Inyo County Supervisors voted Tuesday to suspend taking permit applications for hosted nightly rentals.
The moratorium will be for at least 45 days, but could extend for up to 22 months.
Inyo County Adminstrative Officer (CAO) Nate Greenberg said in his introduction that the moratorium would be for 45 days but likely extended to 90-120 days.
Later in the meeting he said “I don’t see it dragging out for two years” and “I hope it’s not six months.”
The purpose behind the moratorium was most cogently explained by Fifth District Supervisor Matt Kingsley.
“The perception is that we don’t have enough housing, and nightly rentals are affecting that.” And that Lone Pine’s teacher shortage is directly related to the housing shortage.
So the County wants to study the problem and hold a lot of workshops over the next few months and wring its collective hands meaningfully.
The prospect left many county residents a bit worried.
Michael Glaser, who purchased property in the Alabama Hills in February, 2020 right before the pandemic hit, said his planned $80,000 remodel “became a lot more.” The nightly rental of an accessory dwelling unit is crucial to making his investment pencil.
He said he’s still 3-4 months away from getting the occupancy permit to his main dwelling. And can’t apply for the hosted rental permit until he gets the occupancy permit.
In short, a moratorium would represent an empty glass at the end of a dusty road.
The agenda item represented a continuation of a presentation made by Public Works Director Cathreen Richards at the Supes’ October 25 meeting.
At that meeting, Richards revealed that the County has issued a total of 88 short-term rental permits and a total of 4,561 dwelling units.
Do the math and you’ll find about 2% of the county’s dwelling units have an associated short-term rental permit.
In Lone Pine, however, that percentage is approximately 5%.
And 5% is the threshold Richards suggested in her staff report as a possible “cap” for any particular defined area.
Another suggestion in her report involved a short-term rental licensing program where a limitation would be placed on licenses granted within any particular area.
On Tuesday, residents pushed back against limitations and moratoriums. In part because government has done this to itself by gutting property rights.
At least that’s what Ali Ashley thinks. Ms. Ashley said she was born and raised in the Alabama Hills.
“People are blaming the housing crisis on Airbnb’s” she began, “but I think this is a scapegoat. You have everything to lose renting [to someone] long-term. Property owners have no rights. It’s too dangerous. With Airbnb, there’s protection [that you have the means to remove a person from your property].”
As Jasmine Beaghler added, “Airbnb is amazing. It’s facilitated my life.” Government shouldn’t be punishing hosts, she said, but solving the problem by acquiring land from Los Angeles and creating more [housing] supply.
Mitch Dubrowner of Lone Pine said that while he’s been visiting the area for 35 years, he’s only been a resident for the past four.
He bemoaned Lone Pine’s anemic economy. “Lone Pine’s been stagnant for 25 years,” he said, and young people aren’t sticking around as a consequence.
We need to be open to change, he said, and Airbnb can serve as an economic driver, drive construction jobs, and create tax revenue.
Steve Dickman, a General Contractor based in Lone Pine, says he employs 10-12 people. In the understatement of the year, he said talk of moratoriums isn’t great for business. “People don’t know whether to continue or not” with their building plans, he said.
On the other side of the coin are people who can’t stand the commodification of residential neighborhoods.
And Supervisor Rick Pucci said that’s the rub. “When you have business in residential areas, it gets complicated.”
Joann Lijek of Bishop thinks the mortaorium on rental permits should last … forever.
“You shouldn’t buy a house you can’t afford,” she said, “and you shouldn’t be counting on Airbnb to bail you out.”
She noted that everyone who had made public comment to that point had talked about money – not about quality of life.
Two people spoke about the county’s lack of a noise ordinance.
Christina Rockwell talked about moving because of one nightly rental that had cropped up in her neighborhood … and then having a new rental come online in the neighborhood she had relocated to.
Mark Heckman of Bishop said the county has a problem with enforcement. He lives a 1/4 mile away from “The Gathering Place,” which he described as an illegal business which operates from April through November.
A follow-up call to Heckman yielded additional detail.
The Gathering Place is an unlicensed business run by the Nicholson family out of the backyard of their Line Street home.
Heckman said the business has a website and a Facebook page.
He said music emanating from the property has been measured at 130 decibels, the equivalent of standing next to a lawnmower.
For Heckman, the nuisance came to a head in May when there was a party thrown that was so large, cars were parked three-deep at Izaak Walton Park across the street, there were three porta-potties in the drive, numerous catering trucks and people hammered drunk wandering in the middle of Line Street at 10 p.m.
Heckman said he filed a complaint with Steve Rennie (husband of incoming Sheriff Stephanie Rennie) in May and hasn’t heard a peep since.
As far as Heckman is concerned, if you can’t rein in an illegal business, or enforce a lighting ordinance, or really manage anything, how do you expect to manage short-term rentals?
The moratorium passed by the Supes on Tuesday allows for those who have active building permits to be able to apply for short-term rental permits one they gain their certifications for occupancy.
In other Board action …
Inyo Supervisors, convening as the Board of Equalization, approved the stipulated agreement between the Assessor’s office and Xanterra regarding the assessment of the Furnace Creek Inn and Ranch.
The stipulated agreement contemplated a reduced assessment of some $5 million.
Supervisors had directed Assessor David Stottlemyre to bring in a third party consultant because it did not have faith that the stipulation was fair/accurate.
Supervisors were also worried about a decreased assessment’s impact on local schools.
Turns out the consultant’s appraisal (using a different valuation method) came in within a few hundred thousand dollars (on a property assessed at more than $20 million).
So a whole lot of hand-wringing over not much.
County Clerk Danielle Sexton said Inyo County had the fourth highest voter turnout in the state at 70.6%. The 1% manual tally conducted to determine vote accuracy yielded zero discrepancies.
Cynthia Kienitz made a presentation to the Board regarding an OHV proposal for Tecopa that would allow for combined use (think Adventure Trails) on certain county road segments.
Proposed segments include:
-802’ of Old Spanish Trail highway from Kienitz’s son’s business, Lost World Tours, towards Furnace Creek Road.
-382’ of Furnace Creek Road to access an existing OHV route
-Approx. 3 miles of Furnace Creek Road to access an existing OHV route to China Ranch Road.
-1.2 miles of China Ranch Road.,
Kienitz proclaimed that “visitation of the Amargosa Basin is about to go viral” and that the county needs to be prepared.
Kienitz’s proposal, however, caught much of the southeast Inyo County community off-guard.
And they claimed Kienitz performed little, if any, public outreach.
Patrick Donnelly, Great Basin Director at the Center for Biological Diversity, lives in Shoshone. He said he found out about the OHV agenda item the day before Thanksgiving. And that the “destination” ranch referenced in the proposal (China Ranch Date Farm) had no idea there was a proposal to link an OHV road segment to its doorstep.
Donnelly said this could have a great impact on local quality of life, that it was a bad process, and that “I feel like we’ve been hoodwinked.”
25-year resident Larry Levy agreed. He wishes to preserve peace and quiet and said there’s an existing, approved BLM route 800’ from Kienitz’s driveway. He says keep OHV’s as defined – off-highway. And keep ‘em off Old Spanish Trail.
Lynn Boulton of the Sierra Club Range of Light said the area in question is part of the DRECP (Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan) not designated for recreation, an area of critical environmental concern, and that OHV use is already a problem and there is limited enforcement.
Kienitz responded to the criticism by saying, “Maybe people will now make time to talk to me.”
She added that her proposals would not increase use so much as decrease misuse.
Inyo Supes directed Kienitz, as an advocate, to start the local conversation.
She asked Supervisors if the county would be willing to facilitate the first meeting.
Supervisor Matt Kingsley bluntly replied “No. But I’ll attend.”
Got a little space to kill here, so I figure I’ll end with a non-sequitur and talk about the Owens Valley Radio Observatory lecture I attended Tuesday at the Bishop Union High School auditorium.
I thought I was going to hear a lecture entitled “Where is Everybody?” My assumption was that it would be on the potential for alien life, and I was all for a deep dive.
But that lecturer had to cancel, so instead we got Caltech’s Francois Kapp talking about the MeerKAT radio telescope which he worked on in South Africa.
Kapp’s lecture wasn’t about science so much as logistics. How do you maintain poltical and financial support for such a grand endeavor? How do you make the project work?
He cited Conway’s law, which says that organizations are constrained (doomed?) to produce designs which tend to replicate their communication/leadership structures.
I thought to myself, “No wonder The Sheet’s an eclectic, haphazard mess.”
Some other takeways:
-You have to manage complexity. It can’t all be in one person’s head.
-If you’re doing something difficult, you really need to establish and pursue a few, clear priorities. Break a problem down to its essence, and then, when you’re slowly building it back up, make sure the various pieces fit.
-Evolve with technology
-People have short memories. As he said, “No one remembered the schedule delay when the science results turned out well.”
He was asked at the very end, “If an alien contacted us, what would you say?”
What came to my immediate mind was, “Don’t shoot.”
Kapp, more rational and enlightened, said whomever would be trying to contact us is quite far away, so you need to present a basic picture – a man, a woman, a DNA chain, et. al. – of life on Earth.