Airbnb plays San Francisco for a chump

Hell’s bells, I’m not too proud to say it: We told you so, Mayor Ed Lee.

Well, more accurately, Planning Department Staff, Supervisor David Campos and a number of other parties (including On Guard) told Lee so. Lee defended Airbnb’s ability to make money, and he crippled his own Office of Short-Term Rentals to do it.

Let’s review.

Last year, the hot, in­-the­-weeds, so-obscure-it’ll-make-you-snooze debate of the year was a provision to require hosts on Airbnb and other sharing platforms to display their city­-provided registration numbers online.

It would aid government­-paid short-­term hotel hound dogs (regulators) to easily look up “home share” listings to quickly track lawbreakers.

This would save regulators hours, days, maybe weeks of sleuthing and work. The targets? Mostly Airbnb (or other home­-sharing platform) renters, who convert apartments into full-­time hotels.

Airbnb’s representatives fought the measure. Perhaps, some speculated, because it’d lose its most lucrative super­sharers — who are only lucrative because they skirt the law.

Mayor Lee tried hard to kibosh the measure, too. When the Planning Commission tried to pass a non-­binding resolution recommending The City require registration numbers be displayed online in April last year, seemingly everyone raised arms against it in an eight­-hour meeting: High­paid lobbyists, corporate shills and astroturf (fake) activists alike.

A staffer in Lee’s office, Nicole Wheaton Elliot, text-messaged a commissioner during the meeting to express the mayor’s displeasure with the commissioner’s vote to approve it.

That commissioner, Christine Johnson, then promised (via text) to change her vote.

Change it she did, and the provision vanished into the ether. Now, it’s back.

On Monday, the head of the Office of Short-Term Rentals, Kevin Guy, explained to a Board of Supervisors committee that he needs exactly that provision in order to catch illegal rentals quickly.

Perhaps due to the political climate, Guy walked back the importance of the registration numbers — ­­while still asking for them.

“Any one of these would help our work, and make [enforcement] go quicker,” he told supervisors Campos, Scott Weiner and Mark Farrell at The City’s Land Use Committee.

To their credit, they’ve gotten some enforcement done, Guy said, to the tune of $475,000 in penalties to scofflaws. But that’s like complimenting an Olympian for running a mile in an hour, while a steel ball is chained to their legs — ­­A-for-effort, but without the chain, they’d run like The Flash.

Guy had a number of asks for the companies, which he sent to them (including Airbnb) last week in a letter co-­signed by City Administrator Naomi Kelly.

Beyond the registration being displayed online, Guy wants hosts with listings for multiple properties identified, listings of year-­round vacation rentals (highly illegal) deactivated and for these companies to “push” vital legal information to renters.

Fat chance.

In an email the San Francisco Examiner obtained Monday, Airbnb doubled-down on not giving a damn. The company wrote to Guy that it would run “registration information sessions” and send emails about those sessions to members.

Not one mention of registration numbers displayed online, or any of Guy’s tougher asks.

In the committee hearing, Campos told Guy and the audience that San Francisco was essentially Airbnb’s chump.

“We are begging this corporation to do the right thing,” Campos said.

And now, On Guard heard on background, the progressives on the board are cooking up a measure to get some of what Guy needs ­­— tighter restrictions on Airbnb and similar companies — sometime in the next few months.

But even if they win, the progressives expect a ballot box fight.

If the mayor vetoes the measure, progressives will go to the ballot (yes, again). If the mayor doesn’t veto the measure, in all likelihood, Airbnb will go to the ballot to kill the regulation, meaning the progressives will (again) need to put up a countermeasure.

Cue another obscene multi­million dollar campaign from Airbnb, cue more of the same bull-laden scare­ ads from last year (are YOUR neighbors spying on you?!).

All this political fighting, because of a common-­sense provision to list registration numbers online. A provision the mayor fought, behind closed doors, because the “consensus” mayor only fakes consensus in public.

In the shadows, he fights for corporate power. This time, it’ll come back to bite him.

On Guard covers issues concerning The City’s political left. It prints the news and raises hell each Tuesday. Email him at

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