Prop F Has Failed. But the Battle for SF’s Soul Will Go On
Proposition F has failed. The San Francisco ballot measure, which would have more severely restricted Airbnb-style short-term rentals, was defeated last night, 55 percent to 45 percent, with about 133,000 votes cast and all precincts reporting.
The measure—known casually as the Airbnb initiative—has captured the interest not only of residents living in San Francisco but beyond, as a symbol for the tensions in a city grappling with a dramatic tech boom. On one side, there are the San Franciscans who maintain that Airbnb and services like it chase long-term renters out of the city. On the other, you’ll find the residents who say Airbnb helps them make ends meet by letting them make a little more income. Airbnb reportedly spent north of $8 million on the measure, versus $1 million spent by Prop F supporters.
Airbnb has asserted that if Prop F had succeeded, it would be a blow to San Francisco’s middle class residents. “This election was a victory,” Chris Lehane, a former Washington political operative and Airbnb’s head of global public policy, said in a statement after the votes were counted. “This effort shows that home sharing is both a community and a movement.”
Meanwhile, the measure’s backers—who include an unlikely alliance of housing activists, landlords, neighborhood groups and hotel workers’ unions—have argued that the city’s existing regulations for short-term rentals are unenforceable, noting that San Francisco’s office of short-term rentals, which helps with handing out registration certificates, has only issued about 700 of them. (There is no way to know the exact number of short-term rental listings in San Francisco, because Airbnb keeps its stats on lockdown, but it could be between 5,000 and about 10,000 according to available data.) “Losing is always a disappointment,” says Dale Carlson, co-founder of Share Better SF, a coalition that backed Prop F, and part of the trio who helped write the initiative. “But our coalition is proud of what was accomplished in the face of more than $9 million Airbnb spent defeating it.”
If Prop F had passed, it would have limited the number of nights a unit can be rented each year to 75 nights max, require short-term rental platforms and hosts to submit quarterly reports to the San Francisco Planning Department, and allow neighbors to report on each other and even sue when violations occurred. That’s considerably stricter than current law, which caps the time hosts can rent a space out to 90 days if they are not present in their homes, but allows them to rent out a room or a portion of a home for an unlimited amount of time if they’re present during a visitor’s stay.
To be clear, this battle isn’t over. San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors—the equivalent of the City Council in San Francisco—may still pass tighter regulations, something that has been explored in the past. And Prop F backers are likely to keep the fight going. But if Prop F had passed, there would be no way to alter the regulations without another public vote.
So, yes, while the election is a symbolic moment of victory for Airbnb and its supporters in its hometown, the tensions gripping San Francisco–a city that has come to be thought of as ground zero for tech and all the rapid changes it engenders—won’t cease. That story will continue to unfold.
View this article: