Airbnb: Will There Be a Staff Report … or, Will We Just Get Steamrolled?

EASTSIDER-Back in June, I wrote an article in CityWatch about the PLUM Committee’s hearings on Airbnb called, “Airbnb and the PLUM Committee - Houston We Have a Problem.”

Evidently, not much has happened since then -- at least officially. 

Status of City Information on the Short-Term Rental Ordinance 

The online documentation for the Short-Term-Rental Ordinance is both sparse and out-of-date. I looked at the Planning Department’s website this week and here are the dates of their documents: 

Updated Draft Ordinance - As amended by the Housing Committee on 12/17/16. 

Home Sharing Ordinance Quick Guide - April 15, 2016. 

Staff Report and Revised Ordinance - June 23, 2016. 

Public Hearing Notice -  May 21, 2016. 

Looking at the City Council File System itself, there are four files, two of which have already expired:

14-1635                   Expired 12/2/16 

14-1635-S1              Expired 4/22/17 

14-1635-S2              Still Pending Before the Housing Committee and PLUM Committee

14-1635-S3              Council Adopted Motion for IT Services RFI for Short Term Rentals 

The last communication in the PLUM Committee file is a 1/26/17 letter transmitting the December 2016 Revisions to the proposed Ordinance. And the one adopted motion regarding IT services for the proposed Ordinance (14-1635-3) says almost nothing: 

“INSTRUCT the Department of City Planning (DCP) and the Office of Finance, in consultation with the City Administrative Officer’s office as necessary, to prepare and release a Request for Information (RFI) seeking information from potential candidates to provide short-term rental permitting and enforcement information technology services.” 

That’s all, folks...      

Whither Goes the PLUM Committee? 

As I wrote before, PLUM Committee Chair Jose Huizar and the Committee were caught unprepared for the huge audience at their June hearing. They were also taken aback by Airbnb’s new demand to be allowed short-term rentals all year long! The official line of retreat was that the Committee needed time to digest all the comments, and of more interest here, to obtain responses to the inquiries they made to the Planning Department staff during the hearing.

So here are some of the questions raised during the hearing, allegedly waiting for responses or clarifications: 

1) Is the City going to change the definition of limiting Home Sharing from a “host’s primary residence” to a broader definition as requested by Airbnb advocates? 

2) Now that we are told that 90% of the short-term rental money is going to go into the City’s new Affordable Housing Trust Fund, exactly how is that supposed to work, and given the lack of clarity in the Ordinance itself, can this be repurposed later by a simple vote of the City Council? 

3) Depending how you read it, the other 10% of the funds received are supposed to be for enforcement, but at the same time we are told that the money can be used to simply outsource everything (see CF 14-635-S3). So, are real City employees going to enforce this turkey, or is it an opportunity to outsource the IT and some bogus enforcement algorithm to a third party that owns a Council person or two, and will provide no transparency to the public? 

4) Most importantly, but left in limbo, is there going to be a written advance report from the Planning Department responding to all the questions posed by the Committee and the public. You know, one made available prior to the PLUM Committee holding another hearing sometime in October or November? 

Remember, the Planning Department staff admitted to Councilmember Marqueece Harris-Dawson that it had absolutely no hard numbers to backstop any of their figures. Furthermore, they admitted they had no actual revenue estimates for the various scenarios -- 60, 90, or 180 days – spelling out exactly how many days a year a rental will be allowed under the new Ordinance. Same for providing any hard data for the impact an Airbnb Ordinance would have on the various neighborhoods in our Neighborhood Council system.

I don’t know. You would think that since there are 15 City Council Districts, the elected Councilmembers would at least want to have a clue about what impact the Short-Term Rental Ordinance will have on the communities they represent. And just for a change, maybe have information based on hard data or estimates we can all understand. Right? 

And Then There’s Venice 

Of course, we all know that just because there’s a law means nothing, especially if you are scofflaw king Carl Lambert and his best rollover buddy, Mike Bonin (CD 11).  

At the same time as the Airbnb Ordinance changes are in front of the PLUM Committee -- even as they talk about the “protections” for RSO units and even as the City Council goes “cluck, cluck” over the loss of rent-controlled units -- Mr. Lambert has filed to take his 32 unit, 4-story, rent-stabilized apartment building located at 417 South Ocean Front Walk and convert it into an “apartment hotel.”  

That’s right, bye bye RSO units, hello 30 hotel rooms as he rips out the kitchens of the apartments, and motels on. This bit of legerdemain is being done right now right here in the Venice Coastal Zone, and he’s even requesting a Zone Variance and a “waiver of required loading space.” 

Lordy. Thanks to a hat tip from my friends in Venice, we may all have an opportunity to see a housing law thrown into a garbage disposal, because this one is not a done deal. The file number is ZA-2015-629CDP-ZV-ZAA-SPP-MEL, and the hearing will be held on October 25 at 10 a.m. at the West LA Municipal Building, 2nd floor. 

I urge the public and the press to show up for this exercise in counting the number of angels on the head of a pin. They didn’t even bother to notify all those they are required to, although some of these people don’t want to be identified by name as they live in fear of retaliation.  

If you doubt me, or are curious, you can contact Juliet Oh from City Planning. Her contact information is:, 213-978-1186. Condition #6 on the requested actions wish list states “Pursuant to Government Code Sections 65590 and 6990.1 a Mello Act Compliance Review for the conversion of 30 residential units into Guest Rooms.”  

If you are curious as to how this relates to the Airbnb Ordinance, I think it does in three ways. First, one of the stated purposes of the Airbnb Ordinance is to preserve rent-controlled housing stock, even as it disappears. The bulk of the proceeds are going into the Affordable Housing Trust Fund. Second, the one and only Mike Bonin seconded the Airbnb motion, so you would assume that he’s all in to help RSO people. Third, the City Attorney has filed in court against Mr. Lambert over this property, so I view the upcoming hearing process as a test. 

Does Mr. Bonin actually believe in RSO housing, or is he planning to nudge the destruction of some more? Does the City Attorney really want to litigate the case they filed against Lambert, or are they willing to let this project slide through the system so they can withdraw their suit? More will be revealed. 

The Takeaway 

Before anyone gets all giddy over the idea that the Planning Department might come out with a revised document responsive to the June hearing, remember that the Mayor and Council’s shiny new budget presupposes over $30 million bucks in Airbnb fees, without which the budget would be even more laughably out of balance than it is now. 

On the other hand, Planning was specifically directed to respond to the Committee prior to the next hearing. And if Planning shares stuff with the Committee, how can they not also share it with you and me? It would be a major violation of the California Public Records Act. With the heat over short-term rentals, someone is very likely to sue them big time. 

Stay tuned…the next PLUM Committee meeting is overdue.


(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.