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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)

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