Lodging Association chair calls Council decision “scary precedent”

The Town Council faces another TOT appeal Wednesday night.

The Town Council faces another TOT appeal Wednesday night.

The Chairman of the Mammoth Lakes Lodging Association called the Town Council’s recent decision to forgive fines and penalties on unpaid transient occupancy tax a “scary precedent.” John Morris said the Town Council needs to take a good look at what they’re doing.

In February, the Council heard an appeal from second homeowners, Kevin and Carolynn Cozen. Town staff said they failed to pay $15,000 in Transient Occupancy Tax, illegally rented their single family home and should pay fines and penalties of $7,000 as a result. The Cozens claimed they called the Town Office and were told single family homes did not have to pay TOT. They could not say who they talked to. The Cozens did say they got the idea that they should charge TOT so they did. They just never paid it to the Town. Three members of the Town Council voted to let the Cozens off the hook of fines and penalties. Mayor Matthew Lehman and Councilman Michael Raimondo strongly disagreed.

Lodging Association Chair John Morris pointed to history. He said two and a half years ago the Town Council asked the Lodging community to help with TOT enforcement and control of illegal renting. He said Lodging, the Town Finance Department, Tourism and the Mayor worked out fines and rules. Then, Morris said, the first appeal they got, the Town Council folded. Morris said, “This was their chance to send a message. The Cozens admitted renting their property. They got caught.”

Morris said there was no real evidence to back up the Cozens’ claims that someone in the Town Offices told them they didn’t have to pay bed tax. He said, “It was an excellent chance for the Town Council to set the tone for future cases.” Morris added that the Cozens escaped fines when all of the lodge owners who pay TOT get fined, said Morris, “if we’re five minutes late.” He said lodges are continually audited and regulated.

Morris also pointed out that people who rent their homes illegally do not, as a result, pay for snow removal and other Town services. He estimated that the Cozens likely made around $120,000 in gross rent and in the end paid some $15,000 in TOT and no fines or penalties. Morris said other cases are coming up. He said he understands at least a half million in fines are pending in cases that are still out there. Said Morris, “I hope the Town Council takes a good look at what they’re doing. They have set a scary precedent.” Morris did say he is neutral on the issue of single family home rentals. He said he would like to see a study done to show the net positives.

Meanwhile, at Wednesday night’s Town Council meeting, Joe Mueller of Austria Hof Slopeside Rentals will appeal a $157 fine the Town charged him. In his case, he tried to pay his TOT bill the day it was due, December 31st, but the Town Offices were closed and so was the Post Office. He delivered his payment to Councilman Michael Raimondo who handed it over to the Finance Department on January 2nd. Mueller disagrees with the fine.

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47 Responses to Lodging Association chair calls Council decision “scary precedent”

  1. SierraFan March 8, 2013 at 12:01 pm #

    If you collect TOT then you know the law! If you collect TOT then you know it should be paid! If you collect TOT and don’t pay then why? Because you know you’ll be caught and be fined! Plain and simple. Yet 3/5’s of the town’s CM’s had their head in the snow! And the explanation we received was soooo ridiculously silly, it’s hard to fathom how someone can stand there with a straight face and spew it out. LOLOL….. just ridiculous!

    This sure set precedent for the other’s to argue the same case and if they lose their appeal then the lawsuits will follow for being treated unfairly to the Cozen’s! Who by the way are laughing all the way. I say to the Cozen’s, if you want to rent SF vacation home then sell here and buy in Tahoe where it’s legal!

    • Curious March 8, 2013 at 3:34 pm #

      Isn’t that the same as collecting sales tax and then underreporting your sales?

  2. Tom March 8, 2013 at 1:29 am #

    The Cozens collected the TOT and put it in their bank account rather than paying it to the town. Their defense is ridiculous – if they were told that they didn’t need to pay the TOT, then how in the world could they get the impression that they should collect it and put it in their bank account? This borders on theft of public funds. Tax was certainly collected from their tenants under false pretenses, and seems so blatant a violation that it clearly warrants a penalty. How can the town council of a bankrupt town waive the penalty???

    It is also unbelievable that on the petition website mammothvhr.org, that Kevin J Cozen wraps himself in the American flag in his comment while at the same time stealing TOT funds from the public coffers. His comment is “Kevin J Cozen, Santa Monica, Yes I pay property taxes in Mammoth Lakes It is simply anti American for Mammoth not to allow short term rentals. An alive, vibrant, working town produces everything positive (including revenue) as opposed to a closed up, abandoned, dead town.” Link here: http://www.mammothvhr.org/petition/

    So, how does an “alive, vibrant, working town” survive without tax revenue? How do the roads get plowed? How do the bus services get funded? Kevin? Carolynn? Any comment?

    I wonder if anyone will google “Kevin and Carolynn Cozen Santa Monica”, and use the publicly available data from a site such as radaris.com to send them a thank you card or give them a call, or dig a bit deeper and send the message to their architecture business specializing in luxury Malibu homes, Classical Progression. http://www.classicalprogression.com/#!professionals

    • What the ...? March 8, 2013 at 12:23 pm #

      Wait a minute! Doesn’t Wood represent those in that property rental business?
      Why didn’t he recuse himself?

      • Benett Kessler March 8, 2013 at 1:01 pm #

        Wood made it clear he does not represent anyone for TOT violations. He did recuse himself
        on the Austria Hof TOT penalty because he represents them on something else.
        Benett Kessler

        • Strange bedfellows & TOT March 8, 2013 at 4:30 pm #

          Strange bedfellows by any other name …

          I once knew of a councilman who accepted monies from a source and was quoted as saying, “…sure I took the money. But that doesn’t mean I’m influenced one way or another by how I voted on the subject.”
          And I don’t think this guy was an attorney with a glossary of legal-sounding terms.

          • Benett Kessler March 8, 2013 at 7:36 pm #

            That’s the same line countless congress people and senators use.

  3. Jake Steel March 7, 2013 at 5:47 pm #

    I am a local and what they did SUCKS and if they lived here I would go over to their house and tell them that. How is that?

  4. Jake Steel March 7, 2013 at 5:44 pm #

    This town counsel is a total fail, every time I see you people out in Mammoth or anywhere I am going to YELL FAIL!

    Please people do not ever vote for John Eastman or that Clown Woods again!


    • Mammothite March 7, 2013 at 6:06 pm #

      Too many years on the council means too many fingers in too many pies.
      We’ll never know what our elected officials receive from their business pals.
      Until it is 100% illegal to accept one thin dime from any source – the system we have in place will be a corrupt one.

    • too much March 8, 2013 at 5:37 pm #

      I think that is ~Truth Bennett…I’m so sorry for Mammoth and Bishop.
      Bishop is like living in Marshall law at times with a bit of Hope, but then again. If I just could retire and enjoy life here and not the Drama. I also Believe that people hear little bits of stories and truth, then it depends who’s truth, and who is covering up. And never the real story.

      • Dark times March 8, 2013 at 9:45 pm #

        These just might be the darkest times in our long, long history.
        And like the Tower of Babel story, nobody can understand what anybody else is talking about.
        Best to be frugal, keep a low profile, stay away from the city … and by all means – Don’t be a greedy bastard. There are children who are hungry right in your own backyard.

  5. ferdinand lopez March 7, 2013 at 10:16 am #

    they got caught,they need to pay, just like the i.r.s

    • Don't let 'em off the hook March 8, 2013 at 4:16 pm #

      Time for a full-blown Grand Jury Investigation.

      • Benett Kessler March 8, 2013 at 4:25 pm #

        Quoting a long-time,local and unidentified legal source, “If you believe in the Grand Jury, you also
        wait up for the Easter Bunny.”

        • Any suggestions? March 8, 2013 at 4:44 pm #

          Any other ideas to hold elected officials feet to the fire, Benett?
          It’s sometimes an eternity between elections.

          • Benett Kessler March 8, 2013 at 7:38 pm #

            Yes. When citizens speak out, news media can quote them and get the public issues churning as they should.
            That can impact the behavior of some.

  6. Curious March 6, 2013 at 5:56 pm #

    It takes a lot of nerve for some of these post to call out Kevin and Carolynn Cozen. The fact is the only difference between them and us, is the getting caught part. Have any of you ever done or are you currently doing anything illegal?

    The hypocrisy of some posters and/or politicians is the core problem with the town of Mammoth. Integrity is not one of our towns strengths, the minions are only following the example of current and passed leaders. If these Cozens were locals, how many of you would dare call them out?

    There’s plenty of local dirt to be exposed on this subject for anyone willing to scratch the service.

    • scott lawson March 7, 2013 at 9:08 am #

      Hey Curious, I notice that you don’t put your real name on your post. I did because it is what I believe in. I believe they should be fined if it is in accordance to the law. And any other second homeowners that haven’t followed the law should also be fined. If the second homeowners happen to be locals and they are breaking the law, they also should be punished. I do not have a problem calling them out and put my name here to show what I believe in. I grew up here and have seen this town grow so I do know a little bit about this issue.

      • Curious March 7, 2013 at 3:10 pm #

        Hey Scott very astute,the Cozens were fined according to the law, they adjudicated their case and should be left alone period.

        You have a problem with my opinion? So be it.

        My name is none of your business, rest assured it’s not the village idiot!

  7. Corruption in A Small Town March 6, 2013 at 4:32 pm #

    Ignorance is no excuse.
    I’m betting that The Cozens are just playing stupid, after all they know “a lawyer” and who is that lawyer….? Oh, of course now I remember. This is no doubt corruption in our small town. I’d like to call on the resignation of a few council members but if I remember correctly we didn’t have too many volunteers the last election.
    Hey council members, LEAD BY EXAMPLE.

  8. SierraFan March 6, 2013 at 1:14 pm #

    One thing here is that you would think that the Cozen’s would’ve no doubt approached a rental company in town to see what the costs would to be on a rental program and no doubt were told that a single family home is illegal to rent? If not they are in the serious minority not to call someone and inquire. My guess is they knew it and decided to try and fly under the radar and then play dumb if they were caught. People don’t necessarily get to where they’re at financially without bending rules somewhere and ask for forgiveness later. THEY BENEFITTED FINANCIALLY AND SHOULD PAY!!!!!!!!!!!

  9. sierragrl March 6, 2013 at 12:52 pm #

    How could a TOT be assessed on a single family home short term rental when single family home rentals are illegal? this makes no sense. they can’t assess a tax on an illegal use. The answer is NO TOT should have been assessed or collected, however, the Cozens should have been charged (in civil court I assume) with the illegal activity of a short term rental of a SFR. and perhaps a criminal charge of illegally collecting a tax. The town appears to be saying, ‘yes, SFR nightly rentals are illegal, wink wink wink, but if you do rent them, make sure you collect the TOT tax’. I don’t get it.

    • Benett Kessler March 6, 2013 at 3:01 pm #

      We are told that Town legal advice is that TOT has to be collected even from rentals in zones that don’t allow transient rentals.

      • MK March 6, 2013 at 3:52 pm #


        The town attorney is incorrect on his assumptions and stance.
        Sometimes people are wrong. That is so in this case.

        The TOT ordinance is pretty clear.
        Here is the current definition.

        “Transient occupancy facility” means any place, space or structure, or portion of any place, space or structure, which is or may be occupied, or intended or designed for occupancy by transients for purposes of sleeping, lodging or similar use in conformance with the town’s zoning regulations …………..”

        If you have no Transient Occ.. Facility then you have nothing to tax.

        To the TOWN , Fix the law then tax!!!

  10. L March 6, 2013 at 9:38 am #

    They ended up paying some of the bed tax but probably not all of it ; plus no penalties or interest.

  11. Chip Chipperson March 6, 2013 at 8:30 am #

    oops, its 6,000,000,000$ to the future terrorists.

    • Jeremiah's stance March 6, 2013 at 4:29 pm #

      Yeah I hear that one Chip! So we will continue to pay the same amount of taxes or more, get vital services to us cut as we pay the same amount of taxes, but at least the mega rich got a tax break right? So I wonder when trickle down kick’s in?

  12. Chip Chipperson March 6, 2013 at 8:28 am #

    A broke town makes a law to shore up their TOT and doesnt enforce it . It remind me of the fake “crisis” of sequestration……and then we give $250,000,000 to the future terrorists in Egypt, $6,000,000,000,000 to the future terrorists of Syria,DHS buys 2500 armored personel carriers for DOMESTIC use.all during the fake “crisis”..Yet we repeatedly told that the sky is falling…..And government wonders why nobody trusts them..

    • Poli-Sci 101 March 6, 2013 at 10:13 am #

      I know, I know, Chip …
      Vote Republican and all will be fine and dandy, Right?
      : >

      • Chip Chipperson March 6, 2013 at 4:45 pm #

        I dont know Poli,but the direction we are heading is not the right one.Is party loyalty more important than the good of the country?The people we are putting in power care more about self preservation than the good of the country. Is that right?Apparently you must think so. .Believe me you Im hardly a republican .I would like to ALL of them in prison.That wont happen so I think term limits would be a start. I just have my eyes open wide enough to know that we dont have the money for these things anymore[foreign “aid”]……I have been told for the last 2 months[fiscal cliff,sequestration]the sky is falling, and Im still waiting to get hit by it.

        • More millionaires will be made March 6, 2013 at 5:27 pm #

          I hear ya, Chip.
          People don’t want to hear this (especially those whose property value is not skyrocketing), but we are entering the early stages of Great Depression II.
          A lot of people are going to get hurt and the once again (as in the Great Depression I) the filthy rich are going to get even richer still, as they are the only group that will be able to afford anything (even deals on ski areas).
          Don’t look for Mono County to bail them out either.

    • Paranoia in American Politics March 6, 2013 at 1:02 pm #

      American politics has often been an arena for angry minds. In recent years, we have seen angry minds at work, mainly among extreme right-wingers, who have now demonstrated, in the Goldwater movement, how much political leverage can be got out of the animosities and passions of a small minority. But, behind this, I believe, there is a style of mind that is far from new, and that is not necessarily right-wing. I call it the paranoid style, simply because no other word adequately evokes the sense of heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy that I have in mind.

      The paranoid spokesman, sees the fate of conspiracy in apocalyptic terms — he traffics in the birth and death of whole worlds, whole political orders, whole systems of human values. He is always manning the barricades of civilization… he does not see social conflict as something to be mediated and compromised, in the manner of the working politician. Since what is at stake is always a conflict between absolute good and absolute evil, what is necessary is not compromise but the will to fight things out to a finish. Since the enemy is thought of as being totally evil and totally unappeasable, he must be totally eliminated — if not from the world, at least from the theatre of operations to which the paranoid directs his attention. This demand for total triumph leads to the formulation of hopelessly unrealistic goals, and since these goals are not even remotely attainable, failure constantly heightens the paranoid’s sense of frustration. Even partial success leaves him with the same feeling of powerlessness.

      • Benett Kessler March 6, 2013 at 2:56 pm #

        Why not focus on something you can do something about? Your own behaviors and attitudes, relationships with neighbors and communities,
        your own local politics and elections.
        Benett Kessler

      • Tourbillon March 6, 2013 at 5:12 pm #

        Paranoia, your handle – is it intentionally ironic or did you just blunder unwittingly into humorous satire?

        • Movements of suspicious discontent March 6, 2013 at 6:01 pm #

          The Paranoid Style in American Politics is an essay by American historian Richard J. Hofstadter, first published in Harper’s Magazine in November 1964; it served as the title essay of a book by the author in the same year. Written at a time when Senator Barry Goldwater had won the Republican Presidential nomination over the more moderate Nelson A. Rockefeller, Hofstadter’s article explores the influence of conspiracy theory and “movements of suspicious discontent” throughout American history.

          Two different approaches to the Radical Right were taken by social scientists in the 1950s and 1960s. Hofstader sought to identify the characteristics of the groups. Hofstadter defined politically paranoid individuals as feeling persecuted, fearing conspiracy, and acting over-aggressive yet socialized. Hofstadter and other scholars in the 1950s argued that the major left-wing movement of the 1890s, the Populists, showed what Hofstadter said was “paranoid delusions of conspiracy by the Money Power.” Historians have also applied the paranoid category to other political movements, such as the conservative Constitutional Union Party of 1860. Hofstadter’s approach was later applied to the rise of new right-wing groups, including the Christian Right and the Patriot Movement.

    • SierraFan March 6, 2013 at 1:18 pm #

      Amen Chip! Just sick!

  13. Charles O. Jones March 6, 2013 at 7:37 am #

    Did I understand this correctly – they did charge the renters for TOT but failed to actually pass on the tax they collected to the town?

    Wouldn’t that be a form of embezzlement? Perhaps they should be happy with a fine. They could be sentenced to time in the Grey Bar Motel.

    • SierraFan March 6, 2013 at 1:17 pm #

      That’s what’s been reported. If a person knows that TOT is due then why wouldn’t they submit it? That’s because they knew it was illegal and didn’t want to get caught breaking the law/rules. I guess the $100,000 plus they made on the illegal rental program isn’t enough to cover the fine! Not!!

      • MK March 6, 2013 at 3:42 pm #

        why did they not submit the TOT they collected at the time. Only the Cozens know the real answer to that. From what they stated in public is that the town claimed they did not collect TOT from a non-zoned Single Family Home. This really can be true. In researching the TOT last night from past minutes of Council meetings it is apparent this situation has come up before as early as Nov. 1995 where Jack Winkler commented council during a recent update to the TOT ordinance ” owners who rent there homes should not be exempt from having to pay TOT. Winkler stated he wanted the ordinance to cover TOT renting of R-1 properties.

        The response from planning director at the time Brian Hawley that this is a Zoning problem and the town should not encourage R-1 owners by giving them the opportunity to rent their homes. Mr. Hawley requested that the Council not recognize R-1 zoned properties for rental purposes. He further suggested it be given to Planning to discuss.

        Later in Jan 8 1986 meeting the item was brought back, and the planning commission remained in opposition of rentals in R-1 Zones.

        Only until recently and with no recent changes to the TOT code the town is attempting to impose a tax on what is apparent exempted properties.

        What is a common theme through out the years is that this is a code compliance issue and should be only handled in that manner. That TOT collection is exempt from Non-Zoned SFR

        To assess TOT to a non- zoned property without allowing a homeowner to obtain the tax forms and remittance permit is an outright fraud made by the town,

        If the town wants to collect these taxes then they need to change the language in a law or simply allow the use.

        I am putting my 2 cents in because I do not want to see the town involved in another case of expensive litigation.

        The preceding is the opinion of a concerned citizen with no particular position to rent SFR or not.

  14. scott lawson March 6, 2013 at 6:51 am #

    I say make them pay the fines. Illegal is illegal no matter who. If these people don’t have appropriate paperwork to show they were told they didn’t have to pay then they need to be fined. I am very disappointed in the council, especially in light of the fact this town needs funding due to the past and present mistakes of the council. Second homeowners need to be accountable. I agree 100 percent with the lodging association.

  15. TOT or notot March 5, 2013 at 11:42 pm #

    Oh I forgot. Not withstanding what happened to the Cozens, I feel that Mueller made every attempt to be timely. Raimondo accepted the tax return on behalf of the town. This should have never gone this far. Staff should have dealt with this internally.

  16. TOT or notot March 5, 2013 at 10:54 pm #

    I am so perplexed that the town council did not uphold any fine to the Cosens for illegal rental . There may be many complications from this.

    • Mammothite March 6, 2013 at 7:47 am #

      Maybe someday, the town council will have no developers or lawyers who represent real estate interests, and some real progress can occur. Nobody recuses themselves anymore and its becoming longer and longer between elections.

  17. Tourbillon March 5, 2013 at 9:47 pm #

    So Morris is miffed because the Council did not assume the homeowners were lying? Because there was no evidence of innocence?

    I believe people in America are still presumed to be innocent until proven guilty. If this rankles Czar Morris – good.

    • Benett Kessler March 5, 2013 at 11:15 pm #

      Mr. Morris also noted, though I didn’t put it in the story, that the Town staff did not rebut
      what the Cozens said, which, according to procedure they could or should have. Also, innocence
      was my word. Basically, Morris was saying there was no evidence to support the Cozens claims
      of their position, i.e., who they talked to at the Town Offices.
      Benett Kessler

    • Big AL March 5, 2013 at 11:38 pm #

      Amen .. though it is considerably opposite so much of the time .. kind of fashionable it seems.


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