Sat, Jun

Airbnb in LA … the Fix is In


EASTSIDER-In New York they’re looking at a ban on short-term rentals like Airbnb.

And in San Francisco they are adopting new tougher rules to clamp down on Airbnb and the short-term rental industry. 

Heck, even the City of Chicago is fighting back. 

Meantime in LA it appears that the City of Los Angeles and the Mayor have their hands out to take the money and run. As we all know, his honor Eric Garcetti is gaga over the Silicon Valley and its billionaires, not to mention desperate to appear hip, slick and cool. Probably has visions of being governor. 

On Thursday, the day before this article appears, the LA City Planning Department is set to take up a staff recommendation to open the floodgates and approve a relatively lax short-term rental Ordinance. 

Anatomy of a Fix 

The Process--After dead silence since the May hearing, they suddenly released the staff report and recommendations on Thursday, June 16 simultaneous to announcing that the City Planning Department will take up the recommendations at City Hall on Thursday, June 23 – only at the tail end of their Agenda, using the weasel words, “The following item is scheduled to be heard after 10 am.”

In case you can’t figure the outcome of this process, remember that the City Planning Commissioners are all appointed by and serve at the pleasure of the Mayor. Just sayin’.

Also, in terms of bureaucratic manipulation, since the required public hearing has already taken place (see the Staff report), the Commission can limit the time each side has to speak, and/or the amount of time each speaker gets to speak. Say…one minute? Thirty seconds? 

Miraculous City Attorney Lawsuit--With great fanfare, City Attorney Mike Feuer magically announced on June 20 a really big lawsuit against three of the worst offenders in Venice who turned rent controlled housing into Airbnb hotels. 

I guess we are to believe that this timing is all a great coincidence. Right. A cynic would argue that the suit is weak in the first place, and will be up against a bunch of well-heeled folks who have big time law firms on their side. And while this suit sounds good, the proposed Ordinance essentially gives the people who destroyed affordable housing and evicted tenants a pass on prior bad acts -- the Ordinance simply says they can’t do it anymore. 

I guess this is designed to make people think that Councilmember Bonin has actually achieved something as Venice crumbles. 

Carefully Drafted Staff Report with Cutesy Wording--Let’s take a look at the seventy-nine pages of the actual Report and Recommendations. You can find it here 

While the Short-Term Rental Ordinance was called just that in the Draft, it is now cleverly renamed a “Home Sharing Ordinance.” In fact, the Ordinance language starts out by proudly announcing: 

“The use of a Primary Residence for the purpose of Home-Sharing shall be considered accessory to a residential use.” 

Well there you have it. Forget the law that says you can’t have short-term rentals in a residential neighborhood. Change the law and go for the cash. 

In fact, about half of the entire Ordinance has to do with how to gather the Transient Occupancy Tax. If you read through the language, it’s hard to escape that the real priority of the City to make money and support Silicon Valley hosting platforms. 

Speaking of which, forget individual homeowners being able to do anything. The private right to sue which appears in the Santa Monica Ordinance is totally missing here. And the weasel words about “other avenues or statutes” available to private individuals is either misplaced or simply untrue. 

Speaking of shutting up those pesky homeowners who are not part of the “sharing economy,” another major change in the draft is that now, the information about hosts as well as the information provided to the City by the platforms like Airbnb will not be public. That’s right, the City is making a swap of protecting confidentiality for the hosts and the platforms in exchange for TOT cash. The concept of a private right to sue when your city won’t protect you from the party house next door is kaput. 

Even better, the City is essentially setting up a parking ticket system instead of real enforcement. Just as opponents of short-term rentals have feared, in true scofflaw fashion, the folks making a bundle can pay a ticket and the party just goes on. And on. 

In a studied insult to the City enforcement employees who have worked so hard to hand the City Attorney the evidence to prosecute folks like Carl Lambert and his like, in the new ordinance, the City reserves the right to subcontract enforcement. So if you’re a City employee, who exactly are these “qualified consultants” and/or outside subcontractors? 

Anyhow, the fines/tickets/confidentiality system smacks of an odiferous trade off. 

Finally, just in case you don’t think this is a rush to judgment, note the final actual Ordinance language: 

“(h) Administration and Regulations. City Departments and Agencies may promulgate regulations, which may include but are not limited to application requirements, interpretations, conditions, reporting requirements, enforcement procedures, and disclosure requirements, to implement the provisions of this Chapter. No Person shall fail to comply with any such regulation.”

And this is a finished product? 

Stay Tuned--Honestly, I hope I’m wrong about how quickly this is going to sail through the City Planning Commission. It would be nice to know that they have integrity, are willing to ask the hard questions, and will slow down the vote on the Ordinance to answer some serious questions. They need to flesh out how all this is going to work beyond the work product of the City Hall elite. 

Of course it would be nice to know if any of the Commissioners also have any potential conflicts of interest.


(Tony Butka is an Eastside community activist, who has served on a neighborhood council, has a background in government and is a contributor to CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

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