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Short Term Rental Ordinance Round 2 … Still a Big Mess

EASTSIDER-On Saturday, the LA City Planning Department visited the LA Neighborhood Council Coalition (LANCC) for the second time to talk about the proposed Draft Short Term Rental Ordinance, along with another proposed Ordinance change over second dwelling units (aka ‘granny units’). As readers may remember, the first visit was not a resounding success. 

This time, we were visited by no less than Claire Bowin, Senior Planner from the City Planning Department. As Streetsblog reported, “Bowin has had her finger in a lot of pots in her tenure with Planning, working on the Bike Plan, the Mobility Element, the Housing Plan, the Cornfield Arroyo-Seco Plan, and Bike Plan Implementation.” 

Lately, she has been intimately involved with both the repeal of the second dwelling units issue and with the short term rental ordinance. Unfortunately for the LANCC group, before leaving due to scheduling difficulties, she only had time to go over a draft ordinance to repeal the rules over granny units. Then she took just a couple of questions regarding the short-term rental ordinance. 

The Second Dwelling Unit Repeal draft ordinance, regarding granny units, is being offered on an emergency basis, and will be over by the time you read this article, which is a shame. More on this issue in another column. 

Regarding the Short Term Rental Ordinance, Claire Bowin only took a couple of questions, referred us to the upcoming Saturday May 21 Hearing at the Deaton Auditorium (next to the new LAPD building), 100 W. 1st Street, LA 90012. The public hearing starts at 10 am, and I urge everyone who can to be there. 

Anyhow, back to the real issues. As you may remember, I was enthusiastic when the draft ordinance came out and urged folks to weigh in. 

Well, we’ve had some time to kick the tires on the proposal and a number of people have found some holes in the City’s Draft. For example, Raymond Klein, from the Brentwood Homeowners Assn., weighed in with the problems regarding enforcement, the no guest limit for hosts, and essentially, the running of hotels in residential neighborhoods. 

Next, a hat tip to Lucy Han, (a founding member of Community Above Profit, or CAP,) for pointing out the obvious flaw in the Draft Ordinance. It’s simple. There is an 800 pound gorilla lurking in the draft: there is absolutely no way that the City of Los Angeles can enforce this Ordinance unless the dot.com platforms like Airbnb and their like are responsible for maintaining the data and reporting it to the City of Los Angeles. If you don’t believe me, remember an earlier CityWatch article regarding the debacle over the City’s Surplus Disposal.  

City Controller Ron Galperin was brutal in his dissection of the absolute failure of this program, and it should pose a warning to elected officials in crafting the upcoming Short Term Rental Ordinance. The City simply can’t handle IT projects. This Ordinance won’t work unless LA City builds a massive database to handle the registrations that are going to be required. As I wrote regarding the Surplus Disposal mess: 

“If there is a single takeaway moment in the report, for me it is the following: the auditor complained that, as they tried to obtain data, they were reduced to looking at individual employees’ Excel spreadsheets that didn’t even have a common template. Clearly, the Mayor’s “World Class City” is an emperor without clothes.” 

So, what do you think the chances are that LA City will have a robust database up and running to actually try and implement the Ordinance? You guessed it: none…zip…nil. 

There is only one way to obtain the data to enforce this type of ordinance, and that is to require the platforms themselves, like Airbnb, to cough up the data. I covered this some time ago in an article about the absolute requirement of honest reporting to make any of these ordinances workable. 

Think about it. Airbnb is essentially a computer app hooked to a really solid, scalable, database. And they have spent millions of dollars developing this app and database. The rest is their claim of intellectual property -- a really good smoke and mirrors sales campaign to investors and hosts who need money. If it cost Airbnb millions to do their computer work, what are the chances that LA City can ramp up something to track what they do by chasing the individual hosts? gain, none…zip...nil. 

This is the biggest single issue that needs to be addressed prior to the next draft of the short-term rental ordinance. I hope the Planning Department and the City Council take heed. If this issue is not addressed, the inspectors who have to enforce the ordinance won’t stand a chance. They are already understaffed and simply cannot cover thousands of hosts one by one. The data is the key to any prosecution and/or fine for nonpayment of the TOT. 

So, urge lawmakers to stand up and get this ordinance amended the way it needs to be. Require honest reporting from the platforms themselves, like Airbnb. Otherwise, it won’t make any difference what they pass because the City can’t enforce it. And City Attorney Mike Feuer will be unable to even pretend to do his job of enforcement in court. 

Do we want all of our efforts to be one more LA City Special Debacle?

 

(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.