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SF merchant group mulls $100,000 donation from Airbnb to advocate for them

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The San Francisco Council of District Merchant Associations could receive $100,000 from tech giant Airbnb in exchange for the council advocating on Airbnb’s behalf. (Gabrielle Lurie/2014 Special to S.F. Examiner)
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Opinions are like rear ends; everyone’s got one. But when it comes to city politics, the opinion of local merchants can — occasionally — carry hefty weight.

So how much does the opinion of San Francisco’s small merchants cost?

Apparently $100,000 bucks, straight from the coffers of tech giant Airbnb.

That’s chump change for the billion-dollar tech behemoth, which is apparently mulling the six-figure donation to the San Francisco Council of District Merchant Associations.

But Airbnb, as you can imagine, is not planning on donating this money strictly out of the goodness of its app-based heart.

An email shared with me — which was sent from Henry Karnilowicz, president of the council of district merchants associations, to his members — shows Airbnb’s agreement includes the stipulation to advocate on Airbnb’s behalf.

“They will ask us to assist in advocacy in matters as they arise that pertain to our mutual interests,” Karnilowicz wrote to his members, adding, “The Executive Board has asked Airbnb to be our premier sponsor, they have accepted.”

The Council of District Merchants Associations plan to use the money to hire its first executive director in 10 years. Fundraising, Karnilowicz said, has been tough.

That’s 28 merchants associations, which from the Bayview to Geary Boulevard, all over The City, which themselves represent merchants by the dozens, an army of potential Airbnb allies at their beck and call, whenever the Board of Supervisors try to rein in their bad behavior.

This is the same Airbnb that reportedly has taken more than 2,000 rental units off the market during our housing crisis, exacerbating our rents and leading to evictions. Yes, there are mom-and-pop Airbnb users who follow the law, but the supervisors’ legislation to regulate short-term rentals largely doesn’t go after them. Instead, politicians have targeted the bad actors in the Airbnb system.

Now Airbnb may have political cover from local merchants.

The deal, however, has not yet been inked. “We wanted to reach out to the delegates for their input and approval of this substantial opportunity,” the email reads, so merchants can still let their grievances be heard.

Karnilowicz doesn’t agree that Airbnb needs to be reined in.

“Look, Craigslist was doing the same thing,” he told me. “I know people in the housing industry keeping their places vacant. They don’t want to rent anyway.”

Karnilowicz also argued that gentrification isn’t really a thing, and most who left San Francisco did so voluntarily through buy-outs. He said his members are just trying to survive in the face of behemoths like Amazon, which are crushing local businesses.

Airbnb travelers, he said, spend beaucoup-bucks in local shops.

“People are saying, ‘Are we shills for Airbnb?’” he said. “I don’t buy that, myself. It’s a mutual agreement.”

Hey, Henry, no one mentioned the word “shill” until you did. Just sayin’.

* * *

When the marching stops, what’s the next step to achieve political change? That’s the answer the new book “Saving San Francisco’s Heart” takes on, written by Jon Golinger, the man behind the scenes on many a progressive political tussle.

I’ve been on an SF book-binge lately, dog-earing “The Blind Boss of San Francisco” and “Building Community, Chinatown Style,” which both have been captivating. So Golinger’s new screed piqued my interest.

His book is a political how-to, from Golinger’s experience winning the “No Wall on the Waterfront” campaign to his role in regaining progressive control of the San Francisco Democratic Party, to show how local change can be achieved.

The neatest part? His publisher is the now-not-so-defunct SF Bay Guardian. Si se puede!

* * *

My column has thumped Mayor Ed Lee on the head more than once over the years, but holy hell, nothing could make me more sympathetic to the man than an article I spotted last week after the would-be Patriot Prayer rally stirred up trouble.

Breitbart, the right-wing propagandist hub, took a potshot at our mustachioed mayor, writing, “San Francisco Congratulates Itself on Shutting Down Free Speech,” after Patriot Prayer canceled its own event at Crissy Field on Aug. 26.

The article calls out Lee specifically for labeling the rally “violent in advance,” despite the fact that Patriot Prayer rallies have seen violence over and over.

Breitbart boasts absolutely winning headlines like “Birth control makes women unattractive and crazy” and “Gay rights have made us dumber, it’s time to get back in the closet.”

Our usual disagreements aside, I think Lee should wear their ire as a badge of honor.

On Guard prints the news and raises hell each week. Email Fitz at joe@sfexaminer.com, follow him on Twitter and Instagram @FitztheReporter, and Facebook at facebook.com/FitztheReporter.

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