A well-timed contribution of special interest

Airbnb backs Faulconer-favored convention center measure

Chris Lehane, Mark Fabiani’s former business partner
  • Chris Lehane, Mark Fabiani’s former business partner

The convention center expansion tax hike initiative backed by Kevin Faulconer has gotten some last-minute cash from an Airbnb-funded political committee, weeks after the San Francisco-based short-term rental outfit pronounced its satisfaction with the mayor's latest plan to regulate its business.

“We are pleased to see that policy discussions are continuing in the right direction and very much appreciate the mayor’s efforts in drafting this ordinance,” said Airbnb in a June 15 Union-Tribune story.

Billed as a compromise, Faulconer's proposal has come under fire from critics, including U-T columnist Logan Jenkins,who calls it "a framework that could have been written by pragmatic lobbyists for Airbnb."

The Committee to Expand the Middle Class, Supported by Airbnb, Inc. kicked in $10,000 to Yes, for a Better San Diego, the political committee behind the Faulconer-favored room tax hike measure, on July 3, disclosure filings show.

The Airbnb-funded group, formed in May 2016, has been used to funnel cash into political causes in the San Francisco Bay Area as well as Portland, Oregon, and beyond.

"The Committee to Expand the Middle Class is one part of our efforts to help strengthen communities that Airbnb hosts and guests call home," Airbnb spokeswoman Laura Rillos told Portland's Willamette Week in August 2016.

"We're proud to support principled community leaders who understand the economic benefits of home sharing and proposals that will make communities stronger."

Two months ago, the Airbnb committee kicked in $100,000 to a big money campaign against Proposition C in the desert resort city of Palm Springs. The proposed limit on short-term rentals was handily defeated last month by a 68 to 32 percent vote.

Leading Airbnb's political charge against its foes is Chris Lehane the take-no-prisoners Clinton-era operative and ex-business partner of Mark Fabiani, the former Chargers special counsel who frequently did battle with Faulconer and his political guru Jason Roe during the team's maneuvering to leave town for Los Angeles.

The Airbnb money for the mayoral-favored hotel tax hike is likely to be seized upon by critics, who have previously pointed out that a bevy of other out of town special interests, including private prison giant GEO Group and polystyrene-maker Dart Container, fighting a possible city ban on Styrofoam plates and cups, have backed the initiative. Sempra Energy, battling to keep its distribution monopoly here, gave $100,000.

But insiders say Faulconer and his allies have no choice but to work the phones to come up with enough money to pay for signatures gathered at the going rate of $10 each in a last-ditch effort to qualify the lagging measure. The initiative fund, which spent heavily in its early months on a host of Faulconer-linked political consultants and PR firms, has repeatedly missed promised turn-in dates.

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"But insiders say Faulconer and his allies have no choice but to work the phones to come up with enough money to pay for signatures..."

Of course he has a choice: he could choose to cut bait and do the actual work of the job he was elected, rather than keep pursuing another hare-brained scheme to enrich the 1%. But then, that might require Kev-boy to exert himself beyond hefting rocks glasses at the yacht club.

"Hefting rocks glasses at the yacht club" is a great San Diego image. The scandalous buying of political outcomes by special interests that accompanies such business-as-usual bonhomie here is really getting old. But there is hopeful change happening.

Community organizer and Border activist Christian Ramirez this week was just three votes shy of qualifying for the November runoff for District 8 City Council and he may seek a recount.

ACLU lawyer and Council candidate Monica Montgomery narrowly won the District 4 Council race over Labor puppet and incumbent City Council president Myrtle Cole.

Ramirez and Montgomery are intelligent, devoted, up from the grassroots and with populist ideas. They share common ground with Councilmember Georgette Gomez who came from the Environmental Health Coalition to win her City Heights Council seat where she is a force for better housing, education and transportation opportunities for her community.

The mention of Logan Jenkins is noteworthy for the fact that he really said what he thinks in this Airbnb controversy. For years Jenkins would cover a topic, give the two sides of the argument, and then gently reveal his opinion. In short, he was pulling his punches. But a few months ago, he retired from the U-T, and is now "just another" writer for U-T. Rather than producing three or four columns a week, he now is featured no more than once a week. And since he isn't trying to keep a good-paying job as a featured columnist now, appears to have decided to swing hard when he has an opinion. I like the new version of Logan Jenkins. In this case he found himself living next to one of those short-term rental houses in Bird Rock. And I think he has mentioned that he and his wife have lived in the same house for thirty-plus years. So, it is his own ox that is being gored here, and he's letting it all hang out.

Logan Jenkins never "pulled his punches" as a columnist and this is not a "new version" of his pre-retirement self. Logan is a native son, graceful writer, nuanced thinker and sardonic observer. Having an Airbnb rental next door doesn't lend itself to that kind of expression, nor does the politicking downtown to protect this neighborhood-destroying gig-economy new wrinkle. Logan tells it like it is, like always.

Well, I suppose we are all entitled to our own opinions. I describe his style at the U-T one way, you see it otherwise.

Regardless of the messenger, Logan Jenkins' message is spot-on.

Under developer influence in all sorts of land use issues, shills intentionally ignore or disregard the principle of zoning. In this instance, areas are zoned residential for a reason: one can no more buy a home for exclusive but otherwise legal commercial use as a massage parlor, auto shop, pub or restaurant than one can a hotel. That's why the city attorney says they're illegal.

And we've already seen how this has played out under Kev-boy's administration. Regular code enforcement has been gutted: first by depleting staff (apparently now only 27 zoning investigators for a city of 1.4 million), then by effectively redefining codes on the books out of existence.

So it's particularly ridiculous when Kev-boy says allowing a free-for-all on STVRs will be different from how he has other enforcement conducted. (Especially when the city attorney has said she "does not have enforcement officers, plus any case that her office took on would be considered a civil matter" that would not be under her jurisdiction unless code compliance complaints escalated to charges.)

Until or unless we craft a solution (such as Los Angeles and San Francisco have) that requires owner occupancy for individual room rentals, or limits to three months or less rentals of whole residences by absent rather than absentee owners, the results will continue to be catastrophic to our quality of life.

And, Cassander, once again you too are spot-on. This proliferation of zoning violations is a disgrace in a city that knows disgrace in other areas. The mayor is a disgrace to his office.

Don't we now need to find out if Airbnb etc has also contributed to our city council members? They are the ones who will be voting on it in a week. I pretty much have heard Chris Ward parrotting the Mayor's talking points on it so far. Lots of talking point nonsense like needing to find a compromise, that even though there are well over 10,000 STVR in San Diego there are no studies showing that affects housing (even though they now give the moon to developers to a single affordable unit in a project), the need to protect incomes of people who decided to open illegal hotels in residential neighborhoods, STVR help the economy therefore its worth destroying neighborhoods. I actually think Kevin and other developer friendly council members like Ward are allowing STVR to exist and grow (as they would under the proposed plan) to exacerbate the housing crisis to then use that as an excuse for supporting developer giveaways.

The pay-for-play angle definitely needs to be looked at further. But for now, thank you for pointing out what is probably the most infuriating claim made by the STVR crowd: "the need to protect incomes of people who decided to open illegal hotels in residential neighborhoods."

Real estate speculation is no different from any other market speculation. If it turns out not to pan out, it's not society's responsibility to bail gamblers out. At least in this situation, unlike with the stock market or derivatives, the buyers aren't actually losing their initial investment: they still own a still valuable asset, one that can be kept or sold at a profit for use as legally intended. But instead, they want us to miss sight of that and argue about how much money they could make if allowed to cotinue to break the law, so let's change the law for them! Yet it is the actual homeowners located next door to STVRs that quantifiably do lose equity in their investment, as it cannot be used or sold for what it would otherwise be worth.

When they make this an argument, our elected representatives need to remember who is really being cheated—and that they are exclusively the people who are registered to vote for or against them.

You have summed up the controversy in a most succinct and eloquent manner. Your description should be mandatory reading for the SD city council and every such body in the state.

Oddly, when the SD city council had city-wide election of city council members, the council was seen as isolated, and the members forgot the residents of their districts when it came to representation. (The districts had elections, but the finalists were elected city-wide.) District-only elections were adopted after much fighting, and those who favored it were certain that the council members would do a better job as a result. But today these characters seem to just head off and do their own thing, with the result of weaker representation. My opinion is that it worked better under the old system.

Are these STVRs subject to the city's room tax requirement? If so, are the taxes being collected? Seems there should be millions of dollars in revenue available for city services/infrastructure.

Follow the money and you will find the owner-operator of the politician.

Correction-AirBnb donated $100,000 (no 10k) to fight this in San Diego. I spoke to several signature collectors-one of them didnt care what he was collecting signatures for-asking people to help him make $4.00 per signature, another guy “claimed” he was volunteering because San Diego shouldn't ban ALL AirbBnbs. After a explaining what the City was doing (banning mini hotels basically) he was shocked. He told us that HIS Airbbnb host told him that Airbnb is calling hosts and telling them that the City will NOT allow any rooms to be rented out anymore via airbnb, so he volunteered cuz he likes staying at them. Took about 20-30 minutes to explain the FACTS to him, by the end of the conversation, he was pretty upset about how misled he was. The lies are spreading so fast, please take a minute to try and talk civilly to these signature collectors-see if they actually understand what kind of puppet they really are.

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