First flames, then fees: Tahoe evacuees report price gouging

Sep 2, 2021, 9:24 PM | Updated: Sep 4, 2021, 10:44 am

STATELINE, Nev. (AP) — As fearful Lake Tahoe residents packed up belongings and fled a raging wildfire burning toward the California-Nevada border, some encountered an unexpected obstacle: price gouging.

A rideshare company quoted a fee of more than $1,500 to be transported from the smoke-choked ski resort at Heavenly Valley to the safety of Reno-Tahoe International Airport, about eight times the going rate. A Nevada hotel-casino outside the evacuation order zone advertised a two-night stay for $1,090.72, almost four times the midweek rate offered a day earlier.

Reports of price gouging routinely emerge during natural disasters and won newfound attention early in the pandemic, when some businesses tried to capitalize on panic amid demand for toilet paper and hand sanitizer.

While there is no federal law that bans it during emergencies, at least a dozen statehouses have addressed price gouging since last year, including Nevada and California, where Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill banning the practice last September.

Unlike California though, a Nevada price gouging prohibition signed by Gov. Steve Sisolak in June doesn’t take effect until October. Its start date limits officials from policing the issue and taking action beyond promising to monitor it.

“We hope that good merchants are not going to partake in price gouging,” Sisolak said Tuesday in Carson City, where ash particles from the Caldor Fire rained from the sky. “They’re going to partake in trying to make their goods available to the widest group of people they possibly can.”

Officials in both states publicly warned businesses in the shadow of the massive blaze against price gouging, with California Attorney General Rob Bonta, his Nevada counterpart Aaron Ford and U.S. Rep. Mark Amodei asking consumers to report incidents to their offices.

Ford’s office said Wednesday it hadn’t received any specific complaints. Bonta’s said the information was confidential.

The Caldor Fire had calmed significantly Friday but remained just a few miles from the California resort town of South Lake Tahoe. On Monday, flames raced so quickly toward the city that officials ordered a mass evacuation of all 22,000 residents. People across the state line in Douglas County were ordered to leave a day later.

The Montbleu Resort, Casino and Spa — a towering 438-room Nevada hotel just blocks from the California line — began offering discounts for evacuees, $60 rates for firefighters and first responders, and free lodging for its employees.

For everyone else, it hiked room prices Tuesday from $120 to $450 per night before taxes and fees.

Tim Tretton, the resort’s vice president-general manager, said in a statement Wednesday it did so to deter tourists from traveling near the wildfire and to keep rooms available for evacuees. The company planned to pay back the difference to those who booked at the higher cost, he said.

“We did not and do not plan to collect on these rates, and have provided reimbursements or reductions as appropriate,” Tretton said.

Leaving South Lake Tahoe also got pricier for some travelers.

A 60-mile (96-kilometer) Lyft XL ride from the city to Reno normally costs roughly $200. On Tuesday, it rose nearly eightfold as people rushed to beat the flames.

A furious resident shared a screenshot of the rates on Twitter, showing $1,535 for a minivan or SUV for a minimum of five passengers. SFGate reported the costs had dropped back to $230 midday.

Lyft and Uber said in statements Wednesday that price jumps triggered automatic caps as demand soared around South Lake Tahoe amid emergency evacuations. Lyft said it was “reviewing and adjusting fares for certain riders who were impacted in the region.”

“When ride requests outpace the number of drivers on the road, prime-time pricing — elevated fares designed to get more drivers to high-demand areas — is automatically enabled,” the company said. “When we realized how the evacuation order was affecting Lyft prices, we immediately implemented a cap and ultimately suspended prime-time pricing.”

Uber said fares in some places were capped Monday after it identified a public state of emergency. It enacted a second cap Tuesday.

Gas stations around evacuation zones did not appear to have raised prices significantly this week.

Puerto Rico, Washington, D.C., and 39 states have regulations limiting price gouging during emergencies, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Mississippi, parts of which have been battered by Hurricane Ida, strengthened penalties in its price gouging law in 2006, months after Hurricane Katrina left a wide swath of destruction and supply shortages caused long lines for gasoline during the first weeks after the storm.

North Carolina’s attorney general filed a price gouging lawsuit last week against a gas station that hiked prices for mid-grade and premium gas to $9.99 per gallon after a ransomware attack forced the Colonial Pipeline — the United States’ largest fuel delivery system — to shut down.

Nevada’s anti-price gouging law passed in May on a party-line vote, with Democrats in favor and Republicans opposed. The law will ban price gouging in areas where the governor has declared a state of emergency.

California law generally prohibits businesses from raising prices by more than 10% following a state or local emergency declaration.

“If you see price gouging — or if you’ve been a victim of it — I encourage you to immediately file a complaint with my office online at oag.cag.gov/report, or contact your local police department or sheriff’s office,” Bonta said.

___

Sonner reported from Reno. Associated Press writers Olga Rodriguez and Jocelyn Gecker in San Francisco, Michelle L. Price in Las Vegas, and Emily Wagster Pettus in Jackson, Mississippi contributed to this report. Metz is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

The Trump Organization's former Chief Financial Officer Allen Weisselberg departs court, Friday, Au...
Associated Press

Trump Org. CFO expected to plead guilty in NY tax case

NEW YORK (AP) — Donald Trump’s longtime finance chief is expected to plead guilty as soon as Thursday in a tax evasion case that is the only criminal prosecution to arise from a long-running investigation into the former president’s company, three people familiar with the matter told The Associated Press. Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg […]
18 hours ago
Associated Press

Cops: Suspects in attack on elderly woman are ages 11 to 18

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Three children ages 11, 13, and 14 and an 18-year-old beat and robbed a 70-year-old Asian woman last month inside her San Francisco apartment building and two of them have been arrested, police said Monday. The woman was outside her Chinatown building when the suspects approached her on July 31 and […]
18 hours ago
Associated Press

Case against Alex Jones can proceed, Connecticut judge says

BRIDGEPORT, Conn. (AP) — A federal bankruptcy judge on Monday cleared the way for a defamation lawsuit in Connecticut to proceed against Infowars host and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones. The case was filed by relatives of some victims of the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Jones has falsely claimed the […]
18 hours ago
FILE - Farmer John Hawk looks over his land as his seed onion fields are watered in Holtville, Cali...
Associated Press

Deadline looms for western states to cut Colorado River use

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Banks along parts of the Colorado River where water once streamed are now just caked mud and rock as climate change makes the Western U.S. hotter and drier. More than two decades of drought have done little to deter the region from diverting more water than flows through it, depleting […]
18 hours ago
Associated Press

Coroner: Central Illinois plane crash killed Santa Fe couple

PEORIA, Ill. (AP) — A coroner Monday identified a Santa Fe, New Mexico, couple as the two people killed when a single-engine plane crashed on a roadway in central Illinois. Killed in the crash Saturday in the small community of Hanna City were 75-year-old pilot James Everson and 67-year-old Lisa Evanson, Peoria County Coroner Jamie […]
18 hours ago
FILE - This aerial photo shows part of the Bonanza Creek Ranch film-set in Santa Fe, N.M., on Oct. ...
Associated Press

Medical investigator rules Baldwin set shooting an accident

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — The fatal film-set shooting of a cinematographer by actor Alec Baldwin last year was an accident, according to a determination made by New Mexico’s Office of the Medical Investigator following the completion of an autopsy and a review of law enforcement reports. The medical investigator’s report was made public Monday by […]
18 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...
Mayo Clinic Orthopedics and Sports Medicine

Why your student-athlete’s physical should be conducted by a sports medicine specialist

Dr. Anastasi from Mayo Clinic Orthopedics and Sports Medicine in Tempe answers some of the most common questions.
(Courtesy Condor)...
Condor Airlines

Condor Airlines shows passion for destinations from Sky Harbor with new-look aircraft

Condor Airlines brings passion to each flight and connects people to their dream destinations throughout the world.
...
Carla Berg, MHS, Deputy Director, Public Health Services, Arizona Department of Health Services

Vaccines are safe if you are pregnant or breastfeeding

Are you pregnant? Do you have a friend or loved one who’s expecting?
First flames, then fees: Tahoe evacuees report price gouging