Wealth At The Ready Disposal of The Tourist Industry Used To Put Down Homeowners’ Insurrection In Big Bear Lake

The large-scale revolt of Big Bear Lake’s residents against its political establishment that was anticipated to occur with this week’s election did not materialize, the tallying of the votes cast at the mountain city’s polls has revealed.
Based upon a number of indicators over the last two years, a cultural war in the rustic paradise hidden away in the northeast corner of the San Bernardino Mountains seemed to be playing out, one between those who live in what is the county’s second smallest municipality population-wise and third smallest city geographically and the entrepreneurs who run the community’s booming tourist industry.
A skiing mecca in the winter and early spring, a co-claimant with Lake Arrowhead as the boating capital of San Bernardino County from spring until mid-fall, a major swimming venue in the summer, a place where hiking, camping and fishing are ongoing year round and the spot for upland game bird and California mule deer hunting in season, Big Bear has as many or more outsiders breathing its rarefied,1.277-mile-high oxygen-thin atmosphere on a daily basis than natives who call it home. While its status as a tourist community first and foremost has proven highly profitable and advantageous to the operators of the community’s skiing resorts, lodges, hotels, motels, boating rental businesses, the owners/landlords of short-term rentals, property owners, investors, real estate speculators and the like, the influx of temporary residents into any given locale and in particular the 6.5-square mile city limits of Big Bear Lake can create nuisances for those living in proximity to properties that have been leased out or rented on a temporary basis.
In at least some cases, homes or cabins have been simply converted into temporary accommodations without regard to local ordinances or regulations. Nearby residents have been put at the disadvantage of having, for a short time, neighbors they do not know and who in some cases have little or no regard for others they are not likely to ever see again. On occasion, those guests have proven to be poor neighbors, creating disturbances, inviting dozens, scores or even hundreds of others to parties on the premises they have leased or rented, involving parking and traffic problems. Rarely but still potentially, such parties can prove to be raves, with highly intoxicated participants. Excessive noise has been an issue in some cases. Bonfires are a staple of such gatherings. In some isolated cases, those lodging at the rental properties or their guests grow aggressive or confrontational with nearby residents.
The Big Bear Lake City Council, which as of Monday was composed of Mayor Rick Herrick, Councilman Randall Putz, Councilwoman Bynette Mote, Councilman Alan Lee and Councilwoman Perri Melnick, found itself caught between on one side the full-time residents who have been clamoring for tough restrictions to be imposed on both tourists and the owners of vacation rental units and on the other side by both absentee landlords and present landlords who are making a killing by renting their properties on a temporary basis and want nothing in place that will discourage renters from coming to Big Bear Lake.
Over the last several years, a majority of the city council had proven more responsive to the wealthier landlords. While not, exactly, ignoring the plight of the city’s common residents, the council collectively responded to the calls for a strict ordinance by instituting what many local residents consider to be watered-down measures to create a regulatory regime that involves a modest licensing requirement and fines on cabin owners on whose properties problems manifest, with the potential for revocation of those licenses if the nuisances persist on a given property.
A contingent of city residents who did not believe that City Hall had gone far enough formed in April 2021. They lobbied for more vigorous regulation. Its members made a concerted call for a cap on vacation rentals, and they pushed the city to increase the transitory occupancy tax – i.e., the city’s bed tax or hotel tax – from 8 percent to 12 percent, based on their argument that 35 percent of the calls for service from the fire department or sheriff’s department in Big Bear Lake involve short term rental properties and/or visitors to the city. In August 2021, the Big Bear Lake City Council voted 4-to-1 against a proposed cap on vacation rental permits, with the controlling council majority members saying they wanted to give the regulations that exist an opportunity to work. If those did not achieve the desired results, they said they might then put more restrictive measures into place.
That was not good enough for the group of residents animated about the issue of vacation rentals, which on October 21, 2021 changed its name to Big Bear Lake United to Limit Short Term Rentals. Thereafter, its members embarked on an effort to bypass the city council and they set about gathering signatures on a petition to place on this week’s ballot an initiative calling for a limit on the number of vacation rentals in the city.
Herrick, Putz, Melnick and Mote calculated that the resident discontent with the behavior and imposition of tourists on the locals was not of a critical dimension. The four were a bit fazed when the Big Bear Lake United to Limit Short Term Rentals group was able to get 762 of the city’s 2,887 registered voters to endorse the petition to put the measure on this year’s ballot. Acting San Bernardino County Registrar of Voters Michael Jimenez and his office made an analytical determination that the petitioners had met their burden of getting enough signatures to put the measure to a vote. 
That was something of a wake-up call to the council majority, which in May of this year designated Putz and Melnick to act as an ad hoc subcommittee to meet with the Big Bear Lake United to Limit Short Term Rentals to see if they could formulate a half-way or three-quarter-way compromise that would be satisfactory to the sponsors of the ballot measure to avoid having the issue decided in the election. It was thought that if the council agreed to institute through a vote of its members some regulations with teeth in them in the form of either a resolution or ordinance that held out the promise of actually abating nuisances at the vacation rental properties, Big Bear Lake United to Limit Short Term Rentals might agree to rescind the petition to put the measure on the ballot.
After numerous meetings, however, a workable accommodation between those aligned with the residents and the other with the city’s entrepreneurs eluded those seeking it.
Thus, Big Bear Lake’s residents this week considered Measure O, which asked “Shall a measure be adopted to amend the Big Bear Lake Municipal Code to limit the number of vacation rental licenses the city may issue to a maximum of 1,500 and limit the number of vacation contracts to 30 per year per property, excluding home-sharing arrangements, limiting duplexes, triplexes and four-plexes to one vacation rental per property, and enacting additional further limitations and regulation for vacation rentals?”
Also on the ballot for a decision by Big Bear Lake’s voters was Measure P, which called for increasing the hotel tax from 8 percent to 9 percent on January 1, 2024, and then increasing it from 9 percent to 10 percent on January 1, 2025, with the revenue dedicated to general services in the city.
Complicating the issue was that a pronounced personality conflict had developed between Councilman Alan Lee and the rest of the city council at a point shortly after he had been elected to the council in 2020. Things between Lee on one side and Herrick, Putz, Mote and Melnick on the other had deteriorated to the point that in March the four-member council majority censured Lee. Accompanying that was a successful petition drive to qualify a recall question against Lee on this week’s ballot.
According to Herrick, Putz, Melnick and Mote, Lee had bullied them and staff members while using intimidation tactics, threats, and belittling in an effort to prevail politically. Lee was engaged in an effort to “organize a union” of city workers, according to Putz, who spoke for the three others. Lee, Putz said, was a “dick” who was seeking to “enact a personal agenda, inflate [his] importance, feed [his] ego, demonstrate how great [he] think[s] [he] is, punish others who might disagree with [him], seek revenge [and] dismantle the very organization that [he was] elected to support.”
According to Putz, Lee had “threatened to bring forward citizens’ initiatives.”
It appears that Lee made good on that threat when Big Bear Lake United to Limit Short Term Rentals, succeeded in doing just that.
Lee alone last year was in support of enhanced tourist regulation.
Thus, this week’s municipal election in Big Bear, with the Measure O, Measure P and the recall question against Lee promising to drive voters to the polls, had all the markings of a battle over the heart and soul of Big Bear Lake, one that would have a profound impact on the future of the city and its tenor of life going forward.
Those donating to the Yes on Measure O campaign committee were Laurie Porter, who provided $3,109.74; Lorelei Hutchins, who provided $267.37; Stan Kuder, who provided $227.88; Robert McDuff, who provided $252.12; Dennis Large, who provided $571.20; Craig Peterson, who provided $1,039; Jeff Draper, who provided $104.24; Karen Loucks, who provided $200; Robert Loza, who donated $359.38; Russel Alexander, who put up $207.56; Ivo Crisante, who provided $203.94; Steve Wilson, who donated $140; Gary Wolfe, who threw in $100; Robert Sebring, who provided $259.38; Barbara Vandewater, who donated $207.88; Vincent Pace, who put up $1,036.58; Rush Wallace, who supplied $518.45; Mary Harper, who provided $103.94; and Richard Neprud, who supplied $200.
Over 98.44 percent of the money provided to Residents for a Better Big Bear – No on O Committee, consisting of the $171,278.07 of the total $173,978.07 raised, came from individuals or entities outside of Big Bear Lake.
The Committee to Expand the Middle Class, an entity sponsored by AirBnb, Inc, put up $50,153 to support No on O. The California Association of Realtors Issues Mobilization Political Action Committee donated another $49,999. The National Association of Realtors put up $49,999.99.
Tanner Halicioglu donated $1,000.
Providing $100 each to the Residents for a Better Big Bear – No on O Committee were Lisa Winick, Pauline Vaissie, Sarah Sowell, Ruth Seroussi, Lee Sale, Camille Rudisill, Jason Reitz, Leason Pomeroy, Tina O’Brien, Rick Millhouse, Christopher Mora, Lonnie Mego, Steven Malis, Kim Luciano, Chris Lamoreaux, Mitchell Hudson, Michael Hananei, Jolen Grinstead, Michael Gabor, Nora Foran, Leanne Flashberg, Ruth Fisher, Roseann Ferraro, Marlene Faubion, David Sterckx, Amy Driscoll, Alesia Braithwaite, Michael Daly, Glenn Butcher, Clifton Dell, Elisa Guison, Douglas Hunt, Terry Mandel, Michael Mohacsi, Graham Nel, David Parker, Mario Ruiz, Kelly Salehi, Carol Dirks, David Shor, Natasha Stevenson, Alyssa Terrizzano, David Willis, Eric Amundson, Bernie Castro, Marco Chaidez, Shane Cioni, Alan Foster, Bruce Franzen, Steven Kress, Rudy Libra, Vicki Lindblade, Kim Luciano, Christine McLain, Scott Norland, Joby O’Brien, James O’Grady, Manuel Ohannessian, James Petrohilos, Peter Reggi, Christopher Roks, Jess Sanchez, Peter Sears, Nicole Striegel, Justin Van Dyck and Ross Williams.
Frank Beck donated $200. Samantha Bowman-Fleurov donated $150. Greg Frazer donated $200. Joyce Cooper donated $180. Joyce Cooper provided $272. Chris Cuzzucoli provided $300. Daniela Pangallo donated $350. Alan Foster donated $192. Craig Glendenning donated $600. Frank Hoppen provided $190. Mark Land donated $400. Kelly O’Horo provided $500. Timothy Oswald put up $300. Charlotte Parnell provided $190. Brian Saiki donated $500. Seong Shin donated $500. Lorie Sousa put up $150. Jose Splinter provided $250. Tom Sutton supplied $200. Lawrence Woody provided $150. Rino Yano provided $200. Michael Brinegar donated $200. Elizabeth Hansell donated $500. Susana Nadell donated $150. William Harrill donated $200. Charles Howard donated $250. Melanie Kelly donated $200. Toni Leadingham donated $500. Freda Shar donated $200. Timothy Oswald donated $200. David Stroud donated $500. David Vonderlinn donated $200.
Bankrolling the effort to recall Lee were 21 individuals or entities. By far the largest was CPRPRO, which ventured $10,000 toward the effort. Resort Souvenirs, Cool Cabins, Teddy Bear’s Cabins and RE/Max Big Bear donated $1,000 each. Maureen Auer, a real estate agent with RE/Max put up another $256.93. Laura Bulrice donated $214.44. Tyler Wood donated $535.29. Lori Fellman donated $100. The Craig & Laura Anderson Family Foundation put up $200. Kendi Segovia donated $256.93 George and Uli Crezee donated $107.49. Councilwoman Bynette Mote provided $250. Her husband, Greg Mote, provided $250.01. Goldsmith’s Sports donated $250. Zeke Piestrup put $267.91 toward the Lee recall. Tim Lavrouhin donated $535.29. Patrice Duncan, the senior national sales manager for the Alpine Corporation, donated $535.29. Jim Eakin donated $214.44.
The California Real Estate Political Action Committee provided $999.99, which was almost matched by the $995.19 provided by Patrricia Hafen, the owner of the Pilates Studio in Big Bear.
Lee and those supporting him did not field a campaign to resist the recall.
On Tuesday, Herrick was reelected convincingly within District 2, receiving 127 votes or 66.84 percent to challenger Omar Torres Cázares’s 63 votes or 33.16 percent.
In District 3, Randall Putz easily outdistanced his challenger, Paul Sokoloff, 167 votes or 62.08 percent to 102 votes or 37.92 percent.
In District 4, Perri Melnick, with 136 votes cast in her favor or 49.45 percent, blew past challengers Robert Barton and Cory Miholich, who polled 84 votes or 30.55 percent and 55 votes or 20 percent, respectively.
As for the recall question against Alan Lee in District 1, it succeeded with 210 votes or 74.2 percent in favor of removing him from office and 73 votes or 25.8 percent voting to keep him in place.
Competing to replace him were Kendi Segovia, who served as the treasurer in the Lee recall campaign, and Jim Eakin. Segovia prevailed, with 154 votes or 62.1 percent and Eakin claiming 37.1 percent. There were two write-in votes cast in that contest.
The forces arrayed against Measure O collected $173,978.07 in contributions to fight it and spent $98,032.54 on the campaign to oppose it.
In its basically homegrown and grassroots effort to put Measure O on the ballot, Big Bear Lake United to Limit Short Term Rentals collected $19,649.59 to run its campaign to convince their fellow residents in Big Bear Lake to vote for the measure. Big Bear Lake United to Limit Short Term Rentals went into debt in that effort, spending $24,231.47.
The outside money used to run the campaign against Measure O doomed it to failure. Measure O fell short of passing, with 582 votes or 42.24 percent in favor and 796 votes or 57.76 percent in opposition.
Measure P, which had no committees promoting nor fighting it, passed with 746 votes or 55.88 percent in favor and 589 votes or 44.12 percent opposed.
-Mark Gutglueck

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