Making sausage: Airbnb helped write its own regulations

Keeney and Law

Documents obtained by the Bay Guardian show the active role that Airbnb played in helping craft the legislation by David Chiu that would regulate and legalize the company's activities in San Francisco.

Emails we received through a Sunshine Ordinance request show that Chiu staffers and politically connected lobbyist David Owen, working for Airbnb, worked closely to craft the legislation. The emails, mostly from January 2013, detail conversations between Chiu's staffer Amy Chan and Owen on how best to craft proposed regulations of "shared" housing spaces.

"Hi David, Take a look and see if this is useful," begins a Jan. 30, 2013 message from Chan. "I included all the big picture policies and I left out some of the legalese. I'll call (Deputy City Attorney) Marlena (Byrne) first thing in the morning if I don't see a draft from her later tonight. And let's definitely check in tomorrow."

Whether or not that level of cooperation is acceptable depends where you stand: housing activists who see Chiu's legislation as weak would no doubt cry foul, but sharing economy advocates may appreciate Chiu reaching out to the company on important legislation.

San Francisco Tenants Union Executive Director Ted Gullicksen was also copied on some of the emails and gave input, but Gullicksen didn't seem to actually help write the legislation, only offering a few suggestions on proposed language.

Owen's emails went further. "A slightly more cleaned up, consistent version. Please disregard previous," Owen wrote to Chan and Byrne on Jan. 28. The title of the attached document was "AdmincodeBJcomments1-28revised," and contained a draft of Chiu's legislation with recent edits and revisions which were revealed using the Microsoft Word "track changes" function.

Was it unusual or inappropriate for Airbnb to play such an active role writing the legislation? "Is it common practice for stakeholders to give us feedback directly? Yes," Chan told us. "We've had a number of stakeholders give us feedback."


She referenced Gullicksen's emails, and said she also sought input from other stakeholders such as unions and the Hotel Council. But Owen, who was a legislative aide to Chiu's predecessor, Aaron Peskin, was the only one to make in-document changes and send them back to Chiu's office.

Chan defended this by pointing out that other groups provided some language suggestions, but admitted that they did not write it directly in the legislation itself, nor was the feedback as extensive and detailed. Among Owen's edits were small word-choice changes, from "unit" to "hosting platform," from "will comply" to "is in full compliance," from "for rent" to "rented."

Seemingly minor changes were numerous, but other changes were more extensive, although not all were accepted. Owen emailed Chiu with a list of new proposed changes, including changing the number allowable rental days from 90 to 120, "understanding we're not in full agreement here." The final legislation kept it at 90 days.

"From the big picture perspective to say we're only taking direct feedback from one group versus other groups is incorrect," Chan said. "The direction comes from us, and we make the decision after all." 


Posted by Guest on May. 21, 2014 @ 3:43 pm

For example:

"It's been a long-accepted truth in Washington that lobbyists write the actual laws"

Not to worry, there are plenty of places where we can get actual news while the SFBG does some on the job training.

Posted by Guest on May. 21, 2014 @ 5:12 pm

Does anyone with 10 Billion dollars ever get told no?

Ask David Chiu and the Mayor. They know.

Posted by GuestBob on May. 21, 2014 @ 5:49 pm

Does anyone with 10 Billion dollars ever get told no?

David Chiu and the Mayor would know.

Posted by GuestBob on May. 21, 2014 @ 5:50 pm

AirBnb wanted 120 allowable rental days a year and Chiu said no.

But it's understandable that you didn't know that because it is in the article that you didn't read before commenting.

Posted by Guest on May. 21, 2014 @ 6:35 pm

have bragged about letting people write laws for them.

Chris Daly was quite proud of letting Young Workers United write his hang over pay law.

Ammiano was happy to let SEIU tell him how to do his laws, he made no secret of it, Avalos makes no secret of his lacky status to SEIU.

Progressives and their total lack of any sense of right and wrong try and have it every way all the time. "we let progressive lobbyists write our laws and complain when others do same"

Our boy Joe needs to read past issues of the Bay Guardian so that he can understand the co mingle that is extremist politics and politician servility.

Posted by Guest on May. 21, 2014 @ 7:28 pm
Posted by Guest on May. 21, 2014 @ 9:33 pm

Why would you bring that up? That's completely different since he's a progressive. Don't ask how or why or any other irrelevant questions like that. It just is.

Posted by Guest on May. 21, 2014 @ 9:47 pm

Oh wait I know why. Ron Conway. Screw that guy. He's the sole person responsible for all the ills that are befalling this city and even those of the whole country.

Posted by Guest on May. 21, 2014 @ 10:01 pm

The compromise isn't the worst, if it stays that way.

But you are rewarding people and a company that have KNOWINGLY thumbed their noses at the law for years.

They should pay penaliies, fines or back taxes for doing that.

Or are you one of those "I can do what I want" people.

There are a lot of them in San Quentin

Posted by GuestBob on May. 22, 2014 @ 10:25 am

Hey Bob...can you name a single illegal thing that AirBnb has done? Any court cases perhaps?

I'm sure that there are people who used AirBnb improperly, just as there are people who use screw drivers to mug people. I bet that some of the massage ads in the SFBG result in illegal acts of prostitution. It happens.

But you seem so knowledgeable, I'm sure that you will be able to provide us with at least one example where AirBnb broke the law.


Posted by Guest on May. 22, 2014 @ 10:54 am

Suppose the city passes a law saying that there can be no rentals under 30 days. Than all I have to do is write 30 days leases with another party called X.

X then does sublets of under 30 days.

I'm already doing this with one my rental units. I have a month-to-month rental agreement with a LLP. The corporations pays me rent every month and then moves their workers in and out of that unit, while also managing laundry facilities, linen and so on.

The LLP is not a residential tenant so no rent control applies. I can "evict" them simply by cancelling our contract, which is not a rental agreement at all.

I suspect we will see more and more of this type of arrangement where there is a intervening layer between host and guest.

Posted by Guest on May. 22, 2014 @ 12:27 pm

Our very same Mr. Chiu tried to close this 'loophole' in section 41.a a few years back. Not clear that it was successful; has never been tested in court to my knowledge.

Posted by Guest on May. 30, 2014 @ 8:23 pm

Some people claim there is a municipal regulation somewhere about short-term lets, but even then it is not a crime to not do that - just a permit issue.

And it is the hosts who are breaking that regulation, not Airbnb.

Posted by Guest on May. 22, 2014 @ 11:11 am

Great piece. We can always count on you to make the sun shine in the darkest places!

You've only details a very small part of the correspondence between Chan and Owens.

Any chance you could make all of the correspondence available to your readers?

Posted by Stephen Labovsky on May. 22, 2014 @ 10:28 am

I could give it a shot. It would take awhile to scroll through and redact all of the emails. They are public information but it's another thing entirely to post someone's email address publicly. If I do as you suggest, i'll put it in a new post titled something like "AirBNB emails to lawmakers revealed" or something of that sort. Thanks for reading!

Posted by Joe Fitzgerald on May. 22, 2014 @ 11:55 am

anyone's private email here ot elsewhere.

You could try and redact every one but, with that many, chances are that you would miss a few. And then the shit hits the fan.

Seems to me that Chiu listened to a lot of different people and groups. I'd be surprised if Airbnb were not allowed input. Is there even a story here?

Posted by Guest on May. 22, 2014 @ 12:33 pm

... a few things. The fact that some politicians have pointed out beforehand (and after) that this happens more often than the public would like to think is definitely something that needs highlighting. The public elects officials, they don't elect business interests. NPR, the New York Times, local newspapers (not in San Francisco) have written about this issue extensively, and many people have identified this as a problem.

Banks’ Lobbyists Help in Drafting Financial Bills

Lawmakers shouldn't substitute lobbyists for brains:

Ghostwriting the law

Legislators aren't writing bills -- Alec is

The problem is undue influence. I'm sure more city supervisors do it, and that's a problem too. If anyone has evidence to that effect, please send it to me, my email is at the top of the page.

And yes, I can publish the emails legally. I've consulted first amendment lawyers on the topic before. As long as the email addresses are redacted, it is not a problem. Thanks for your concern though!

Posted by Joe Fitzgerald on May. 22, 2014 @ 5:05 pm

All too common happenstance. Fishers/Schwab/Bechtel to Rec & Park: "Mind if we take over the farwest end of Golden Gate Park and turn it into a pro-style soccer stadium with trash for cash?".

Posted by Mike Murphy on May. 26, 2014 @ 9:19 am

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