Amid protest, SF mayor signs into law Airbnb legislation 

click to enlarge Mayor Ed Lee, third from left, signed legislation that makes short-term rentals legal in San Francisco. The law goes into effect in February. Short-term rental hosts must register with The City and pay taxes. - MIKE KOOZMIN/THE S.F. EXAMINER
  • Mike Koozmin/The S.f. Examiner
  • Mayor Ed Lee, third from left, signed legislation that makes short-term rentals legal in San Francisco. The law goes into effect in February. Short-term rental hosts must register with The City and pay taxes.

A group of protesters set up a memorial marking the "death" of San Francisco neighborhoods outside the Mayor's Office at City Hall on Monday morning, while inside the locked doors that were guarded by deputy sheriffs, Mayor Ed Lee signed into law the Airbnb legislation.

With the mayor's signature, San Francisco made it official that come February, short-term rentals -- 30 days or less -- will be legal in The City. The craze has exploded with online platforms such as Airbnb, a $13 billion company based in San Francisco.

Lee, who has promoted San Francisco as a tech capital, praised the "sharing economy" and noted that with the law The City will "collect some good revenue." It is estimated San Francisco will collect about $11 million annually with its 14.5 percent hotel tax on the short-term rentals.

Lee did not address concerns raised by the protesters, also outlined in a recent op-ed from U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein in opposition to the law, including calls for the payment of an estimated $25 million in back taxes and impacts on housing supply and rents. Protester Tom Temprano, president of the Harvey Milk Democratic Club, said neighborhoods "were sold out today."

But inside the Mayor's Office, there was celebration.

San Francisco "once again leads in teaching the world and showing the world how it is that we share," said Board of Supervisors President David Chiu, who introduced the legislation.

Under the law, short-term rental hosts must register with The City and live on the premises nine months out of the year.

Chiu has said his legislation is balanced and the tax collector can pursue back taxes at any time.

The Airbnb debate became wrapped up in one of the most heated elections in recent years -- the November state Assembly race between Chiu and Supervisor David Campos.

The board voted 7-4 last week to approve the law, after several amendments such as requiring payment of back taxes and capping annual stays at 90 days failed in five to six votes. The next day, Lee announced his endorsement of Chiu.

Chiu's run is being bolstered by contributions from Airbnb investors such as Ron Conway, a prominent Lee backer and tech investor.

Conway has dropped money into local elections before -- something former Supervisor Christina Olague had to deal with in her November 2012 defeat.

"Conway thinks he can buy The City and that people are going to roll over and play dead just because they are afraid of a negative political hit piece coming out against them," said Olague, who was among the protesters Monday. "[Policy] should be more about love and care for The City and less about one's own personal and political ambitions."

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