The weather is getting warmer and the Lake Tahoe region, typically jam packed with tourists and second homeowners from Memorial Day to Labor Day, is facing a much quieter summer than its had in many decades. But while second homeowners may be allowed to stop through if not entirely welcome, tourists are not, and anyone trying to quietly Airbnb their house might face fines as well.
El Dorado County, the home of the city of South Lake Tahoe, is entering Phase 2 of the state's staggered reopening plan along with 19 other rural counties and counting. That means that dine-in restaurants there can open with adequate social distancing and other precautions. But those restaurants are reserved for locals only, and law enforcement wants everyone to be on alert that if they don't own a home in the area, they can not just drive to Tahoe to enjoy the lake right now.
"We don’t want to be fining people," says South Lake Tahoe Mayor Jason Collin, speaking to SFGate. "We just want people to stay home right now. We just want to make sure we’re doing everything to keep our community safe."
Offending out-of-towners and scofflaw Airbnb owners could face fines of $1,000 if they get cited by police.
"I think it’s important to reiterate that we are a tourism destination," Collin said. "We are a tourism economy and we embrace everyone who comes to Tahoe in this place everyone calls home. But right now, we want to make sure we’re protecting the community that is here full-time."
The incentive here is that, barring any outbreaks or upticks in COVID-19 cases, El Dorado County may be able to move into Phase 3 by mid-June, which would allow for the reopening of hotels and other hospitality services. Across the Nevada border, adjacent to South Lake Tahoe's main drag, the casinos remain closed by governor's orders back in March, and it's not yet clear when they may reopen. One casino-hotel on the Nevada side, Lakeside Inn & Casino, has already become a casualty of the pandemic lockdowns, having announced its permanent closure back in mid-April.
But for now, the hotels are closed and so are all tourist rentals, so even if anyone drove to see the lake, there would be no place to stay.
El Dorado County has only recorded 62 coronavirus cases since the pandemic began, and zero deaths. Only 20 cases were found in the Tahoe area.
In the North Lake Tahoe area, the town of Truckee had a small outbreak last month that caused it to discouraged everyone from visiting from out of town. The area hospital feared that it could become quickly overwhelmed if it got any worse. Now, as KOLO reported Thursday, Truckee is beginning a very cautious reopening of its own, with some restaurants sticking to takeout only even though Nevada County is allowing dine-in restaurants as of this week.
"We're gonna stick with that until we feel more comfortable," said Tom Farina, owner of Burger Me!, speaking to KOLO. "And people can go home to their families and be safe."
Photo: Cheyenne Knowles