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Dianne Feinstein, Whose Husband Owns a Famous Hotel, Doesn't Love Airbnb

Scott Lucas | October 21, 2014 | Story Politics

It's hard to remember that Senator Dianne Feinstein is part of the city's political establishment sometimes. Sure, she was Mayor and on the Board of Supervisors, but ever since voters sent her to the Washington D.C. Shady Pines Retirement Castle, it's had to know exactly what she's been up to. Macrame? Scrapbooking? Chairing the Select Committee on Intelligence?

So it was a bit of a jolt to see Feinstein take to the pages of the Chronicle to call on Mayor Ed Lee to veto the recently-passed legislation that would legalize Airbnb in San Francisco. Claiming it was a "shortsighted action that would destroy the integrity of zoning throughout San Francisco, allowing commercial and hotel use in residential areas throughout the city," the Senator urged Mayor Lee to veto the bill. Feinstein would have preferred for the legislation to have banned short-term rentals in residential neighborhoods entirely, or at least restrict to a larger degree than the final bill did. She also would have preferred for the bill to have mandated the collection of back taxes before its regulations went into effect.

It's not that Feinstein is wrong on the merits. She might be right. Her position on the amendments had the backing of five members of the Board of Supes—just one short of passage. But it is odd that she didn't mention a pretty big familial conflict of interest. Her husband, investment banker Richard Blum, is part of the group that owns the Claremont Hotel in Berkeley, having purchased the property in March of 2014. Also, Blum was, until May, the Chairman of the Board of CBRE, a real estate firm that—through its hotel division—has handled the sales of three Bay Area hotels in the last year: the Hotel De Anza in San Jose, the Hotel California in San Francisco, and a Sheraton near SFO. He stepped down from the job, which he had held since 2001, last spring, but he's still a member of the board.

So, to put a finer point on this: Part of Dianne Feinstein's husband's business is in direct competition with Airbnb. You'd think the seanator might have found space in her op/ed for a sentence mentioning that her husband has a direct business interest against Airbnb and other home-sharing services. Of course, this doesn't mean her husband's business interests influenced her ultimate decision to inveigh against the legislation. Feinstein has been careful to set up a firewall between her assets and Blum's. As a spokesperson told the Chronicle during a different controversy, "Sen. Feinstein is not involved with and does not discuss any of her husband's business decisions with him. Her husband's holdings are his separate personal property. Sen. Feinstein's assets are held in a blind trust. That arrangement has been in place since before she came to the Senate in 1992."

To be reasonable, Feinstein is likely sincere when she worries about the impact of Airbnb on the city. It just might have been nice to level with people while she was doing it.

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