A look at Measure Z in Mammoth Lakes

By Deb Murphy

The town of Mammoth Lakes has been flirting with the idea of short-term rentals in single-family residential zones for years with no real consummation. If the Let Mammoth Decide group succeeds with the October 6 special election on Measure Z, flirting is where this relationship may end.


On paper, Z doesn’t really stop short-term rentals in the city’s residential zones; it simply stops the Town Council from changes in zoning to expand short-term rentals into residential neighborhoods without voter approval.

Okay, it does stop short-term rentals, assuming those who vote “yes” on Z will also vote “no” on any attempt to expand the practice.

With just three weeks left before Z-Day, the fur is flying in Mammoth with financial conundrums and “change with the times” on one side and invasion of the body snatchers (rowdy tourists) scenarios on the other.

If Measure Z sounds like town residents don’t trust their Town Council, that’s because they don’t according to Tom Gaunt from Let Mammoth Decide. “Some people see Mammoth Lakes as a resort, then a community,” he said in a phone interview. “I’ve lived here most of my life, 41 years. I’m raising a family here. I see the town as a community, a community that would be destroyed if we allow short-term rentals in residential neighborhoods.”

That’s the crux of the Yes argument: neighborhoods of home-owners and long-term renters degraded by week-end tourists and the subsequent, potential impacts on housing costs for the town’s work force.

The Vote No on Z side of the debate cites lost opportunities and lost Transient Occupancy Taxes, the source of 60 percent of the town’s income. Where the Yes people see rowdy, noisy short-term renters, the No folks see well-heeled families willing to spend $550 a night for all the comforts of home.

Jay Cole sees the Vote No on Z’s mission as educating voters on the implications of Measure Z. “Governing by initiative is dangerous and costly,” he said. “It sets a dangerous precedent.” The option would be for both sides of the issue to come to the table and discuss how to mitigate any impact on residential neighborhoods. “The Town Council has to represent all the stakeholders in Mammoth,” he said. “And that’s best served by the transparent process of the council…. The Council is striving to develop plans (for short-term rentals in residential zones) to protect neighborhoods.”

The potential dollar signs from an increase in TOT have to be appealing to Mammoth Lakes after four years of historically low snow fall and the 2012 settlement with Mammoth Lakes Land Acquisition LLC that commits the town to a $29.5 million payment, in $2 million increments over 23 years.

Both sides of the debate will face off at 5 p.m. Thursday at the Mammoth Lakes Art Center on Old Mammoth Road.

The Town Council set dealing with short-term rentals in residential zones as a priority back in December directing the Planning Department to develop a work plan. “Planning just provided the information,” said Manager Sandra Moberly.

Planning submitted its work program progress March 4, including data on current permitted short-term rentals. The key word here is “permitted,” both in terms of allowed by zoning and renting with a TOT certificate. Council directed staff to “move forward with the quality of life ordinance and work program,” Moberly said.

There are nine permitted short-term single-family rentals in Mammoth Lakes out of a 74 where zoning allows the practice. An additional 76 vacant lots “could be improved with a single family home which could be rented on a transient basis.” In addition, the report states, there are 11 single family “like product” out of a total of 38 zoned for transient rentals. The report uses the example of Tallus, Stonegate and Mammoth Gateway as “like product.”

What the report doesn’t include is the number of illegal single-family home rentals, either outside the appropriate zones or not TOT certified. Both sides on Measure Z agree that the town’s ability to move against these violations is not currently effective.

According to Moberly, the California Environmental Quality Act comes into play. The level of CEQA analysis would depend on the size of the area proposed for zoning changes.

Interestingly enough, the Council passed a Quality of Life ordinance with little if any controversy, according to Moberly, this month. The ordinances defines “transient rental” and establishes a series of requirements and restrictions that would encourage careful vetting of potential renters. Exterior signs, displayed when the home is rented, will have a 24/7 contact number. The person at the end of that phone number has to respond within an hour and resolve any issues within 24 hours.

Occupancy would be restricted to two people per bedroom, plus two with no activity that would exceed those occupancy limits. In other words, wild parties in a three-bedroom home will be limited to eight revelers. Parking would be restricted to the number of parking spaces allocated to the unit. Operating a transient rental without a Business License Tax Certificate would result in a $500 fine for the first violation, upped to $1,000 for the second and subsequent violations.


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15 Responses to A look at Measure Z in Mammoth Lakes

  1. Jane September 17, 2015 at 9:06 am #

    Your statement “…those who vote “yes” on Z will also vote “no” on any attempt to expand…” is not correct. I’m voting YES, but would easily VOTE for zoning changes in the future that were well planned, well researched, and supported by the local neighborhood. In other words, carefully considered and inclusive. The path Council was/is on was fast tracked and supported only by staff reports (which often are not so complete or accurate), a Colorado transient rental study known as CAST (when will people stop wanting to copy CO resorts?) and personal interests. But if Council does want cite the CAST report, note it says the #1 bad impact from transient rentals is that it drives out workforce housing and long-term renters as property owners toss them for the prospect of making more money on nightly rentals. #2 finding was that it doesn’t necessarily provide a bump in TOT, but it does require more code and law enforcement.

    This is not about TOT for the community; it’s about certain people really wanting to rent nightly and personally profit at the expense of neighbors and community well-being, and the influence those people have on Council. The initiative process was definitely called for here as initiatives are democratic tools for the public to use when they their elected leaders aren’t doing what they were elected to do. In this case, all 3 new Councilmen directly stated to the public at the May 27 election forum that they did not support expanding nightly rentals into residential neighborhoods. Then once elected, they immediately started moving in this direction… it was necessary and the Let Mammoth Decide folks should be applauded for being proactive in supporting the community.

  2. sugarmagnolia September 17, 2015 at 3:50 pm #

    my reason for not wanting nightly rentals in SFRs, is that I believe it will lead to speculators/investors snapping up houses just for the purpose of doing nightly rentals….and that would degrade our community by driving up prices and by making it harder for people who live and work here, to continue to do so. We want neighbors, not empty houses where the owners make a killing on short-term rentals during peak periods.

    • Ken Warner September 18, 2015 at 1:36 am #

      You post sounds like you haven’t taken a look around. It’s already pretty much the way you say you don’t want Mammoth to be. Just walk up Meridian or through Snowcreek or up and down the streets in the Canyon Lodge area.

      There’s places in Mammoth that already have that “Ghost Town” feeling. The town has an occupancy rate of less than 40%. I don’t think Z is going to have much of an impact one way or another.

      • sugarmagnolia September 26, 2015 at 10:21 am #

        I disagree with you Ken…I have many, many neighbors. In fact, we’re pretty much packed in here like sardines, but it works out ok since most people are working 2-3 jobs to pay their rent and bills. For such a dense living area, it’s amazingly quiet!

        No, I don’t live up in the Canyon Lodge area. I know two locals who live up there, one’s a Doctor, the other a high up exec at Mammoth Mtn. Most mammoth locals are down in the flats, unless they were lucky enough to have bought real estate before 2000.

        So yes, we are here Ken, just not where you’re looking. We’ve raised our kids here, or are still raising them. We go to the high school football and volleyball games and root on the local kids. I say hi to the local kids who’ve stayed behind after high school, who work at Vons for peanuts or some who used the high school medical field program to get jobs in our local doctors and dentists offices.

        We are a community, which appears to be a microcosm of our country. the haves wanting more, wanting to make all the decisions for our town, with the goal of making more money for themselves, no matter the impact to the rest of us minions (sound familiar?). While the silent majority busy themselves with work, and thankfully for us here, playing in our big, beautiful back yard! That’s what brought most of us here. Those who came to rape and pillage (not saying that is you Ken) and whose only goal is to make more money, I say go back to where you came from.

        Thankfully, we are not a microcosm of our society when it comes to race relations. Our schools and our town have embraced the hispanic community. I saw such tremendous positive changes at the schools during the 20 years my kids attended. It’s nice to see the young hispanic girls I met when they were little, now working in the medical field. Our community helped to make that happen!

    • So right September 18, 2015 at 10:49 am #

      I think this is exactly what would happen in Mammoth.

  3. Fawn September 17, 2015 at 5:39 pm #

    I really hate the “No on Z” camp telling people on Facebook to move of out Mammoth if you don’t want nightly rentals in your neighborhood. Who the hell do they think they are?

    • John September 18, 2015 at 10:43 am #

      I’m against anyone telling me what I can do with my property. But then again I would never put up with the bs within TOML in order to own a home there.

      I also don’t agree with TOML being a sanctuary for illegal aliens. If someone could tell me how I can legally employee this people my views may change.

  4. Vons shopper September 17, 2015 at 7:56 pm #

    It is already happening with SFR, and it is not being regulated. The town needs the funds if they want to continue to grow. I would welcome the increase in sales for my property values, it would help me personally as well as increase TOT. Vote no on measure Z.

  5. Curious September 17, 2015 at 10:31 pm #

    Wasn’t the TBID going to float all boats?

    Or was it the airport development, bringing in the high rollers making us all millionaires?

    Maybe it’s the air subsidies for all the cancelled flights that impressed our guest?

    Must be a big demand for rentals in town with all the success of these true visionaries!

    Don’t forget after these plutocrats get it pounded up their keister, to vote with your money by boycotting their businesses.

  6. ML Homeowner September 19, 2015 at 8:10 am #

    Vote NO!

    Go out and vote!

    This will contribute to the increase in property values, contribute to the wealth of our community, contribute to our sorely needed infrastructure upgrade. Residents and visitors alike will share in the contributions to the town of ML.

    • Roger Rilling September 19, 2015 at 6:26 pm #


      You and other NO voters continue to miss the point, It’s not how many places are for rent, it’s how many are paying TOT. Currently the town can’t seem to figure out how
      to enforce the regulations on any except those that volunteer to pay. Business as usual
      in Mammoth– “the way we’ve always done it”– half A**.
      The council could have accepted the petition signed by a majority of voters and saved
      $50,000. Instead, we’re on the way to a small version of the airport.

    • Kirk Shultz September 25, 2015 at 9:39 pm #

      I’ve lived in Mammoth for most of the last 52 years and more than a resort or opportunity for money, it’s my home. Aside from having tourists fill my trash bins and park in my parking spaces and not move their cars when snow removal comes, etc., I need a break from the tourists. For everyone who works in some sort of guest services, we need a break. We need to be able to come home and get away from it all. To have a sanctuary where we can have something of a normal life. I’ve lived in enough condos to know what it’s like to be woken up late at night by rowdy tourists when I have to go to work in the morning, etc. Anyone who thinks it’s just going to be mellow families renting homes is either incredibly naive or just stupid. Refer to Murphy’s law in regards to the possibility of short term rentals in the affected areas.

      • Low-Inyo September 26, 2015 at 11:42 am #

        Kirk Shultz….I feel for ya….seems in the town I live there’s been an extra-size amount of annoying tourists this past summer….I can only imagine how it must be like in Mammoth….tourism slows down in the fall and winter months down here….in Mammoth,it picks up….here’s where I think the problem lies….a couple three years ago,annoying 13 and 14 year olds with annoying parents are now annoying 17 to 21 year olds with more liberties…..and drivers licenses…showing up in these areas up here with their friends….without their parents…upon arrival,first stop for many of them in Mammoth is the “medical marijuana ” pot shops…..with their “medical marijuana ” license in hand,of course…then it’s to the 2 bedroom condo or rental the 12 or 13 of them rented for the week-end or beyond…then off to the slopes…as darkness arrives,the “village” is next, to hit the bar-scene…and after that,back to the rental or condo for the late-night parties…leaving people like you,with jobs to go to, to deal with the late night parties and loud music.Let’s face it….there is no solution to it up there in Mammoth….the mellow families you mention,they don’t go to Mammoth,and at the very least, if they do, they don’t rent or stay in Mammoth….they have their rental places in June Lake,where they can go out to dinner as a family,go back to their rental,and enjoy a quiet evening and a good night sleep…with no desire to speed around town making beer-runs,keeping people up with their annoying behavior,drinking and making fools of themselves.Sadly for you,just the way it is….I feel for you.

  7. Jerry J. September 19, 2015 at 3:51 pm #

    You do realize that a no vote only means that the people won’t have the right to vote on whatever proposal the town council concocts to put commercial rentals in our neighborhoods?

    So you’re saying the people should “vote no on the right to vote?”

    Not me man, not with this council, not in this town. The people must be heard — I’m voting YES on Z.

  8. Jimmy September 22, 2015 at 9:16 am #

    Seems to me like all the vocal “No on Z” people are real estate agents or developers and all the “Yes on Z” people are people living in the neighborhoods who want to keep things nice and peaceful. If you voice support for Z they say things like “move out of town”.

    To me this is clearly about money. The developer and real estate people want everyone to vote No on Z so that can get the town council to (down the road) allow nightly rentals in areas of town that don’t want it. This might drive up prices and create a real estate bubble that hurts regular people working in town. Rents go up and rich out of area investors buy up all the available affordable property.

    I don’t trust the town government or the town council to make the decisions that are best for our quality of life. It appears from what I have read 3 of the 5 members of the TC now support expanding nightly rentals into neighborhoods. We need to NOT reelect these people. I recall these TC members saying they WOULD NOT support rental expansion during the campaign speeches.

    This summer business was UP 25% in town and that was WITHOUT nightly rentals in our neighborhoods. To me this blows most of the arguments out of the water as to why we need them.

    I say vote YES ON Z. I don’t trust real estate developers or the TC to make the right decisions for my neighborhood. They will vote for whatever they think makes them the most money personally.


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