Other resort communities in California imposing caps on short-term rentals has Mammoth locals believing Town officials may follow suit.
At a recent Mammoth Town Council Meeting, Councilmember Sarah Rea suggested that Council vote to approve a temporary, one-year housing moratorium to be put in place on new short-term rental permits.
A similar moratorium has been implemented in Tahoe.
Her reasoning is that it would provide “breathing room” in order for the Town to do a better analysis of what the true rate of conversion from long-term rentals to short-term rentals is.
“Nobody has really presented that data to us from the Town staff, so I really want to see what the stats are on that. It isn’t enough to work with just anecdotal evidence,” said Rea. “That being said, I’ve lived in town for 10 years now and I have seen the rise in Airbnb’s directly coincide with the housing crisis here, so to me it’s a no-brainer.”
Her proposal wouldn’t affect existing short-term rental permits. Rather, if someone were to buy a condo in town post-moratorium and wished to turn it into a short-term rental, they would have to wait a year to apply, and by then, the Town might have a new regulation so that they couldn’t do it at all.
“I want to at least bring this to Town Council for a vote and if the rest of the Council doesn’t support it that’s fine, but I want them to be on record saying that they don’t support it,” said Rea.
“Other councilmembers have brought up that this will affect the TOT [transient occupancy tax] revenue that our town survives on, but it doesn’t really matter how much TOT we have to run the town if we don’t have people to work in the businesses here,” said Rea.
Rea concluded: “My hope with a moratorium is to bring median home prices down if people aren’t purchasing properties just to turn a rental profit. Locals can’t compete with people [other buyers] who have $50,000 over asking price and cash in hand.”
Local resident Sharon Clark is also in favor of a moratorium. “We are in such a severe crisis and have been for 10 years now in terms of housing. I’m willing to do just about anything to make housing available for our workforce. I’m disappointed that we haven’t put money towards housing instead of other avenues. So if this helps in any way, I am in support of it.”
When asked whether she was concerned about a possible reduction in Mammoth’s TOT revenue, Clark replied, “I think we should’ve reduced tourism long ago anyway.”
Clark added: “Mammoth’s population is now 7,000 according to the 2020 census, meaning we’ve lost 1,000 residents in 10 years as a direct result of lack of housing. What does this say about our community?”
Moratorium = death sentence
Town Councilmember Bill Sauser had less of a concrete opinion on the matter: “I am not sure how I feel about it one way or the other. On one hand, we owe our entire existence as a town to tourism, but on the other hand, there are those who think we have too many tourists in town and the advent of Vrbo and Airbnb has cost us a lot of monthly rentals we would’ve had otherwise for workforce housing. But the proof or disproof of that is basically all anecdotal. It’s hard to say whether that has happened or not,” said Sauser.
Sauser says he is still listening to input coming from both sides of the moratorium argument. If brought to the Council for a vote, he doesn’t know how he would vote.
“However, I would probably not be in favor of any kind of permanent moratorium at this time,” he said.
Local realtor Cynthia Fleming is staunchly against the idea, saying that issuing a moratorium on nightly rentals would be a “death sentence” to the community.
Apart from selling real estate in Mammoth, Fleming also owns Ready 4 Rentals, a rental management company that oversees about 80 units.
“I’m in complete shock over the Town Council quietly discussing a moratorium on nightly rentals, and their timing couldn’t be worse. Just as our town is gaining momentum from exiting the 1970s dilapidated ski town look, they have to potentially ruin the incredible development opportunities that are about to break ground by mentioning a moratorium on nightly rentals … Haven’t we all gone through enough with Covid, and now they want to shoot the goose who is laying our golden eggs?” exclaimed Fleming.
“Has the Town Council considered how many people rental and management companies employ in our community? We employ handymen, property checkers, dozens of maids and several employees to run our operation. Not to mention the plumbers, electricians, etc., who receive daily jobs from us,” continued Fleming.
An alternative mentioned by Fleming would be to raise the bed tax to 16% (the thought being that guests wouldn’t notice an extra 3% on their Airbnb bill) and use it to incentivize owners to rent to locals. “[For example], if you own a one bedroom, you receive $7,500 a year from the town, a two bedroom gets $10,000 a year and so on. Use that extra 3% to build additional units. The possibilities are endless without putting a cap on nightly rentals,” she said
“It’s a massive luxury to live within four square miles of where anyone works, including Los Angeles. I’m pretty sure a server in Beverly Hills doesn’t actually live there – they commute 20+ miles. Same scenario in our peer resort communities,” said Fleming. “We are not running a non-profit here. We are a tourism-based community which is on the brink of making a devastating decision – all at the hands of five people who are not earning their living off tourism. It would benefit them greatly to walk a week in our shoes. There is no corner of free enterprise that California and now Mammoth Lakes will not seek to destroy.”
Former Mammoth Lakes Town Councilman Michael Raimondo is also opposed to a housing moratorium.
“I think it’s a terrible idea. It might be a noble one, but a bad one. First of all, TOT is the lifeblood of Mammoth and operates the town’s basic services. 70% [ed. note more like 60%] of the Town budget is made up of TOT and sales tax; we’re unlike the vast majority of other cities, including Tahoe, that operate their town on 50% property tax and 50% TOT and sales tax. If TOT is reduced due to a moratorium, then our services are reduced; this includes a reduction in public safety, town government jobs, snow plowing, all the stuff we need to operate the town for both locals and visitors.”
Raimondo’s suggestion is to dip into the $7 million dollar marketing budget from Measure A dollars to put into housing. “There’s a good $2 million dollars there that could go directly towards housing. You could bond that by a factror of ten, get $20 million, and then satisfy all the housing we’d need for a long time … you could use it to purchase existing, older condos, hotels or lodges right away and put the workforce in there.”
Raimondo also pointed out that most short-term rentals are done through second home owners who still spend time at their property on occasion and wouldn’t want to rent them out long-term. Therefore, according to Raimondo, preventing short-term rentals wouldn’t actually fix the problem of lack of housing. “It basically is going to do nothing,” said Raimondo. “Biting the hand that feeds us in order to solve this crisis is only going to make it even worse.”