While the majority of Mammoth’s Town Council remains tight-lipped about the single family rental (SFR) ballot initiative introduced in February by Mammoth Lakes residents Kathy Cage, Michael Agnitch, and Tom Gaunt, Councilmember John Wentworth had a statement to make at Council’s regular meeting on March 18.
“It occurs to me that it’s unfortunate that we’re perhaps all heading down a road that I’m not sure we need to go down,” he said at Wednesday night’s meeting. “… I’m concerned that there are significant misperceptions as to the motivations or intentions of members of Council [regarding SFR] based on what happened during the [election] campaign.”
In February, with the filing of the SFR ballot initiative, Cage, Agnitch, and Gaunt stated their intent to “require the Town Council to seek voter approval before changing the laws regarding transient rentals of homes in residential zone.”
According to the language of the initiative, the initiative “amends the Town of Mammoth Lakes General Plan to make these transient use limits more explicit and amends provisions of the Town Code to reaffirm these limits and require voter approval of any changes to the limits …
This Initiative does not affect existing ordinance provisions allowing transient rental of single-family homes and other transient uses outside of the RSF [Residential Single Family], RR [Residential Rural] and RMF-1 [Residential Multiple Family] zones … and does not require voter approval of any changes to those provisions.”
Cage, Agnitch, and Gaunt said the initiative was in part a reaction to Council’s apparent willingness to consider expanding SFR in Mammoth. Cage in particular expressed dismay that Councilmembers had already voted in favor of changing the current Zoning Code to allow for a possible expansion of SFR.
At the March 4 Town Council meeting, she criticized Council for removing the use permit requirement for Residential Multi-Family-2 (RMF-2) homes, which are currently zoned for transient rental, and reminded several Councilmembers, including John Wentworth and Shields Richardson, of their campaign promises regarding SFR (see “Rattling Cages”).
At this Wednesday’s Council meeting, SFR ballot initiative proponent Michael Agnitch voiced his own concern about Council’s removal of the use permit requirement for RMF-2 homes.
“To me, that’s a disservice to the people who are renting, because now they can have transients come in more easily without addressing trash, fire, things like that,” he said. “It wasn’t too long ago that you removed the height restrictions in North Village, for one section of it, and to me that’s a disservice to those of us who live here. You’re not recognizing our quality of life … You’re thinking more about, I guess, building. Then there have been changes to the restrictions in density over by the Rafters area …
“This Town Council may never make changes to transient rentals, but someone down the road could, so that was our motivation [behind the ballot initiative].”
But Council member Wentworth argued that in spite of Council’s aforementioned actions, his own stance on SFR hadn’t changed since his campaign.
“Back in the campaign, I sent a letter out … to all the constituents of the community, that advised that I was committed to preserving the integrity of our residential neighborhoods,” he said. “And I still stand behind that. I don’t see any compelling need to change our zoning to accommodate single family rentals, at this point.”
He addressed Kathy Cage’s concern that Council was already considering expanding SFR, arguing, “I think it’s important to make it clear, for the record, for the community to understand—I can speak for myself—that this questions has not been before Council. This Council has not weighed in on what our opinions or legislative recommendations are to single-family homes.
“I think this enormous gap is opening up between what the public might perceive we want to be doing, what our agendas are one way or the other, and we’ve never taken a vote on this.”
Council member Wentworth suggested that he and Council member Colin Fernie meet with initiative proponents to “engage in a good, productive dialogue about what is really the best way to take on these challenges.”
Michael Agnitch agreed. “I think our committee would love to meet with Council and talk about our motivations, and to address this gap [in public understanding],” he said.
Other Councilmembers expressed no concerns, but did ask questions of staff regarding the initiative.
Should the initiative receive signatures from 10 percent of Mammoth residents, Council can either adopt it, or it will go on the General Election ballot. Should it receive signatures from 15 percent of residents, Council can either adopt it, or the initiative will go to Special Election. It then requires a simple majority; a majority of “yes” votes will fix all current zoning in place, and require a public vote for any future proposed changes.
“The election code says Council can ask staff to report back on anything related to the initiative,” explained Town Attorney Andy Morris.
Some of Council’s questions for staff: what is the fiscal impact to the Town if the initiative goes to General or Special Election, and would this initiative will outlive, or contradict, the General Plan?
“This initiative would restrict future changes to the General Plan,” Morris answered the latter. “… These restrictions would stay in effect unless the voters change them.”
Staff will bring back a report to Council in May.