Monday, March 06, 2006

Column 74 - Timeshares

Anyone who has lived in the Bay Area will be familiar with the radio and TV commercial for a dairy called Berkeley Farms that ends with a bovine voice exclaiming “Farms? in Berkeley? Mooooo!” The local version of this at the moment seems to be Timeshares? in Incline? Noooooo!”

To make it clear at the outset, I’m no big fan of timeshares, and neither do I consider them a blight on the universe. Actually, aside from assiduously avoiding getting hooked into listening to marketing pitches on them, I don’t have much opinion either way on timeshares (though by way of full disclosure, I did attend a presentation years ago at South Shore and came away with a really nice set of cheap, shoddy luggage).

I am a fan of reason, though, and it seems to me that the current brouhaha over the issue of timeshares in Incline is lacking in that fine commodity.

There may be some fine point of law or regulation that distinguishes between a time share and a house that is rented out as a vacation rental, but in practice I can’t see the difference. If I (or my brother, my cousin, and my friends Ed and Don and I) buy a house, use it for ourselves for a few weeks a year and rent it out to vacationing families the rest of the year, that seems pretty much the same thing as a time share to my untrained eye.

Now here’s the joke: There are houses and condos all over Incline that are rented out on exactly that basis. Timeshares in Incline? We’ve always had them!

Now here come Paul Zahler and Phil Gilanfarr wanting to put them up near Diamond Peak and you’d think somebody was proposing affordable housing or something.

What I’ve heard from the anti-timeshare side is concerns about traffic, parking, noise, and the like. OK, those are valid concerns for anyone in any neighborhood, but from my understanding what is being proposed is not a high-rise or condo development but a number of single family homes. Again, I think the concerns are legitimate, but they are not, I think, concerns that are unique to time shares. When my neighbor across the street put his house on the market and, while it was being sold, rented it out in three sections to groups of young, unrelated people, I had the same concerns, and had recourse if I wanted to pursue it under the CC&R’s of the neighborhood. How is this different from a timeshare, and how is it different if Messrs. Zahler and Gilanfarr went in and built a bunch of houses that they then sold? Particularly if the purchasers then rented them out as vacation rentals?

Somehow I think there is more involved here than meets the eye. For one thing, Paul Zahler has been subjected to some personal attacks on the issue that I think are out of proportion to a relatively simple zoning dispute. I don’t know Paul well, we don’t socialize, and we don’t agree on a lot of political matters. I have, however, served with Paul on a number of committees and boards and have had occasion to scrutinize his performance in public service on the CAB and the Fire Board and it’s my view that he is an honest man, however misguided he may be politically, and that he has a big and authentic commitment to the community. Those things alone, in my view, make ad hominem attacks a particularly egregious form of opposition. I’ve met Phil Gilanfarr in a business context and have no reason to think that either Paul or Phil are up to any nefarious business here – they’re just doing what architects and developers do – looking for an opportunity to develop something – that’s their profession.

The point is, once again, that we live in a community and that living in a community means that (a) there are laws and regulations that apply equally to everyone – they aren’t something to be invoked when the ox being gored is yours and (b) Sometimes, as Mr. Spock said, the good of the many may outweigh the good of the few, and some people are not going to like something that, under our laws, is perfectly legitimate to do. Let’s decide this issue in the realm of laws and regulations, not in the court of public attack.

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