For a municipality whose primary revenue source is a Transient Occupancy Tax, the City of Big Bear Lake, California would seem to have been shooting itself in the foot when the City Council found itself facing a vote to cap short-term rental permits. The income collected from tourism in this hotspot of natural splendor funds everything from essential services, such as the Fire Department, to beautification projects that enhance the town’s appeal. And appeal it does: in the summer of 2020, Big Bear Lake topped Airbnb’s list of top trending locations in the country. The Big Bear Association of REALTORS® used the REALTOR® Party’s Advocacy Everywhere program to oppose the threat and protect the rights of homeowners.
In addition to property rights, explains Association Executive Robin Lee, the region’s nearly 300 REALTORS® are determined to protect what is undeniably the lifeblood of the local economy. “Short-term rentals are important to everyone who lives and works and raises children here. Big Bear is a tourist destination, so the viability of short-term rentals really does affect the community as a whole, not just the property owners.” The population of the incorporated City of Big Bear Lake is about 6K, and while the proposed permit cap would only have affected properties within city limits, the repercussions would have been felt throughout the rest of valley, where about as many workers live.
The City Council’s proposal to cap the number of short-term rental permits at 2K stemmed from a compromise devised by an ad hoc committee appointed by the mayor. The City Council seemed to feel pressured into this decision by the threat of a Citizen led ballot initiative to cap vacation rentals in 2022. The plan for the initiative gained traction among newcomers to the area, who felt that significant COVID-crowding had altered the quiet character of the mountain community. But, notes Lee, “That’s simply not the nature of the town. Only about 25% of the homes in Big Bear Lake are occupied full-time by the owners. And, yes, the town gets crowded, and cars are parked on the streets, and there are parties. We empathize with our neighbors who have had to experience that with us, and we do not tolerate bad behavior by renters.” The City took action to address these concerns, and more, back in January, she explains, when it issued an urgency ordinance to control rental problems, and it has been aggressively enforcing renter behavior. The ordinance was made permanent in August, with additional rental measures, creating a fairly strict code with no limitations on the number of permits available. Now, with tourist visitation tapering off, suggests Lee, it’s time for the Council to allow the ordinance to work, and focus on other pressing issues – like affordable housing.
When the proposal to cap permits appeared on the City Council’s August 2021 agenda, Lee turned to the REALTOR® Party for help – her first time tapping into the REALTOR® Party’s resources. “The Advocacy Everywhere application process was extremely user-friendly, which was a good thing, as we’re a very small operation and only had a few days to make it happen!” says Lee. She supplied the copy, crafting a clear and compelling message that her members would read. The response was impressive: a whopping 37% of the 238 members who are registered with the REALTOR® Party Alert system took action. The message reached the City Council loud and clear, and the cap was defeated. Lee attributes the response to the association’s culture of good communication within its tight-knit community, noting that even REALTOR® members who are not typically engaged in association activities were quick to respond, further underscoring the importance of the issue to those who care about property rights and the workings of the local economy. In an effort to move forward on a continuing problem, the REALTORS® are partnering with the City to host a public outreach event promoting workforce housing in mid-October; they’ve secured a Housing Opportunity Grant from the REALTOR® Party to help fund it. “We want to be proactive partners with the City and not only show up in opposition” says Lee. “We need to work together to formulate positive, practical solutions.”
To learn more about how the Big Bear Association of REALTORS® is protecting the rights of homeowners in Big Bear Lake, contact AE Robin Lee at email@example.com or 909.495.0526.