I hope you had a restful holiday with loved ones and you are ready to face the new year with a renewed sense of hope and purpose. We’re going to need each other in the days ahead. I did my share of reflecting over the holidays, including thinking about the work of my office over the past year. The “Season of Giving” got me thinking about the gift of sharing — and about my take on how real sharing stands in stark contrast to the corporate rebranding of what sharing has come to mean these days.
As I said in the recently released documentary Company Town, my mother taught me that sharing was when the kid at school didn’t have enough lunch money, and I gave him half my sandwich. I didn’t charge him for the sandwich. The trope of the “sharing economy” is fundamentally nonsense, and it’s time we called it what it has become: an economy where corporations generate billions of dollars in profit through financial transactions, be it from home sharing or car sharing.
We live in a capitalist world, and there’s nothing wrong or illegal, per se, about making billions of dollars — if you’re following the same rules that everyone else has to follow. Which brings me to the titans of the technology industry who have been wreaking havoc in our communities with the tacit and sometimes public approval of governments big and small (you may have seen them in the news lately, hobnobbing with President-elect Donald Trump). Taking on those who would privatize our public assets for corporate gain became a central part of my legislative agenda in 2016.
After we unanimously passed amendments to strengthen enforcement of short-term rentals at the Board of Supervisors, Airbnb lashed back and sued its hometown for seeking to improve legislation Airbnb itself had a large hand in drafting back in 2014. We then passed sensible limits on the scope of the short-term rental business model after independent and city-sponsored studies revealed that San Francisco continues to hemorrhage housing units for tourists at the expense of existing residents. Mayor Ed Lee promptly vetoed the legislation. Airbnb, one of the largest campaign contributors in recent times, undoubtedly counted its most-recent million-dollar-plus investment in local politics as a good one.
A few setbacks notwithstanding, the good news is that the unprecedented and unlikely coalition of tenants and landlords, hotel managers and hotel workers, and public safety and neighborhood leaders remains committed to pushing for reforms. And we should all wonder how we are supposed to take Airbnb’s offers of “working together” seriously with their Hail Mary lawsuit still dangling over our heads.
UBER, LYFT, AND THE TNC EMPIRE
Traffic driving you crazy? How about an upsurge in asinine (and unsafe) driving behavior on our streets? Recent data provided by the San Francisco Treasurer revealed an estimated 45,000 Transportation Network Company vehicles are currently clogging up San Francisco roadways — and that’s up from 37,000 last April. For comparison, there are around 1,800 taxicabs covering San Francisco.
To add insult to injury (literally), Uber decided to use our city as its corporate test lab for an unpermitted pilot program for self-driving vehicles, which promptly blazed through red lights and cut off cyclists at intersections.
As the newly elected chair of the San Francisco County Transportation Authority, I’ve called on our state legislators to step up and protect the safety of San Franciscans. As District 3 supervisor, I’ll be introducing a package of local enforcement legislation to appropriately rein in Uber because … well, someone’s gotta be at the wheel!
NEW YEAR, NEW CHANCE TO DO RIGHT
As we head into 2017, I have a message for these bad corporate citizens: Knock it off. You’re not sharing. You’re not innovating. You’re just making a lot of people angry. And while San Francisco is well known for its hospitality and tolerance, I think you’ve just worn out your welcome.