Mono aims for phased short term rental opening beginning June 12; effort could still be thwarted

By: 
Wendilyn Grasseschi
Times Reporter

The waiting game continues.
Anxious and increasingly desperate local cabin owners, inn managers, motel managers are going to have to wait at least another week before it might – with the emphasis on the word ‘might’ – be possible for them to open their ‘short term rental’ businesses again.
June 12 was the goal set by Mono County and Town of Mammoth Lakes officials to open all short term rental businesses outside of Mammoth; June 19 was the goal set for those businesses within Mammoth’s municipal boundaries.
However, these are just goals; at press time, there was no answer from the state and the businesses remained closed.
The issue is that the state is still prohibiting allowing anyone in the state to open short term rentals (other than for essential business uses), with no ETA to move allow this on the horizon. As such, to allow the businesses to open legally, the county would need a waiver, or some kind of assent, from the state to open sooner than is now permitted. As noted in reporting last week, county officials and the EOC leaders again this week said they would not defy the state outright on this issue, despite the pleas from some business owners to do just that, even as the officials acknowledged some short term rentals were opening under the radar, both locally and in other areas of the state.
“There could be consequences to defying the state that we will regret,” said Supervisor Bob Gardner, even as he and other supervisors took note of the growing economic pain hitting the county as businesses remained shuttered.
To complicate things, the request to move Mono County ahead of the rest of the state to open short term rentals, which was sent with a detailed, phased plan developed over the past weekend at the Emergency Operations Center with the input of Mono County Public Health and other EOC leaders, hit the state government on the same week it was increasingly ensnarled in handling a series of riots and peaceful protests; the fallout from the death of Minnesota resident George Floyd last week and concentrated in Southern California. The state was also preoccupied with s stubbornly growing number of Covid-19 cases, again concentrated in the Southern California area.
That fact alone, Mono County Supervisors noted on Tuesday during a four-plus hour meeting on the issue, could slow the state’s response to the EOC’s phased, reopening plan, which four supervisors agreed Tuesday to support (Supervisor John Peters abstained from this discussion due to advice from the county’s attorney indicating his position as an owner of a short term rental business, the Bridgeport Inn, created a possible conflict of interest).
“I am hopeful but not completely confident we will hear from them soon,” said Supervisor Bob Gardner. “We might have been pushed to the back-burner, given the other issues they are dealing with.”
The push to reopen was set up in phases, instead of all at once all across the county by the EOC deliberately; almost all of the Covid-19 cases in the county have been in the only incorporated community in Mono County, Mammoth and as such, the EOC set Mammoth’s proposed, short term rental reopening goal a week later than the rest of the county.
The plan also had a complex series of criteria and triggers that business owners and public health must adhere to, including triggers that could shut down short term rentals again should the disease begin to get out of control in the county down the road.
Mono County Supervisor and Chair of the Board said this EOC plan was a ‘compromise’ plan that she could support.
“This plan represents a compromise, with necessary risk mitigation to prevent spread of coronavirus (such as requiring 24 hours between room rentals during the first phase) while recognizing the urgent need to open lodging for summer visitation,” she said. “The Board of Supervisors supports this plan, which was developed by our Emergency Operations Center leaders and Health Officer Dr. Tom Boo (for exact details of the plan, see box below).
That said, the board came under intense pressure again Tuesday by some business owners who pleaded with the board to either ignore the state, or work harder to get the state to grant a variance so they could reopen sooner.
“We were asked to do a lot of things to flatten the curve, we did it, you represent us, not the state of California... and just health is not the only thing affecting us,” said Don Gould. “We are going to have widespread impacts to this county and if we do not start evaluating the impact of economics, it will be devastating... I think you should speak harder to Gov. Newsom... I am disappointed we are not coming to a conclusion... the only thing exact is the devastating impact to our economy, not the science of the virus. You represent us... we elected you, not a bunch of people in Sacramento...”
His words and sense of urgency were repeated over and over again during the four hours of the meeting.
At the same time, however, the supervisors noted they were getting more and more calls and emails pleading with them not to open too fast; those kinds of calls were on the increase this week, they said.
In the end, though, the board and EOC noted that is they plunged into the world of outright defiance of the state and moved into a ‘Stage 3’ activity – short term rentals are in Stage 3; the state is currently in a form of Stage 2 - the implications could be unforeseen and unwanted, down the road.
Mono County’s Administrator, Bob Lawton, was blunt.
“We have been wanting to move sooner on this, we think we are ready, but we were constrained by our lack of willingness to move forward out of compliance,” he said, noting the county had two routes and if it chose to defy the state, the entire EOC group and the collaborative work done so far to push ahead of the state in other areas (Mono County has pushed ahead of the state and gained permission to do so during almost all of ‘Stage 2’ operations) would fall apart.
“... it would have created a conflict with the EOC director and probably would have made it impossible to maintain the Unified Command,” he said.
The EOC is a combined working group of Mono leaders; it includes Mammoth Hospital, Mammoth Fire, the Town of Mammoth, Mammoth Police, the Mono County Sheriff, and the Mono County Health Department. The group has been working since March 13 to guide the county through the Covid-19 crisis, and meets every day to do so.
Boo noted that as the county opens short term rentals, the virus will be inevitably expand its reach. That, he said, is the risk.
He also if “our metrics (Covid-19 cases, hospitalizations, etc.,) do not stay within the rec ranges, we will be prepared to dial back some of the levels of permitted activities... “
He noted that the plan submitted to the state to open on June 12 and June 19 included relying on local and visitor adherence to in-place mitigations; social distancing, public spaces mandatory mask-wearing and good personal hygiene.
“in addition to bringing more lodging in, we have to return to masking, social distancing,” he said, especially as the county moves to more in-restaurant dining, and other ‘riskier’ activities. “So, yes we are creating a more in-restaurant dining, more short term rentals, but in order to do this, we have to keep our residents and visitors safe... we have to continue this.”
He also acknowledged that if the short term rentals did not open soon, local residents and visitors were going to stop voluntarily complying with the mitigations, out of sheer frustration and a sense of hopelessness. There has to be some reward for all this work, he said, and stated he would continue to advocate directly to the state to reopen short term rentals on the dates stated above.

IF YOU WANT TO KNOW MORE
Read the plan sent by the EOC to the state June 1 here:

https://webapps.mono.ca.gov/…/Mono%20County%20Phased%20Lodg…

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