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Out at Home: New York’s Response to Airbnb Puts San Francisco to Shame

October 31, 2014

By Joe Eskenazi : sfweekly – excerpt

San Francisco is a tolerant city. And that’s a wonderful thing. Most of the time.

Our reflexive tolerance and aversion to confrontation can be played against us, though: We are made into a city of enablers. Every last passenger on a standing room-only Muni vehicle will hold his or her tongue while an ingrate sprawls across three places. When a voice rings out imploring this gent to “get your damn dog off the seat,” it will, invariably, be spoken with a New York accent…

Surprise, surprise, surprise: Airbnb is based here in San Francisco, where its business model is, indisputably, in violation of our similar city ordinances. But Schneiderman’s counterpart, California Attorney General Kamala Harris, hasn’t made any trouble for Airbnb. Quite the opposite: In the same week Schneiderman subpoenaed the $10 billion company, Harris held a fundraiser at Airbnb’s opulent SOMA headquarters. Yes, our state’s top law-enforcement official popped in to pass the hat in the den of a company with a business model that violates the laws of its home city, and hers.

On the very day she did this, City Attorney Dennis Herrera filed a pair of lawsuits against landlords who evicted long-term tenants (disabled tenants, no less) to convert their properties into illegal hotels, which they flogged on Airbnb and other sites…

This week, Mayor Ed Lee signed into law Supervisor David Chiu’s ordinance validating Airbnb’s business model, setting the stage for a proliferation of residential units to, lawfully, be refashioned into tourist beacons. Just how this nascent law will be in any way enforced remains elusive, even to the city bodies charged with enforcing it. The $25 million (or more) Airbnb owes the city in back taxes remains uncollected; settling that debt was not made a precondition of handing Airbnb the keys to the city.

This was all rather alarming to Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who inveighed against the Airbnb ordinance in an op-ed in the city’s paper of record. It’s not every day a senior U.S. senator sees fit to openly and publicly opine on pending municipal legislation. Your humble narrator has learned that, prior to penning the op-ed, Feinstein phoned Lee and attempted to explain to him how this ordinance would eviscerate city zoning rules, deplete already-scarce housing stock, and enable a company that has made a point of not paying its taxes…

Conway has doled out millions of dollars to Lee and toward other pet political causes; a number, like the elimination of San Francisco’s payroll tax, have benefited him personally. It’s nice to make friends in high places: Two years ago, Lee urged the city’s elected treasurer — in writing — to back off on collecting Airbnb’s back taxes. This year, along with fellow Airbnb early investor Reid Hoffman, Conway has poured some $735,000 into an independent expenditure committee targeting Chiu’s Assembly opponent, David Campos.

So, the mayor announced his support of Chiu immediately after Chiu shepherded through legislation that stands to benefit Conway prodigiously. And not only have Airbnb’s early investors put lots of money into aiding Chiu, Airbnb hired the firm running Chiu’s campaign to round up supporters to cajole the board into passing Chiu’s legislation. (Both Chiu and 50+1 Strategies head Nicole Derse have denied any wrongdoing; she claims a “firewall” was created within her 10-person firm)… (more)

Codebreakers: The City Attempts to Streamline Its Epic Planning Rules. Hilarity Ensues.

October 31, 2014

By : sfweekly – excerpt

The Planning Department’s ongoing effort to condense the codes governing building and development in this city has spanned 18 months. So far. The overall goal, says city planner Aaron Starr, is “to make it easier to use.” A new, user-friendly document weighs in at a svelte 468 pages. This is merely the ordinance amending the actual Planning Code, which stretches to nearly three times that length.

“Easier” is a relative term.

Concerned neighborhood groups, who exist in a perpetual state of concern, are concerned about who, exactly, will have it “easier.” A consortium raised red flags and marched into last week’s Planning Commission meeting with grave concerns over a specific clause within the 468 pages of arcana…

Stoking neighborhood groups’ fears was language they interpreted to shift conversion of a structure into student housing from a feat requiring a “conditional use” hearing to an activity that was “principally permitted.” The pernicious specter of sweeping up ever more American Spirit butts from one’s stoop sent a shudder through the neighborhood activists’ collective spine.

How surprised they were to learn, on the cusp of last week’s Planning Commission meeting, that the language in question regarding student housing wasn’t new at all — but codified via city ordinance all the way back in 2012. “It slipped through,” bemoans neighborhood activist Doug Engmann, a former Planning Commission president…

Engmann worries the city’s efforts to render the Planning Code less confusing have actually had the opposite effect. Starr disagrees. Cantankerous neighborhood activists, he says, “are finally able to see what is permitted in their neighborhoods. … And they may not be happy.”

No, they may not be.

“So, in that respect,” Starr says, “It’s a success already.”… (more)

Housing Solution: Increase Density in Western Neighborhoods and Fix Transit

October 29, 2014

By Evelyn Wang : SFPublicPress - excerpt – Part of a special report on solutions for housing affordability in San Francisco, launched in the summer 2014 print edition. A version of this story appeared in the fall 2014 edition

For nearly four decades, residents of the western half of San Francisco have succeeded in blocking any local zoning changes, saying that adding higher-density and affordable housing options would harm the neighborhoods’ residential character.

But as rental prices skyrocket, the city could add thousands of new apartments without increasing parking problems by carefully tweaking housing regulations in the west — an area largely untouched by the recent construction boom.

Joshua Switzky, the acting director of the citywide planning division of the San Francisco Planning Department, said that rezoning along a few key transit corridors in the Sunset and Richmond neighborhoods could add roughly 7,000 new apartment units. To do this, a few key commercial streets served by public transportation would need to be rezoned to increase the housing density by 25 to 30 percent. He emphasized that these estimates are based on his planning experience and not on any formal analysis.

Even under existing building height and density limits, the west side could fit approximately 5,500 additional housing units near Muni lines and retail districts, Switzky said. This estimate excludes the planned developments around Parkmerced and San Francisco State University.

If the Planning Department rezoned the west side to remove existing density limits, developers could build four or five units per lot, instead of the current limit of three. That would require changing some areas from the Neighborhood Commercial District designation to, for example, Neighborhood Commercial Transit District.

But in a part of the city that is ferociously against changes that would bring newcomers or exacerbate parking shortages, rezoning is easier said than done… (more)

Read more…

Culture Clash – SF Youth v Techies

October 25, 2014

By Zrants

This seemingly small dispute over playground access in the Mission District is the latest in a much broader fight between established San Francisco residents who want to stay in their homes, preserve their business, jobs, parking rights, and lifestyles, and the nouveau tech riche, who appear to be swooping in to buy the city out from under them.

The residents just want to be left alone, but their position becomes less stable as city authorities drink more tech money and controlling class pushes for ever-higher rents, sending housing prices through the roof.

Last week we saw the demise of the city’s oldest radical rag and this week some of us witnessed another backroom deal that was fortunately put on the back burner for a few weeks. If you follow the events at City Hall that never make the news, you see a pattern that is disturbing to say the least.

Probably the most important thing the demonstrators are doing is keeping the public up to date on these angry little neighborhood disputes and injustices. These skirmishes, like the traffic jams, remind voters that if they don’t like what is going on they should vote to change it.

The supervisors put Prop G on the ballot to attempt to stabilize housing prices. Even though many feel it is not a well-written law, it is the only option on the ballot voters were given to vote on. If G doesn’t pass, City Hall will claim the voters agree with their housing policies. So we stuck between the usual rock and hard stone. but vote we must to protect our rights.

A vote for Props A and B, as many journalists have pointed out, is a vote to reduce traffic lanes and street parking, cut Muni routes and stops, while adding more bike lanes. See the Bond A funds chart derived from Matier and Ross figures for SFMTA plans for the funds.

A vote for Yes on Prop L is a vote to change SFMTA’s policies to make them more balanced, less anti-car, and more focused on the Muni system.

At the state level not much is being done to solve the problems San Francisco is dealing with, but many new laws have hurt us. The tech based housing crisis is strangely unique to San Francisco, even though there are a lot of tech companies are in other areas, only San Francisco seems to be experiences the culture clash. Much of the clash is augmented by the “Sharing Economy” that encompasses many industries these days, but centers around the Airbnbs and UBERs. Is City Hall encouraging the explosive new “sharing industry” to replace traditional businesses, and why?

To sum up the reason for discord on the athletic fields, local residents have been kicked out of their homes, parks and parking spots to make room for the new wave of suckers, who will soon find themselves on the other side when they are displaced by the next unruly trend that the city succumbs to. By my count this is the third dot com invasion San Francisco has seen, yet none were are grueling and cruel as this one. Could it be that our earlier civic leaders were concerned about protecting citizens and were harder to buy?

Many people have asked, how is this tech boom different from the others and the best I can come up with is that there was less money in the game, wages went up with inflation, and prices rose at more or less the same pace. Maybe we need to revisit those earlier booms to see what we got right then that we are missing now.

Until we figure it out, the best we can do is protest in the streets and vote to change what we can.

Our city slate, since you asked: No on everything except, Yes on G, H, J and L. We do not endorse anyone. Get out and Vote.

Dropbox, Airbnb, and the Fight Over San Francisco’s Public Spaces

October 24, 2014

By Julia Carrie Wong : NewYorkTimes – excerpt

On most mornings in San Francisco’s Civic Center Plaza, elderly Asian women practice tai chi under the pollarded sycamore trees. Last Thursday morning, this long-running scene was disrupted by protesters, who gathered on the steps of City Hall to speak out against the privatization of public parks. The plaza was surrounded by barricades and guarded by a group of private security guards. The space had been rented out to Salesforce, the city’s largest tech employer, for the company’s annual Dreamforce Gala and Benefit Concert. As the protesters chanted—“Mission Playground is not for sale!”—a trio of women performed slow, graceful tai-chi movements in the alcove of a staircase, across the street, leading to an underground parking lot.

The protest—which drew at least two hundred people, including several middle- and high-school students who said that their parents and school principals had approved their absence from school—was a response to a video that went viral on Bay Area social media on October 10th. The video, which was first picked up by the local blog Uptown Almanac, jumped to more than half a million views after a post on the blog Valleywag. It depicts an incident that occurred, in August, at the soccer field at Mission Playground, a public park in San Francisco’s historically Latino but increasingly gentrified Mission District… (more)

This seemingly small dispute over playground access in the Mission District is the latest in a much broader fight between established San Francisco residents who want to stay in their homes, preserve their places of business, jobs, parking rights, and lifstyles, and the nouveau tech riche, who appear to be swooping in and buying the city out from under them… (more)


Tech mogul Sean Parker befriends politics (and parking)

October 23, 2014

Shalene Gupta : Fortune – excerpt

Sean Parker, the former Facebook president and Napster co-founder, is in the cross-hairs for his support of a car-friendly ballot initiative in San Francisco.

All Sean Parker wanted to do was help San Francisco’s poor. The tech billionaire who co-founded Napster and served as Facebook’s first president donated $49,000 to a San Francisco initiative that would make life easier for drivers. The result? Local papers have labeled Parker the enemy.

At first brush, the referendum seems innocuous enough. It would set a number of car-friendly goals like rolling back parking fees outside of peak hours and letting residents approve new parking meters. It also asks that motorists be given more seats on the local public transit board and encourages city planners make congested streets flow more smoothly.

“I have a long-standing frustration that the only people who are significantly disadvantaged by onerous DMV regulations and parking tickets are the working poor,” Parker says…

“There’s been press that’s framed [Proposition L] as anti-public transportation which is bizarre because I support public transportation,” Parker says. “We don’t have great public transportation and poor families don’t have access and it’s a huge problem.”… (more)

Death of Ted Gullicksen and Bay Guardian blows to progressives

October 20, 2014

By Heather Knight : sfgate – excerpt

On Tuesday night, Quintin Mecke and a few dozen progressive activists gathered at the Mission District office of the San Francisco Tenants Union to grieve two sudden and shocking deaths.

Ted Gullicksen, the dogged tenants union director, had died in his sleep at age 61. And the longtime voice of the progressive movement, the San Francisco Bay Guardian, had been abruptly shuttered and its entire staff laid off. Standing in the Capp Street room decorated with posters celebrating rent control and Gullicksen’s numerous arrest citations saved like souveniers since the 1980s, Mecke and his comrades came together for a community wake…

But progressives lost control of the Board of Supervisors, fielded hardly any challengers in next month’s election and haven’t held the mayor’s seat since Art Agnos left office in 1992.

And its whack-a-mole attempts to block Google buses and force Airbnb to pay back hotel taxes have failed to make much of a dent in the economic boom that’s contributed to San Francisco’s rash of evictions and growing income disparity.

Cheering for Campos

Progressives are hopeful Supervisor David Campos will stage a come-from-behind win for an Assembly seat next month, but are less optimistic about the passage of Proposition G, an antispeculation ballot measure designed to slow real estate flipping and evictions. They have not yet found anybody to challenge Mayor Ed Lee next year… (more)


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