A letter by William Wallace:
My voice was silenced in violation of the first amendment and Brown Act by Mono County government officials (county administrative office, board of supervisors). I suppose their explanation for why they chose to not publish my comment might have a tiny amount of justification in a large county with a massive agenda and substantial amounts of public participation in the local government process. However, that is not the case in Mono County. I am just one of a handful of people in the public who have put in time and effort to participate in the local government process. Apparently, the Mono County BOS and their appointed officials idea of good governance is to silence the views of the very few people who actually participate.
What did they silence and why? I sent an email message to the BOS and requested it be added as correspondence. The message was in regard to the possible moratorium on short-term rentals for unincorporated Mono County. I pointed out that there are serious conflicts of interests involved with the BOS discussing legislating a short-term rental moratorium. Recently, the Mono County government implemented a new policy for public correspondence. In their words;
"Thank you for your email. Per County Administrative Officer direction and policy, written correspondence directed to the Board of Supervisors and not related to an upcoming agenda item will no longer be published on the agenda unless an individual Board member requests such publication."
Sure, as I said earlier, that might have a smidgen of credence if their agenda was extensive and they were inundated with messages from the public but that is not the case. Instead it sends the message that input from the public is not valued in the least, or just completely unwanted. I am sure they would have had no problem adding my correspondence if it was something they approved of.
Let me further address their response quoted above. What a slippery slope of an excuse it is to not publish public correspondence, whether or not they have a relevant agenda item. Why? Well at the start of every meeting the public has an opportunity to address the board about items not on the days agenda. So, really, all they are saying is they want to pick and choose when and what the public can add to government meetings. This policy is egregious to the first amendment. Furthermore, from my extensive efforts sharing input in the local government process, I have found that it is mostly an exercise in futility to change the minds of the governing body. Sadly, mob rule democracy has snuffed out the voices which are supposed to embody a Republic. With the exception that a minority's viewpoint or ideology aligns with the agenda of the government. My messages are not directed entirely with the sole purpose of communicating to the BOS or local government. That is just the process one must take in order to get a message made public record. What's far more important to me is getting my messages seen and or heard by other members of the public.
That brings me to the Brown Act violation. Their excuse to not publish my correspondence does not supersede one's broad constitutional rights while participating in government meetings as described in the Brown Act. Even if they did have a leg to stand on by censoring my message, don't you find it rather childish to not publish my message? Maybe better described as petty, pathetic and tyrannical? Why did they implement such a policy? Like I said, it's not as if they have an overwhelming amount of messages coming in. To me, it is a clear violation of the Brown Act, which I have conveyed to the District Attorney. That makes three Brown Act violations by Mono County government officials since I started participating in the local government process a couple years ago. The District Attorney, Tim Kendall, ignores everything I send to him because he can or because he doesn't have any good defense for the actions of his colleagues. Or maybe he is just a low life scumbag government gangbanger? Brown Act violations are the responsibility of the District Attorney's office.
What are the conflicts of interests that the Mono County Board of Supervisors have with imposing a short-term rental moratorium?
In a general sense, which applies to all 5 supervisors, one conflict of interest is the financial impacts caused by a short-term rental moratorium. A large percentage of real estate buyers in Mono County purchase property for use as a rental property. Another significant number of buyers purchase property as a vacation home, knowing they can offset their costs by renting short-term. Both of these buyer demographics would be substantially reduced if not eliminated altogether from the housing market which strongly hurts demand. Less demand for real estate equates to lower property values. This would hurt any new sellers under the short-term rental moratorium. Given that the BOS can start or end the moratorium whenever they see fit puts them in a position where they can potentially benefit from the reduction in buyer demand and lower property values. Nothing prevents them from buying property as an individual at a lower-than-market value from their direct involvement in imposing a short-term rental moratorium. They could buy a property and then lift the moratorium and resell the property at a higher price once the demand from investors returned. Or they could get a smokin deal on a property and do short-term rentals down the road. This conflict of interest not only applies to the Board of Supervisors as individuals but also to the county as it's own entity. They are claiming they need to impose the short-term rental moratorium to combat what they deem a workforce housing crisis. The same financial conflict of interest of reducing buyer demand, consequently lowering property values, applies to Mono County Inc. Assuming Mono County Inc. decided to purchase property at a lower-than-market value in an effort to create more workforce housing. Whether or not they intend to act on this does not absolve the conflict of interest.
Other conflicts of interests that are more individual specific apply to district 1 supervisor Jennifer Kreitz. The Conflict of Interest Act applies to any board of supervisor that is also on another regulatory board with decision making authority. Regardless if that position is salaried or unsalaried. Jennifer Kreitz is currently Vice President on the board of directors at Mammoth Lakes Housing Inc. A board position which gives her decision making authority for that organization to purchase property within the county. Mammoth Lakes Housing Inc. has a stated goal to increase affordable and workforce housing. This organization would also potentially benefit financially from the buyer demand destruction a short-term rental moratorium would create.
On another note, the current chair of the BOS Bob Gardner and BOS Stacy Corless both have ties with Mammoth Lakes Housing Inc. Even though they are not currently participating in that organization, their decision to impose a short-term rental moratorium is a potential financial and material benefit for MLH Inc. which is a conflict of interest. A short-term rental moratorium could eventually benefit them financially if they decided to return to work for Mammoth Lakes Housing Inc. as a paid employee. The more successful Mammoth Lakes Housing Inc. is, the more paid position opportunities they can offer. At the very least the current paid positions could become more lucrative. Jennifer Kreitz, Bob Gardner, and Stacy Corless all have ties with Mammoth Lakes Housing Inc.
District 5 BOS Stacy Corless also has additional conflicts of interest. She has a vested interest in lodging operations in Mono County which would benefit financially from a short-term rental moratorium. Less options for short-term rentals in unincorporated Mono County will drive more people to hotels, motels and Mammoth Mountain rentals. Another layer to Stacy's conflicts of interest include her spouse, Ron Cohen who is the COO and president of Mammoth Mountain. A short-term rental moratorium in unincorporated Mono County would impact individual property owners and stifle new competition benefiting these larger established lodging operations. In 2020, Stacy Corless was in favor of enforcing the ban on short-term rentals and closing non-essential businesses. That policy ended up costing property owners who relied on short-term rental income dearly, as well as all the property management companies and the workforce that maintains those properties. However, Mammoth Mountain's lodging operations, while they took a financial haircut, still profited and benefited from the diminished competition caused by the short-term rental ban.
Under the Conflicts of Interest Act, a legislative body such as the Town Council of Mammoth Lakes or the Mono County Board of Supervisors are prohibited to vote on policy decisions when a conflict of interest exists.
Many people in the community and the country viewed the 2020 ban on short-term rentals as a violation of the 5th and 14th amendments. Under the 14th amendment federal and state authorities have the power of eminent domain, the ability for government to take private property for public use—provided that they offer “just compensation” in exchange. The 14th amendment also states, "nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."
In 2020, The Town Council of Mammoth Lakes and the Mono County Board of Supervisors supported a ban on short-term rentals. They had no evidence to support their claim that banning short-term rentals would prevent the spread of Covid-19. They went ahead with the short-term rental ban anyway and did so without giving due process to those affected. Instead of offering "just compensation", the government levied the loss of income onto the property owners that did short-term rentals. Consequently all the property management companies and their employees were also burdened with substantial financial losses due to government imposed regulations.
When the government banned short-term rentals but allowed for hotels, motels, restaurants, and Mammoth Mountain to continue to do business, albeit limited business, they violated the 14th amendments requirement of equal protection of the laws.
The 2020 short-term rental ban was a government imposed regulation which deprived people of life, liberty and property. The short-term rental ban and forced closure of businesses that were deemed non-essential was a temporary form of eminent domain and a per se takings by government regulations.
There is widespread litigation on this issue throughout the country including right here in Mono County. Members of the Town Council of Mammoth Lakes, the Mono County Board of Supervisors, and others are already facing litigation for their previous involvement with the policy decision to ban short-term rentals in 2020. Yet, despite being in litigation over a similar issue, the Mono County BOS is discussing a short-term rental moratorium in unincorporated Mono County!
This is a great example of why a taxpayer funded legal counsel for the government should not exist. Government officials have no disincentive for criminal actions that create a situation ripe for litigation wherein they use taxpayer dollars to defend against. Why should taxpayers fund the legal defense for criminal actions made by government? It's despicable. A recent ruling made by the 8th circuit court of appeals about the state of Minnesota's eviction moratorium was ruled as a per se takings requiring just compensation. The Minnesota taxpayer funded the legal defense for the state and the state lost. Now the taxpayer has to pay for the governments criminal actions by repaying themselves for the states violations of the 14th amendment! Of course the government will most likely raise taxes on the people as a result of their having to provide just compensation for their regulatory takings, which begs the question. Can the taxpayer sue the government for their criminal actions that caused an increase to their tax burden? Talk about a doom loop of self destructive government policies which bites off the hands that feed them.
The demand destruction caused by a short-term rental moratorium would directly impact any property owner looking to sell under this government imposed regulation. The decrease in property value sellers would be faced with is another form of regulatory takings by government. Seller's should seek due process and just compensation as required by the 14th amendment if they decide to sell at a loss.
I want to expand on the reason why Mono County Inc. is considering a short-term rental moratorium in the first place. They claim that there is a workforce housing crisis caused by a lack of long-term rentals and affordable housing in the county. At the BOS meeting on May 3 a member of the public who has supposedly lived in Mono County since the 1970's, mentioned there has always been a so called workforce housing crisis. I'm mentioning this because I found that statement to be very telling that the supposed workforce housing issue is being grossly exaggerated by the current county regime. According to this long time resident, there has always been a workforce and affordable housing crisis in Mono County and the Town of Mammoth Lakes. Yet the Town of Mammoth Lakes and Mono County have managed just fine. This is not the first time the county has tried a short-term rental moratorium to address what they perceive to be a workforce housing crisis. Apparently, they did it before and the problem still exists... so why do they expect it to work this time?
Something else I feel should be discussed about the county deemed crisis of workforce and affordable housing. The county is trying to micro manage a macro economic problem. The BOS seem to be under the impression that this is a local problem that only resort type towns and counties are faced with. I grew up in Ventura, CA and I can say for certain that the local government there makes the exact same claims about their jurisdiction. I have never heard anyone describe Ventura as a resort destination but I do know for a fact that the local government there has been clamoring about workforce and affordable housing for decades. Throughout my years in Ventura I saw government sponsored "affordable housing" tracts get developed. The affordable housing had all kinds of strings attached to prevent certain demographics from buying. Income restrictions and rental restrictions being the most glaring of the strings attached. What ended up happening long term is an interesting story which demonstrates that government interfering in free markets to solve what they see as a problem always creates more problems. While the government was successful in creating affordable housing through regulations it was not consequence free. One consequence was the people who bought the affordable housing ended up with substantially lower property values compared to unregulated housing developments. The low income families who bought these properties ended up with 30-50% lower property values compared to other houses with similar lot sizes and square footage. The government regulations helped lower income people find housing at the cost of a massive loss in long term equity. Making it much more difficult for lower income families to climb the economic ladder.
Why are property values so sky high? Is it because of the "free market"? Absolutely not. The "free market" does not exist. Real estate is sky high because of government intervention. Since the financial crisis of 2008, loose monetary policies from government intervention allowed for rock bottom interest rates on mortgages. Ultra low interest rates created cheap money encouraging people who know the game to take on massive debt to invest in real estate. As a result of the government created loose monetary policy and ultra low interest rates the price of housing has gone through the roof. The big investors who knew how to take advantage of the loose government monetary policies have created an artificial workforce and affordable housing problem. The government turned what was a small problem of affordable housing into a large problem. Now the local government Mono County Inc. and the shills that work for Mammoth Lakes Housing are trying to solve a problem that state and federal monetary policies created.
The cure for short-term rentals is more short-term rentals. The Housing Authority should be giving away short-term rental applications to anyone who wants them. Flooding the town and county with short-term rentals and airbnb's etc is the best way to create more long term rentals. The more people who offer short-term rentals the more competition. This will drive the prices down for short-term rentals which will in turn motivate people to switch over to long-term rentals eventually easing the strain on available workforce housing. That is really the only productive way to address the issue caused by government intervention.
The breakdown in this letter was an elaboration of the message I tried to get to the public in my correspondence letter to the Mono County Board of Supervisors. They did not want the public to see it on the agenda so I am writing this article instead. All they had to do was make my message public as I requested. Instead, they demonstrated a disturbing lack of ethics and stifled my speech as a dissenting voice of government policy. Whether or not you agree with a ban on short-term rentals or any of my views in this article, we should all agree that government imposed censorship is wrong.
Please contact the Mono County Administrative Officer Bob Lawton, and the Mono County BOS and let them know they are wrong to censor public correspondence for any reason whatsoever. Please contact the District Attorney Tim Kendall's office and ask him to do his job for once and officially reprimand those involved with first amendment and Brown Act violations.