By Max Cherney
After about two years of what it says is Airbnb violating our city’s hotel laws, an unlikely coalition has banded together to produce a ballot initiative that’s designed to make sweeping changes to how Airbnb is allowed to operate.
Among other things, the proposed law may include rewards for ratting on a neighbor violating the regulations, according to details reported by the Chron. The biggest immediate effect would likely be allowing short-term rentals (legalese for hotel type businesses) only in commercially zoned parts of the city. The initiative also promises to make a list of Airbnbers — and others in the short-term rental game — public, presumably on a city website.
That part sounds fucked up: to have people running around the city spying on each other for cash, and publishing every Airbnber’s name and address is plainly a bad idea.
Evidently Airbnb doesn’t like it much either. Stealing another page from the activism playbook, the company and its partners brought a crowd of about 50 together in front of City Hall in a grassroots style protest. No cops this time, but there was evidence that the organization’s spin machine was in full force — for example, a political consulting company retained by Airbnb sent a handful of staffers to the event.
Airbnb’s weak-ass move to attempt to align itself with the various anti-eviction groups resulted in a fairly predictable backlash. And the company’s messaging announcing the protest over yesterday’s protest was eyebrow-raising too, exaggerating the “threat” and implying that the initiative could kill its service altogether.
The speakers more or less delivered the arguments you’d expect: short term rentals — aka Airbnbing — help defray the costs of living in our crazy-expensive city, as well as encourages tourism, one of SF’s largest industries.
It’s hard to fault a company for attempting to shape and control its image, or influence public policy. But, Airbnb’s weak-ass move to attempt to align itself with the various anti-eviction groups resulted in a fairly predictable backlash. And the company’s messaging announcing the protest over yesterday’s protest was eyebrow-raising too, exaggerating the “threat” and implying that the initiative could kill its service altogether. At the event itself its PR strategy felt like reasonable opposition.
Baked into the short-term rental cake too are a political “machinations” that the Bay Guardian, as per usual, loudly and proudly proclaimed were equally as important as the policy itself.
In one sense I agree with Airbnb: that the ballot initiative isn’t a good strategy for much needed regulation of the industry, and that Supervisor David Chiu’s legislation, for better or for worse, is a more appropriate vehicle for change. The district three supervisor has been working on the law for some time now (although unsurprisingly the Guardian takes issue with that), telling the Chron that he’s “been meeting with various stakeholders” and is soon going to hold public hearings at the Planning Commission.
And as an interesting aside, it’s worth noting the absence in the ballot initiative of a little known law entitling cops to walk through hotels and inspect the visitor rolls anytime they want. That applies everywhere from the W all the way to the Fairfax Hotel in the Tenderloin.
Anyway, what’s clear is that some kind of legislative action is absolutely necessary — which it sounds like Airbnb would support. As it stands, it hardly seems fair to tax and regulate some businesses, and ignore others that essentially provide the same service. The ballot initiative, though it is excessive in some ways, other aspects — insurance requirements, proof of permission to Airbnb from the landlord, for example — are reasonable, and much needed in the city.