Ten Ways of Looking at Last Night's Airbnb Vote

Scott Lucas | October 8, 2014 | Story Politics

Last night's 7-4 Board of Supes vote to legalize Airbnb in San Francisco was, as you might expect, nothing if not controversial. Previous city law had banned rentals under 30 days (and, of course, had been widely ignored by the company's users), but this bill, drafted by Supervisor David Chiu, sets a 90-day maximum on short-term, entire-home rentals, creates a city registry for hosts, and requires taxation and liability insurance. Depending on whom you ask, it's either the best thing since the Mid-Market tax breaks, or the worst thing since the Mid-Market tax breaks. Ten ways of looking at the news:

1. It's a reasonable compromise: Just as with previous policy fights over ridesharing companies such as Uber, nobody received everything that they wanted. Housing activists would have preferred tighter regulations, if not an outright ban. Airbnb users can't be thrilled about the 90-day cap or the threat of lawsuits over violations. If nobody's totally happy, that must mean we've arrived at a reasonable middle point.

2. It's a big win for Chiu: The supervisor, who is running for the Assembly, staked a large amount of political capital on navigating this bill's passage. The central message of his campaign is, as he told the Bay Guardian, that he's a skilled consensus-builder on thorny issues. Whether or not that's a reason to vote for him, if he's going to make that a key plank in his campaign, he has to actually build consensus on thorny issues. The bill's passage is a big vote of confidence in Chiu.

3. It's ammunition for David Campos: There's no question that Campos, who is running against Chiu for Assembly and is a major Airbnb critic, would have liked to have won on a number of narrow 6-5 amendment that would have tightened the bill. But losing this battle may help him win another. In the Assembly race, Campos has been drawing a contrast between what he says are his progressive bona fides and Chiu's compromises. He can now take this vote and run on it between now and election day.

4. It's curtains for the olds: As Matier and Ross recently noted, much of what has been behind this fight is a contest between "the old-school brick-and-mortar housing activists [and] the techies." They're right. And last night—as on issues including the Google bus and the mid-Market tax break—the old guard came up mostly short. As Randy Shaw put it, "At hearing after hearing, hosts outnumbered opponents. Hosts had financial motives and personal stories, while opponents were housing advocates focused on the negative implications on citywide housing affordability and availability. Supervisors continually ran into people who used Airbnb, liked Airbnb, and saw nothing wrong with Airbnb’s practices."

5. It's a sweetheart deal for Airbnb: One of the key sticking points in negotiations was the issue of back taxes. Though Airbnb has agreed to pay the hotel tax moving forward, it hasn't budged on efforts to get it to pony up what opponents have said amounts to $25 million in uncollected taxes from previous years. Efforts to get Airbnb to pay those failed on a 6-5 vote. That's a big gift to a company with plenty of cash.

6. It'll be bad for affordability: At least some Airbnb rental properties could be otherwise used for long-term tenants. As Ted Gullicksen, the head of the San Francisco Tenants Union, put it, under the legislation,"bedrooms in houses, condos and apartments, which normally would be made available to permanent roommates, will now be put on the market as tourist rentals." A decrease in supply leads to—you guessed it—an increase in prices.

7. It's all just a prelude to a ballot initiative: Over the summer, opponents of Airbnb tried to put forth a competing ballot measure. Though they were unsuccessful, there's little incentive for them not to try again. That's what housing advocate Calvin Welch told 48Hills, saying he would "recommend very strongly to our coalition" to look at floating a proposition overturning the vote as early as November 2015.

8. It means your apartment building is screwed: Random Europeans smoking in front of your building day and night. All the parking taken up by tourists. People dragging luggage over your head at three in the morning. A host of strangers with access and murky motives. It's enough to make you want to move to Walnut Creek.

9. It's a win for new forms of city planning: A point that tech-enamored libertarians have been making a lot recently is that thanks to advances in technology, its not always smart to cling to older forms of city planning. This vote shows that left-leaning cities like San Francisco are starting to internalize that lesson.

10. It means Eric Mar will finally get that cult to leave him alone at the Farmers' Market.

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