Lake Havasu City’s priorities for the 2022 state legislative session look similar to the city’s priorities last year. Mayor Cal Sheehy said short -term rentals and water issues are both squarely at the top of the list.
Sheehy said Havasu’s largest priority is returning some local control to the short-term rental industry. That has been a major issue for Havasu each year since the State Legislature removed local government’s ability to regulate vacation rentals in 2016 – which nullified a 2014 Havasu ordinance that city officials say had been working well.
“The 2014 ordinance worked perfectly,” Sheehy said. “It allowed for private property rights of the vacation rental owner, as well as the peaceful enjoyment of the neighbors. It gave city staff and neighbors tools in order to be able to work together, and it worked really great for those two years we were able to utilize the provisions of that ordinance.”
Sheehy said Havasu is focused on a bill that he said Rep. Leo Biasiucci (R-Lake Havasu City) is going to sponsor to give back some of the tools used to regulate short term rentals prior to 2016.
“It is all enabling legislation – so its provisions that cities, towns or counties could choose to implement or not. It basically is aimed at bringing back local control to our communities,” Sheehy said.
The Havasu Mayor said some of the tools the bill is expected to provide, if passed, include providing cities with the option to require a vacation rental identify a 24-hour contact person, requiring the properties to notify neighbors of their intention to use the property as a short-term rental, and an identifier that would visually denote properties used as short-term rentals that would include the property’s 24-hour contact. Sheehy said the bill would also allow cities to establish a registration process for short term rentals, in addition to the state’s registration process.
“We believe some of these provisions would create good synergy within the neighborhood where the short-term rental owners understand the impacts to the neighborhood and ways to mitigate it for their neighbors,” Sheehy said. “It’s one of the tenants we had in our 2014 ordinance that allowed neighbors to talk with each other, meet each other where they are, and have their needs met.”
Sheehy said water is obviously the number one priority for the entire region, and Lake Havasu City plans to support legislation that helps manage water resources, and drives conservation efforts.
Sheehy said Havasu will be keeping an eye on Rep. Regina Cobb’s (R-Kingman) water bills, and will be supporting those bills. Although Cobb had not introduced any water-related legislation on Monday – the first day of the 2022 session – she has told Today’s News-Herald that she plans to re-introduce three bills that she has been pushing for the last few years.
Cobb said her top-priority water bill will be the prohibition of fourth priority water rights transfers to off-river communities. That bill is meant to stop transfers such as the proposed permanent transfer of more than 2,000 acre feet of water from a farm in the Cibola area of La Paz County owned by Greenstone to the town of Queen Creek in Maricopa County.
Cobb said a close second, in terms of priority, is to pass a bill that would Rural Management Areas. The RMAs would allow the creation of an advisory council to manage certain local groundwater supplies if they are in danger of depletion. This year’s version of the bill is expected to be updated based on the extensive conversations on the topic over the summer through the Mohave County West basin Water Users Study Committee, which Cobb chaired.
“It doesn’t impact Lake Havasu City directly, because we get our water from the Colorado River, but indirectly it does because if we can manage that resource at the well sites, less people would have their eyes on our water for future water transfers,” Sheehy said.
Cobb’s third bill, which she said is a distant priority compared to the other two, would change the language in state statute to allow irrigation non-expansion areas to be designated based on reasonable projections about the rates of withdrawal, rather than the current rates of withdrawal.
Of course, Lake Havasu City will also likely oppose some bills as the state legislative session starts to pick up steam. Sheehy said a majority of Havasu’s time spent on the legislative session each year is typically spent playing defense by opposing bills that may negatively impact the city’s priorities.
“That will be ongoing throughout the session. We will get a little bit better idea of what that looks like in the coming weeks as the bills start dropping,” Sheehy said. “We will just have to see what bills come our way. We have a great system in place to vet those bills and weigh in on the impacts to our community. We will continue to do that during this legislative session as well.”