Twentynine Palms, Ca- (OPINION)-The printed version of the Desert Trail, a small local newspaper, blasts this headline across the paper sitting in their news racks, “Hoteliers face off over home rentals. Some warn of threats, others talk of revenue.” A photograph of Govinda Arehalli,owner of the Circle C Lodge, was placed beneath this headline giving the wrong impression, in my opinion.
This controversial headline may have been designed to sell papers but was misleading and did not explain the mention of “threats” was brought up by 29 Palms Planning Commissioner Greg Mendoza, who was accused of having a “Conflict of Interest,” and the article did not address the TOT, bed tax revenue, as purported in the print version headline.
This article is very well written by reporter Rebecca Unger, but I question the choice of this antagonistic headline in the print version. Their online version reads, “Council OKs vacation home rentals study,” with one photograph of the seated 29 Palms City Council.>link
I attended this meeting, which can be viewed on the 29 Palms city website, and witnessed the lack of respect by many members of the audience who sneered and heckled the speakers at the lectern speaking in opposition of vacation home rentals. Was this attitude based on the color of their skin? It was not a pretty sight.
The highly emotional crowd in favor of renting their own residential properties claimed their 29 Palms birthright in their opening statements and gave the impression they did not care about the business owners who invested $5-$7 million dollars to build hotels in their city. These investors, who brought in $1 million in bed taxes to the General Fund, were treated as “outsiders” by this audience, in my opinion. (Their disappointment rushed out in a palpable wave when 145 signatures were presented against Vacation Home Rentals and ALL were residents of 29 Palms.)
There was no Staff report presented at this workshop to give an overview or address the fact the TOT bed tax income has been trending downward since 2011 and $725,000 is the projected income for the upcoming fiscal budget.
I presented the TOT statistics and pointed out there is a finite amount of bed tax revenue available to those competing in commercial zones in full compliance with the strict rules and regulations of commercial construction standards, septic maintenance and costly insurance premiums. Vacation Home Rentals would be competing for those same taxes without being on the same playing field.
One speaker made the comment perhaps the bed tax is lower because tourists are seeking vacation home rentals, which there are none allowed in the city. Another resident stated she needed the vacation rental income to save her 29 Palms home while living in another county for her employment.
Council woman Cora Heiser bobbed her head in agreement with each person speaking in favor of Vacation Home Rentals, while all other members of the Council and Planning Commission demonstrated their experience by remaining neutral without any head bobbing. During her comments, she touted “Free Enterprise” and “Free Market” as the requirements of “Capitalism,” adding her personalized final statement of “You either cut bait…or fish.”
Councilman Danny Mintz followed up after Heiser chiming in on that similar talking point of “Free Market.” Both were in a huddle after the meeting.
Here is the link to my earlier post, “Will the 29 Palms Council Kill Their TOT Golden Goose?”>link