SF Democratic Party urges Airbnb to pay back taxes

San Francisco's Democratic Party has a message for Airbnb: Pay your taxes.

The Democratic County Central Committee — the voice of the local Democratic Party — voted at its meeting Wednesday to urge Airbnb, the online home rental service, to pay all owed back taxes to San Francisco.

In October, the Board of Supervisors voted to regulate Airbnb home rentals, but a sticking point remained. The company's hosts will now have to pay taxes on the rentals, but Airbnb has so far not paid back taxes for the many years it has operated in The City.

Some City Hall officials estimate those taxes to be as high as $25 million.

“No one who worked on this resolution is in any way against home sharing or questioning the value home sharing provides to San Francisco,” Supervisor David Campos, a DCCC member, said at the meeting in reference to the back-taxes resolution he co-authored for the DCCC.

The resolution is nonbinding, but the elected organization is very influential in local politics. Should the matter of Airbnb paying back taxes hit the ballot this November — as rumblings from political insiders indicate might happen — Wednesday's vote would be key in swaying politicians to support it.

Still, there was opposition Wednesday night.

“My husband started doing Airbnb three years ago when he got laid off,” Allison Shuttleworth, a San Franciscan and member of the advocacy group Homesharers, told the DCCC. “We wouldn't have been able to stay in The City if we didn't have Airbnb to make up that income.”

Committee support for the measure was strong.

DCCC member and city homeless czar Bevan Dufty amended the language of the original resolution to remove an oppositional sentence, among other changes. The resolution originally called out Mayor Ed Lee for trying to stop City Treasurer Jose Cisneros from collecting any taxes from Airbnb.

At a public meeting Cisneros held in 2012, the mayor's chief technology officer, Jay Nath, urged the treasurer to use his “discretion” and “pause adoption” of regulations to make Airbnb pay its taxes.

Insiders say this was a not-so-subtle hint for Cisneros to not do his job.

Taxpayer-confidentiality laws prevent his office from commenting on any enforcement on individual taxpayers, Cisneros told the DCCC during public comment Wednesday. But, “companies are responsible for paying the full amount [of taxes owed],” he said.

Matt Dorsey, who works in the City Attorney's Office and is the DCCC corresponding secretary, was one of the most vocal backers of the resolution.

He said the tax fight could have been avoided if The City had secured the back taxes when then-Supervisor David Chiu, who now represents part of San Francisco in the California Assembly, first proposed Airbnb regulations.

“We had an opportunity to get the money in the bank,” Dorsey said, “and we didn't.”

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