MAC meeting focuses on short-term rentals
By RHEA-FRANCES TETLEY
The focus of the February meeting of the Lake Arrowhead Municipal Advisory Council (LA MAC) was on the various issues that code enforcement can and cannot address in the areas of short-term rentals (STRs) and county code violations.
Ignacio Nunez, the chief of Code Enforcement, addressed the council and the audience on the purpose and parameters of the department’s job, saying, “Code Enforcement administers programs designed to protect the public’s safety, welfare and property value through enforcement of county ordinances and state and federal laws relating to land use, zoning, housing, public nuisances, fire hazards and abandoned vehicle abatement within the unincorporated areas of the county.”
Nunez explained they only have two officers on weekends to enforce the rules of STRs from Cedarpines Park to the Baldwin Lake area. Some areas have very densely established STR zones within residential areas. When the visitors at the STRs are misbehaving, they try, but cannot respond to every complaint in a timely manner due to distance and logistics.
However, they do request neighbors to make a complaint when the county rules relating to an STR or vehicles that need abatement and public nuisances do occur. Since Code Enforcement is a reactive department based on citizen complaints, the public input is the essential first element in the enforcement of county rules. They cannot just drive around and find violations.
When a complaint is made, either on the hotline or to the office during business hours, it will be investigated and the steps necessary to resolve the complaint will be taken. If the enforcement officers don’t witness the violation, only a warning may be issued. There is due process that must be followed.
First, they issue warnings and then can step up to enforcement and to violations. But, at the end of each year, the STR complaint slate is wiped clear and they must start the process over again on each address, so it may appear to residents that previous violations and complaints are disregarded when permit renewals are applied for when the permits are renewed.
One attendee said she had sound and video of the loud parties on a deck just 30 feet from her bedroom window. She has made several complaints but the problem continues. She noted her identity must be revealed to the STR owner in order for a violation to be issued to the owner; it takes approximately seven to eight warnings before a violation is written.
Because of confidentiality concerns, Code Enforcement may have issued warnings, but they cannot tell the reporter of the resolution of a complaint. Because of the revolving door of STR renters, those who create the problem are not around to face the consequences.
Others in the audience complained to Nunez about driveways being blocked by STR visitor cars parking in their driveways, instead of on the STR property, and several reported the STR hotline worker is rude when complaints are called in. When pressed, one audience member was told to call the sheriff. When called, the sheriff must have a victim, so anonymous reports to the sheriff cannot be prosecuted, although they may drive by and tell the loud partiers to turn down the noise and will document the call.
The approval process of STRs was also questioned and concern about the density in a neighborhood was challenged. However, since the supervisors have not set a density rule, as has been set in many other parts of the state and country at 10 percent, the increase in density of STRs in a residential mountain area is not a reason to deny a new or renewal of an application, said Nunez.
When an application is made for an STR license, the Code Enforcement officers drive by to see the parking situation and determine the number of persons permitted by number of bedrooms, limiting to two persons per bedroom, submitted on the application for occupancy approval.
There were many individual complaints at the meeting and Nunez said he would discuss the problems individually, some of which he was already aware of. But, with the number of complaints, sometimes it takes a while to investigate and respond to each one, and they are prioritized by seriousness of harm to the public. The limited resources the department has and the wide area of service and many complaints they receive sometimes results in delayed response time, explained Nunez.
For noise complaints the complaining party must have a noise monitor to prove the volume but, unless the officer witnesses the violations, even with a noise monitor and video a resident has paid for, it cannot be proved how loud the noise is, nor the time of day or night the noise is being made.
Residents at the meeting stated there is a failure in enforcement, with too many warnings and not enough violations, and not enough officers to respond to complaints, even in the winter. They stated the residents are being failed by Code Enforcement, as they do not seem to be able to enforce the current rules, which are not even stringent enough. They stated that, since STRs are a business, they need to follow the rules, which they are not, because they are not being held responsible for their renters’ behaviors and warnings are apparently not enough, since renewal applications are just rubber-stamped for approval.
Audience members said it should not be the responsibility of residents to turn in neighbors and then get disrespected and have nothing apparently being done as the same problems are repeated weekly. Some expressed concerns about emergency vehicle access when the roads are blocked with too many cars parked on the streets, blocking access to an area or hindering snowplows. When that happens, often residents are told by the hotline to call the sheriff. The resident’s comments were that Code Enforcement is broken and changes need to be made, probably by the supervisors in funding, so they can fully enforce the laws that already exist and a follow through on enforcement procedures with appropriate violations, so the residents can peacefully enjoy living in their homes.
Nunez gave his contact information as Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., (909) 884-4056 and (760) 995-8140. The short-term rental complaint hotline number, which is available 24/7, is (800) 205-9417. Some of the issues to call about include trash left behind cars illegally parked, late-night noise, too many people over the permitted number and health and safety issues with the building.
After Nunez left, other agencies gave their monthly reports.
The California Highway Patrol is supporting the Forest Service and sheriff in stopping snow players from blocking roadways and removing accidents, vehicles that are broken down or stuck during stormy weather. Tickets are now $150 for illegal parking for snow play and blocking state highways. They help on scene at the chain control area to enforce the requirements.
They reported their CHiPs for Kids Christmas toy drive program locally collected over 1,000 toys, which were distributed locally to lots of happy families. They had a blood drive on Jan. 7, which was quite successful. This past year, the Running Springs CHP office had over 8,000 contacts with the public, issued 5,000 citations and helped in another 5,000 instances. They feel the message signs are very helpful in communicating with the public expectations and warnings about road conditions. When vehicles are obviously blocking snowplow access to street, call the CHP for towing if the car’s owner is unavailable to move it.
Sheriff’s Lt. Craig Harris announced that Sgt. Roberts was newly assigned to the station, plus they had two extra deputies during snowy times on 10-hour shifts to perform rescues and they had issued 197 snow play tickets to violators, up from 104 last year, mostly for parking and traffic violations. He said, once they seem to clear an area, if they return in an hour, the same parking and traffic problems seem to return, despite new signage.
Sheriff’s deputies have responded to 61 noise complaints on STRs, but they cannot issue a violation if the call is anonymous, as they must have a named victim; however, they will drive by and issue a warning, which often will calm down a party.
“We will respond if the hotline is unable to send Code Enforcement out and, as a result, there is documentation of the complaint,” Lt. Harris said. He suggested knowing the address of the STR in advance, if it seems to be a problem location, so they can be dispatched to the correct address. But they also recommend calling the hotline for a documented complaint with Code Enforcement, as they can issue violations and fines.
The biggest crime facing the local sheriff’s department is narcotics violations and the connected crimes of stealing and burglaries to pay for the drugs, and home break-ins for winter weather protection by the homeless. However, some of those break-ins have been reduced because there are fewer empty houses than in the past.
Battalion Chief Brett Taylor of Cal Fire reported there are six crews still working on the Sawmill property abating fire debris.
Brian Grant of the U.S. Forest Service said firefighting helicopters will arrive this spring and the 42 new seasonal hires will be on board in March. They will start pile burning when weather conditions allow in the Grass Valley and Brentwood clearance area and halfway down Highway 330, so the smoke may be visible. Fire clearance contractors will be working this season to create a shaded fire break north of Lake Arrowhead this year from Deer Lodge Park to Hook Creek. The Aztec Falls area, which was closed three years ago, will remain closed this summer due to the safety issue created by parking problems created where firetrucks could not get to the injured that were occurring almost daily. They attribute that to the social media coverage of the area. It now needs rehabilitation and they hope to create a program issuing a limited number of daily permits to enter the area in the future.
Corrine Mora of Congressman Obernolte’s office and Sidney Sonck of State Senator Ochoa-Bogh’s office and Pam Balch of Assemblyman Lackey’s office spoke on the bills they have either submitted or hope to submit, and on bills that affect the local area. This is early in the year, so nothing has been decided on them. Visit their websites for additional information on each bill.
The Arrowhead Lake Association reported that Lake Arrowhead is three inches above full so far. A youth fishing rodeo will be held on April 22. The fireworks over Lake Arrowhead will be held on Sunday, July 2 at 9 p.m. to celebrate Independence Day.
The Rim of the World Unified School District announced that the district will be selling Grandview school property; government agencies have first choice before the public may bid on it. Some agencies have expressed interest in it. The former district office in Blue Jay is still in escrow and all school district offices and workers have been moved to the Lake Gregory Education Building.
School board trustee Cindy Gardner reported Rim school buildings are in disrepair due to their age and are leaking. Repair or replacement estimates are being collected – $1.3 million for maintenance and $5 to $7 million for replacement of the high school roof. The current solution of 32-gallon trash cans strategically placed around the school is not acceptable. The governor has cut the state school maintenance budget by $22 billion and the voter-approved arts and music grants by $1.5 billion. It may help if parents lobbied the governor’s office to say those funds are needed.
School District officials are pleased because of the increased enrollment this year by 25 students, after declines in enrollments since 1999, and the Rim Virtual Academy is also up to 105 students from a previous 50 enrolled. The sports teams are doing well, with seven sports as league champs this year. Narcon is now on each campus with trained personnel to help protect the lives of the students and guests.
Since Rim has been declared a rural district, it is exempt from the late-start high school bill because of bussing schedules. The district would need to double the number of busses and drivers, get a new bus yard, increase bus maintenance expenses and incur many other expenses, so the state is allowing Rim an exemption from the early start program.
Sara Green, representing the Crestline Chamber of Commerce, reminded everyone of the upcoming Corks & Hops Mardi Gras event on Feb. 18, inside the San Moritz Lodge. Presale tickets are $55, with music and 10 tasting stations, at corksnhops.com. Then, on April 8, will be Crestline’s annual Duck Derby and free Easter egg hunt on Lake Gregory’s south shore.
Lewis Murray, Supervisor Dawn Rowe’s representative, read a report from Caltrans stating one side of the Highway 173 will be completed in late February or early March, weather permitting, and then they will start the other side and they hope that will be done by the end of summer. The whole project will have taken one and a half years when completed.
Former MAC member Scott Rindenow stated, “We need more routes off the mountain in case of emergencies for the safety and security of the mountain residents.” A committee has been discussing the reopening of Highway 173 to the desert. They have a meeting scheduled soon with Caltrans, where they will present their arguments for reopening the northern route out of Lake Arrowhead. The road is deteriorating more every year it remains closed. It should at least be repaired for first responders to use to access the mountain communities, although it would be best to get it fixed for residents to transit off the mountain.
“We don’t want to be trapped up here when both Highways 330 and the 18 on the south front are closed due to fires or other emergencies,” Rindenow said.
Because of the recent sale of Snow Valley to Altera, LA MAC member Michelle Ambrozic suggested inviting a representative to the next MAC meeting, since Lake Arrowhead has a long history connected to Snow Valley.
The three-hour meeting ended with the announcement that the next LA MAC meeting will be on March 2 at 6 p.m.
The 173 Highway, specifically the section from Kinley Creek to the Pacific Crest Trail should be reopened to the public, as it has been worsening by the year. It’ll need land reclamation, guard rails, grading and pavement to be reopened. It may take at least 1 year to happen.