Chiu’s False Narrative on Airbnb

by on October 10, 2014

David Chiu has spun false narrative on Airbnb

Supervisor David Chiu has repeatedly stated that this week’s legislation legalizing short-term rentals culminated a “two year process.” Chiu also claims that during this time he considered over forty amendments, reaching out to all stakeholders to ensure the best possible measure reached the Board.

But Chiu’s account, echoed in the media, is counter to the facts. We know that Chiu didn’t spend two years on this legislation because on October 23, 2012 he sponsored a measure backed by the Board that further restricted short-term apartment rentals.

Why would Chiu pass a law “extending the restrictions against converting apartment units to short-term occupancies” if he was already working to greatly expand such rentals? And why would he take public credit for cracking down on illegal apartment conversions if he were launching an effort to render this accomplishment irrelevant?

Here are some of the express findings made by the Board in Chiu’s 2012 legislation about short-term rentals:

(d)        As a result of the removal of residential units from the housing market, a housing emergency exists within the City and County of San Francisco for its elderly, disabled and low-income households.

(e)        The Board of Supervisors and the Mayor of the City and County of San Francisco recognized this housing emergency and enacted an ordinance which established a moratorium on the conversion of residential units to tourist and transient use.

(f)        The conversion of residential units to tourist and transient use impacts especially on persons seeking housing in the low to moderate price range.

(g)        It is in the public interest that conversion of residential units be regulated and that remedies be provided when unlawful conversion has occurred, in order to protect the residents and to conserve the limited housing resources. (Emphasis added)

Two years ago, Chiu sought credit for preserving residential housing from tourist rentals. If Chiu were instead actually working to expand short-term rentals, he played a remarkable game of misdirection.

The New Legislation

On April 15, 2014, Chiu introduced new short-term rental legislation. According to Chiu’s press release, the “Legislation Limits Short-Term Rentals to Primary Residence and Regulates Hosting Platforms; Balances Preservation of Housing Stock, Protections against Displacement and Flexibility for Sharing Housing.”

After announcing the legislation, Chiu was immediately attacked by a group led by Calvin Welch, Dale Carlson and Doug Engmann who were moving forward on a ballot measure to regulate short-term rentals They accused Chiu of trying to preempt their initiative after spending months not moving forward with legislation. Although few had been aware of the initiative drive prior to the group’s attack, Chiu had no choice but to back off.

When the petitions collected were not submitted for the November ballot, it raised question why the group delayed Chiu’s legislation if they weren’t going to the ballot this year anyway (and if they thought it gave them leverage over the future legislative process, they were wrong). But the delay meant that if Chiu were to benefit from passing legislation to assist a rising political force supporting expanded tourist rentals, he had to make a mad dash to get his measure passed by the time absentee voting began.

The truth is that Supervisor Chiu did not spend anywhere close to two years soliciting input on the Airbnb legislation before introducing the April measure. Nor was Chiu influenced by the opinions of stakeholders to the extent they supported limiting his planned expansion of tourist rentals. When David Chiu talked about  “soliciting stakeholder input,” he meant listening politely to anyone seeking greater restrictions or more effective enforcement without acting upon what he was being told

Chiu’s Process

Chiu talks about the “40 amendments” to his legislation and the seemingly endless input he sought. But I know from my own experience how Chiu takes input. I explained to him in person and on the phone why a nonprofit right to directly sue was critical, and he said he would consider it. I later learned that Chiu or his staff were routinely repeating all of the misinformation I thought I had corrected. I’m not talking about honest differences of policy positions; I’m talking about the misrepresentation of basic facts.

Others who met with Chiu on this legislation shared my experience. He rarely if ever agreed to anything that was not in his original April 15 measure. What Chiu portrayed as some type of comprehensive, tireless drive for legislative consensus was actually a one-man controlled process where other opinions were heard only as a courtesy.

Some minor amendments pushed by Planning found their way into the final legislation. But it’s no accident that the most meaningful amendment that moved forward — granting nonprofits the right to directly sue—came solely about because Mayor Lee and Supervisor Kim insisted on it.

Until 2pm on the day of the vote, Chiu had steadfastly and successfully fought off a nonprofit legal right of action amendment that tenant groups told him was their top priority. Chiu first told me that the City Attorney’s office opposed nonprofit enforcement. This made no sense given that Dennis Herrera has an unprecedented record protecting tenants rights. Not surprisingly, when I spoke with Herrera he said he had no problem with the provision.

I then heard that Chiu’s office was blaming Mayor Lee for blocking nonprofit enforcement. This also made no sense given Lee’s history as a tenants and civil rights attorney. And it turned out that Lee not only had no problem with the nonprofit enforcement provision, but he wanted to make sure it got in the legislation.

Chiu had no qualms about hurting the image of City Attorney Herrera and Mayor Lee among tenant groups in order to conceal his own refusal to support their top priority.

Far from being open to the input and amendments of others, Chiu strictly controlled the process. His colleagues were not clear what amendments he was ultimately accepting. Like key stakeholders, they were also kept in the dark.

The result was a rushed process over a sweeping law that demanded greater care in drafting. The growing political clout of the Airbnb/homeshare folks may not have changed the ultimate outcome, but at least there would not be the widespread perception that Chiu’s election timetable was driving the legislative process.

Nonprofit Enforcement

Conor Johnston, aide to Supervisor Breed, informed me that I was mistaken in claiming that Breed introduced her version of nonprofit standing at the behest of Supervisor Wiener. I had reached that conclusion because Breed did not speak on the issue when Wiener was debating Jane Kim, and because Breed’s amendment—which would only allow nonprofits to directly sue for illegal short-term rentals in buildings where Ellis Act evictions occurred—was identical to Wiener’s argument.

While I may have drawn a logical conclusion from these events, I should have tried to confirm this with Johnston.

Johnston assured me that Breed wanted to work with Kim on a joint measure to ensure nonprofit enforcement. That’s good news. After the massive expansion of tourist rentals that the Board approved this week, one would hope that all of the Supervisors would support vigorous enforcement against violators.

The nonprofit enforcement provision should be considered within a few weeks.

As I wrote on September 15, “Campos-Chiu Politics and Airbnb,” the process surrounding this legislation was a mess. David Chiu has put all of his chips in the Airbnb/homeshare pot, and we’ll learn on November 4 whether his bet paid off.


Randy Shaw is Editor of Beyond Chron. His most recent book is The Activist’s Handbook: Winning Social Change in the 21st Century


Randy Shaw

Randy Shaw is the Editor of Beyond Chron and the Director of San Francisco’s Tenderloin Housing Clinic, which publishes Beyond Chron. Shaw is the author of four books on activism, including The Activist's Handbook: Winning Social Change in the 21st Century, and Beyond the Fields: Cesar Chavez, the UFW and the Struggle for Justice in the 21st Century. His new book is The Tenderloin: Sex, Crime and Resistance in the Heart of San Francisco

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