calls for a 1.5% sales tax, a 1% lodging tax and a 2% lift ticket tax.
These taxes are not supposed to be called taxes, however, because taxes is a dirty word. They’re assessments to be passed through to customers, who ostensibly don’t look at their bills too closely.
Simas said in a Wednesday morning interview, “We assume they will suck it up and accept a pass-through tax … but sooner or later they are going to stop coming if we continue to pass on our problems.”
“The old adage,” he continued, “is that if it snows, they’ll come. But I’m not so sure that applies so well anymore. There are so many other economic pressures [the average Californian is now dealing with].”
As a business owner, Simas himself says he is at his limit and that one more tax might be enough to push him over the edge. “I’m still paying the assessment for Old Mammoth Road, for crying out loud,” he said. Higher tax will translate into reduced volume, he said, “And I’ll be the one eating it.”
Further, Simas says his biggest competition isn’t a Roberto’s or a Shogun. His biggest competition is Vons, and a BID charging 1.5% will give Vons just that much more of a competitive advantage.
Then he questions what the money will be spent on. “Why does Grumpy’s care if they extend air service?” The point is, he said, we’re alienating our Southern California customer base because we’re so expensive, and all the planes in the world won’t bring in enough new, rich, naive, unalienated visitors to make up the difference.
Not only that, Simas views this as just the first bite of the apple which doesn’t even address the Town’s lingering financial problems. “Shouldn’t we solve our deficit first?” he asks rhetorically.
As far as he’s concerned, Simas doesn’t support a BID or a straight lift ticket tax on MMSA. Instead, he believes “we should all learn to do more with less … if Mammoth Lakes just had its best summer ever using existing marketing dollars, why can’t they do that for winter?”
The only revenue-enhancement idea Simas thought had merit was one which has been bandied about for at least 15 years; that of a resort card, where visitors pay a resort fee, but on the flip side, they receive use of amenities like the skating rink or Whitmore Pool, and participating retailers can offer resort discount tie-ins. “At least there’s value-added,” he said.
Finally, said Simas, we’ve got to figure out a way to restore public safety to some degree. “All it’s gonna take is one incident [to deter people from coming to Mammoth].”