The Mammoth TOT Letter­­––”Take a Letter, Maria”

The Town’s  “Rental Enforcement Notice” dated Sept. 8 was mass mailed and delivered to all Mammoth property owners the following week. Before mine was retrieved from my P.O. Box, I had several clients email me copies of theirs’. Nobody was impressed. At the very least the Town could have tried to not look so amateurish––every copy of the letter I saw was mis-aligned on the paper and it looked like third grader printed it. No offense to third graders. “So take a Letter Maria, address it to my wife.”

The letter, for those who did not receive one, discussed why TOT (Transient Occupancy Tax or bed tax) is so important, when it is required to be collected, the penalties for not collecting it, a new burden on sellers of real estate to disclose the zones in which transient rental is permissible, some general definitions, and business tax certificate information. Certain sentences were in bold and underlined. One that really stood out mentioned the Town’s new anonymous Hot Line to report “suspicious behavior.” (I’ve got all kinds of new ideas on how to extort my neighbors now, but more on that later.) “Say I won’t be coming home, gonna start a new life”

The letter is signed by Mark Wardlaw who is Mammoth’s Community Development Director and letter is on “Community Development” letterhead. He’s one of the big shots with the Town who still has employment, although I bet he works hard at pretending he’s busy (doing all the necessary “planning” for the next development cycle). I’m assuming his signature was perfect for this since no Town Councilman would want their signature on it. But as a former Planning Commissioner here in Mammoth and someone who spends a great deal of time in-and-around the neighborhoods and properties, I can tell you there is very little or no code enforcement going on. The fire department is all over things, but not Community Development (which brings up a great idea, maybe the fire department should be enforcing these regulations). “You’ve been many things but most of all a good secretary to me”

Now my regular readers know that I have beat this TOT drum for many years. This is a problem in Mammoth and rather than addressing the real issues, they come up with this letter and Hot Line. We may be doomed after all. And yes, I’m beginning to believe what some have told me; that the second homeowners watch the Town (government) like many watch their favorite sitcom. But we cannot continue to ignore the issues. First, the Internet has changed the way everyone does business. It is not going away and quite frankly the more you try to regulate it the more foolish you will look. The transient renting of vacation properties and the Internet were made for each other. There are new business models all over town that support it. The consumer loves it. It works well for property owners. It is simply a wave that we better ride or it will wash us out to sea. “Was I wrong to work nights to try to build a good life”

Second, as this general economy grinds down, most property owners are looking to offset some of their expenses with some income. As a micro-trend here in Mammoth, many increasingly distressed property owners who have in the past had their properties in the transient rental pool are now moving their properties to the long-term pool for more stable income and relief from the utility bills. More and more owners are looking to capture rentals, especially during peak periods, to help offset expenses. This is not going to change. That additional revenue helps pay property taxes, local property managers and housekeepers, and a host of sub-contractors who will perform work on the property through the year. “It just so happens I’m free tonight, would you like to have dinner with me”

And lastly, the issue we continue to ignore is the “non-permitted” areas in town. Why can’t our Town Council just bring this to a head? These rentals are going on all over town in non-permitted areas and the end of the world has not arrived. It is surprising the Council just hasn’t kicked this contentious can down to the voters like they have most others issues they can’t decide on. There are resort municipalities all over the country that are far classier than Mammoth that allow it. Can’t we do a little research and figure out what our peer resort areas are doing. I’m thinking we could handle this like we now handle medical marijuana. If a property owner can prove he is distressed (and likely getting sick), then why can’t the Town issue him a “card” so that he can rent his property on a transient basis. Seriously, our inability to have an adult conversation about this is pathetic. But I guess that is the state of all government today. “Send a copy to my lawyer, gotta start a new life”

So just send this letter. Many owners are mad, or are laughing. Most plan to ignore it. Some have already sent it to their attorney. I’ve already heard rumblings of legal action (the Town just seems to enjoy being a lawsuit magnet). Many owners of single-family homes believe the “non-permitted” use is accelerating the loss of real estate values in this segment of the market. It is clear the consumer wants to stay in these homes, and will pay substantial rent for the opportunity. “There was the woman I thought I knew in the arms of another man”

And once they do rent the property, the goal is to get the renters to pay the TOT and the owners to collect it. Maybe if it didn’t have to be such a clandestine operation there could be professional management handling most or all of this. Or maybe we need to change the semantics. The word tax has pretty negative connotations these days. And “transient occupancy tax” sounds like we’re trying to tax people living in cardboard boxes. Maybe we could call it something like the “snow and trails access fee” and throw in a little education about the high cost of quality snow removal (Mammoth has the best). Try turning it into a positive aspect of their resort experience. (“Without snow removal, you’d still be in Palmdale.”)  “I never really noticed how sweet you are to me”

Meanwhile, I’m strategizing how to extort my neighbors who rent. I figure some video of all their tenants (including time/date stamps and license plates), maybe even some innocent interviews, especially when they’re intoxicated or trying to dig their cars out. Lots of evidence should be a piece of cake. Then I just send my neighbors a little email with some of it and remind them about the Hot Line, and how much I like them to stop at Costco and get me one of those big bottles of Patron, a few bags of shrimp, and a tray of them good ribeye steaks. “So take a letter, Maria, address it to my wife, send a copy to my lawyer, I gotta start a new life”


4 thoughts on “The Mammoth TOT Letter­­––”Take a Letter, Maria””

  1. “Last night when I got home
    About a half-past ten
    There was the woman I thought I knew
    In the arms of another man.”

    Damn, I wish they had offered Telma, Joyce and me that tune.

    Great piece. I particularly like the part about the letter looking slipshod. I mean, that’s the best government can do?

    Interesting to read that more owners are renting their properties out for longer than just weeks/weekends during ski season. That might make the rental market a little more competitive (re: cheaper) say should one at some point want to live there for a spell, right?

    The whole Transient Occupancy Tax sounds like some kind of pre-Berlin Wall going down, Eastern bloc construct. I don’t see how they enforce/collect it without Boris, or maybe Marianna, knocking on doors to see who’s home, do you?

    If they really need money, shouldn’t they just tax lift tickets? I mean, only the rich can afford to ski/mountain bike now.

    Hope the fall’s beautiful.

  2. thanks to the folks who do rent their properties out long term. i will be enjoying my third season as a renter in mammoth and couldn’t be happier. well, maybe i would be happier if someone would just accept my offer for a change! in the meantime, i will rent and see what makes the different condo developments tick. some may be worth buying into, ultimately, and some may not. but at least say i’ve lived in a few and know a little better than a buyer who has not.

  3. You should put more ABBA references into your posts.

    If Caltrans would plow a road south of the 50, I would probably buy a place in Mammoth for winter fun. Too far from Bay Area though to drive through South Tahoe to get to Mammoth in winter.


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