The committee tasked with unpacking the Mammoth STR moratorium met Monday evening in Suite Z.
On the committee are: Matthew Avery, General Manager of the 1849 Condos, Jason Kellogg, General Manager of the Village and the Village Lodge, Alisa Mokler Harper, owner of The Warming Hut, John Morris, Director of Operations at Snowcreek Resort, Town councilmembers, Chris Bubser and Amanda Rice, and Cynthia Fleming and Kelly Gardner representijng the real estate community. Citizen Kerry Burke was not present at the meeting.
Rob Patterson, the Town’s Finance Director, painted the purpose for the meeting in broad strokes:
“This advisory committee is convened to review the changes it wants to recommend for council … This meeting will not address the validity of the moratorium, or the components of that moratorium, or how it is engaged,” said Patterson.
Patterson did, however, commend the “aggressive pace” that has been set by the committee’s meeting schedule.
“The end of this process will result in the lifting of the moratorium” assured Patterson, “The recommendations made … will be in place of that moratorium.”
Town Attorney, Andy Morris, appeared to provide counsel to the committee members—many of whom are novice public servants—on the legal implications of a government body.
Morris informed the committee that they are subject to the Brown Act and the Public Records Act. The former mandates that all business be discussed in public, and that the committee make “all decisions and engage in all of its deliberations in public.” The latter delineates that any action taken by the committee—both verbal and written—is a matter of public record.
“So just bear that in mind,” advised Morris. “Remember, this is supposed to be public; it’s supposed to be transparent. And you’re going to be doing this in the public eye.
At the behest of Town Manager, Dan Holler, elections were held to appoint both a chair, and vice chair of the committee. Members of the committee were unanimously in favor of selecting John Morris and Cynthia Fleming, respectively.
As the newly-minted chair of the committee, John Morris discussed the “possibility of adding committee members, not from real estate or lodging,” and hopefully, adding a representative from the Hispanic community.
The committee floor briefly opened up for public comment.
Heard first was Nancy Rowe, a resident of Mammoth Lakes for the past decade.
Rowe explained that, while initially, she did rent out her second home on a short term basis, it soon became a “friends and family residence.”
“Then,” said Rowe, “I became sick. Medicare will not cover the kind of surgery that I need… I’m one of those rare, unusual cases where this moratorium has a health issue component… All of a sudden, I can’t sell this condo because of the moratorium. It’s having a tremendous impact on people who absolutely have to sell their home in Mammoth.”
Rowe explained that she had received an offer for her home, but once the potential buyer learned of the moratorium, they reneged on the sale.
“Someday, I’d like to buy back in [to Mammoth], but to be honest, I need this surgery more than I need this condo right now,” said Rowe.
Community member, Andrea Makshanoss, seconded Rowe’s concerns regarding the validity of the moratorium.
“My daughter and I bought [our home] over a year ago … We don’t want to rent it out often, but we have to,” said Makshanoss. “HOA fees have almost doubled. So there are concerns. Big concerns.”
Makshanoss voiced concern over the size of the committee, and the lack of homeowner and renter representation to speak on behalf of those who are directly impacted by the moratorium.
“And what was the notification process to the public on this?,” asked Makshanoss. “You have our addresses. You can easily get them from the [county] assessor’s office. Maybe you didn’t want a big rush on permits. I understand that, but I don’t know how legal that was, frankly.”
Aaron Nouissane—who has been retained by the Town as well as Mono County to research the relationship between short term rentals and the availability of pricing of long-term housing—appeared virtually.
Nouissane, who has conducted similar research in North Lake Tahoe and Mariposa County, offered insight into the value of short term rentals in tourist and destination economies.
“They can provide an instantaneous supply of tourist accommodations,” said Nouisanne, “but they can also come on and off the market as needed. They provide much needed flexibility in the tourist accommodation market.”
Nouissane explained that in a variety of jurisdictions, restriction on short term rentals has been proven to incentivize investment in hotel inventory. Using North Lake Tahoe as an example, Nouissane pointed to the fact that, prior to that city’s short term rental restriction, no new hotels had been built for about 70 years. Following the new housing policies, four new hotel projects were on deck for construction.
In regard to the relationship between short term rentals and the housing market, “there’s a relatively strong consensus that a relationship does exist,” said Nouissane. “The way we’ve seen short term rentals function, from an economic standpoint, is mainly to provide additional revenue that can facilitate second home ownership.”
Nouissane continued that, in many resort communities, economists have observed a market distortion from the undersupply of housing, as well as the “excessive demand” originating from the second home market.
“Second homeowners often have incomes and accumulated wealth that exceeds what is available for local workforce household. So over time, this eats away at the housing stock, reduces availability, and increases pricing.”
Nouissane described housing regulation as part of a “broader toolkit” of policies and regulations with the intent of remedying the housing crisis.
“If there are other ways to get an increase in supply, or in some cases, restrict occupancy of units to limit the attractiveness of those units to second home buyers, those interventions and policies can more directly impact the availability of housing.”
Rob Patterson also emphasized the importance of a multifaceted approach to the current imbroglio, and considering housing solutions in the context of a destination economy.
“As Finance Director, I would love to find a way to diversify our revenue streams … but the community relies heavily on visitation. We have a housing problem, and that’s an issue. It impacts our visitor experience, and it impacts our community,” said Patterson. “There’s no silver bullet. This won’t solve the problem, but it will make things better.”
Local realtor Matthew Lehman disagrees.
“I understand this isn’t a silver bullet,” said Lehman, in a public comment later in the meeting, “but it doesn’t seem like it’s a bullet at all.”
Lehman expressed concern about the money and resources being spent on the moratorium’s organization and research—money that, Lehman believes, could be better spent elsewhere.
“We’re one of the towns with the highest reliance on [Transient Occupancy Tax] than any other municipality in California,” said Lehman, “the revenue that we’re going to be getting rid of here is actually revenue that could be used toward building workforce housing.”
Lehman also raised concerns for the social impact of the moratorium on the community.
“[The restriction] is going to make a lot of people upset, and divide our community,” said Lehman, “it just doesn’t seem like this is the solution.”
The committee has scheduled a special meeting for November 30. Meetings can be attended in person at 437 Old Mammoth Road in Suite Z, or virtually by visiting the Town of Mammoth Lakes’ website at www.townofmammothlakes.ca.gov. Public comments can be submitted to the Town Clerk at firstname.lastname@example.org. before and during the meeting, in person or via Zoom.