Bedroom Community

Airbnb Offers NYC $21 Million, So How Much Can SF Expect?

After years of asserting that it had no responsibility to pay a 15 percent lodging tax that applies to hoteliers in New York City, San Francisco-based vacation rental website Airbnb has made an about-face and offered to pay up. The company is offering Mayor Bill de Blasio at least $21 million in estimated revenue. In a letter to de Blasio, the company suggested the money could go toward that mayor’s affordable housing initiatives, like a proposed rental assistance program.

Certainly plenty of San Franciscans could use some rental assistance right now! Airbnb’s lobbying efforts have, in the past, presented their company as helping people keep their homes. But tenants risking eviction for unpaid rent also risk eviction for using Airbnb: Besides the issue of collecting required taxes, renting units out for short stays is likely illegal in San Francisco, whether or not the host owns the unit. And landlords are taking thousands of rental units off the market and out from under the Rent Ordinance according to the San Francisco Tenant’s Union, effectively becoming hoteliers. New York has similar laws, and an over two-thirds of Airbnb listings in that city are illegal according to research by Skift, many run by people managing multiple units. And guess who will actually be paying the taxes?

The company, which takes a 6 to 12 percent fee, isn’t quite as saintly as their plea makes out. Airbnb is asking to change the law to let the company collect and remit from hosts, not volunteering to take it out of their own bottom line (lol capitalism). But either way, that 15 percent is going to get passed down to the renter.

Airbnb is seeking to raise $10 billion in an initial public offering, which would likely be a huge windfall for early investor Ron Conway, the venture capitalist behind local tech lobby and Mayor Ed Lee’s BFF. Board of Supervisors President David Chiu has reportedly been working with the company on legislation that would allow the company and its customers to operate locally within the law since last year, but no announcements have been forthcoming. The mayor and supervisors have been busy giving Conway-backed companies tax breaks, but Chiu is running for State Assembly and Lee faces reelection next year, so Airbnb may or may not find San Francisco’s solution to be a relative bargain.

[Photo TechCrunch]

Graffiti Tunes

Speedy Gonzales Flees ICE

A tipster writes, “[I’m] not endorsing, but provocative in the real meaning.”  And that it is.

The piece, depicting Speedy Gonzales (itself a famously racist character) fleeing an ICE agent, was stenciled and pasted to the side of Ali Baba’s Cave on 19th and Valencia last night.

Workin' the Pol

Animated Leland Yee Biopic Premiers as Senators are Suspended with Pay

After a 9am meeting this morning in Sacramento where California State Senators asked their colleague Leland Yee to resign, Yee presumably refused, so the senate voted to suspend him and two other possibly corrupt senators, Rod Calderon and Rod Wright, with pay. Just in time for Taiwan’s Tomo News to release an epic summary of the events surrounding Yee’s indictment and alleged criminal activities!

The video takes some liberties with the facts—Paolo Lucchesi’s tour of restaurants named in the indictment doesn’t include a Panda Express, and an exclusive KPIX interview makes it clear that Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow isn’t actually a six-foot crustacean—but we can all agree that a panda and FBI agent making it rain on pole dancing politicians tastefully serves to illustrate the $69,800 in contributions made to Yee campaigns by undercover agents between 2011 and 2014.

Politicians Gone Wild

The Wild Tale of a Political Consultant's Blood and Piss-Soaked 50th Birthday Party

There’s been much ado about Jack Davis lately.  The political consultant with ties to big developers and mayors Gavin Newsom, Willie Brown, and Frank Jordan is being linked to the incredibly shady “Clean Up the Plaza” astroturf campaign, all while “working as a paid political consultant for the condo project at 16th and Mission.”

So the timing couldn’t have been better for Last Gasp, the Mission District publisher that recently released a colorful account of Jack Davis’s notorious 1997 50th birthday party.  The details of which include everything that makes San Francisco the best fucked city in the United States: heavy metal satanist musicians, drinking blood and piss, politicians eating blood-soaked cake, someone getting fucked by a bottle of Jack Daniels, and pigs running amok.  A prized party so brilliant and offensive, the Chronicle described it as “like the Folsom Street Fair with free booze.”

And for some bonus fun, the NY Times interviewed our disgraced gun-running state senator Leland Yee about the party, then just a lowly city supervisor who spent evenings cruising Capp Street for prostitutes and stuffing stolen suntan lotion in his underoos:

“When I walked in, everyone had their clothes on,” said a city Supervisor, Leland Y. Yee, one of many public officials who have been protesting their innocence.

Mr. Yee, a new member of the board, said he had concluded that there were indeed limits, even to the tolerance of this famously tolerant city. “Bloodletting and public urination are lines you just don’t cross,” he said.

Words to live by.


Google Bus Riders Courted with Free Coffee

Mayor Ed Lee may not understand the Google bus protests, but other technology companies certainly grokked that the shuttles are an easy target to leverage for attention! Witness this warming station set up near the corner of Van Ness and Union this morning, serving free coffee and sandwiches to folks waiting for their corporate shuttle ride (as well as at two other stops). This free-as-in-coffee-as-a-service was brought to you by BigCommerce, makers of “eCommerce & Shopping Cart Solutions.” Flyers distributed along with the coffee declared “You’ve been #poached!” in a nod to continued revelations of Silicon Valley’s wage fixing scandal.

Of course, they’re mostly just looking for engineers for their SF office, where there’s plenty more to offer in the “Fully stocked kitchen with breakfast, snacks, kegs, etc.” But hey, the Austin office is where the sales, marketing and biz dev team plays foosball together, and presumably they are just crushing it!

In completely unrelated news, French economist Thomas Piketty argues in his “Capital in the Twenty-First Century” that, contrary to Simon Kuznets, wealth in market economies ultimately concentrates, suggesting perpetually expanding income inequality is the effective outcome of capitalism, not a historical anomoly. Something to read on your iPad while you’re sipping free coffee and waiting for the shuttle, maybe!

[Photos: Matt Graves]


Criminal Complaint Against "Shrimp Boy," State Senator Alleges Drugs, Guns, Fraud, Money Laundering & Murder-for-Hire

News broke this morning that State Senator Leland Yee was arrested along with dozens of other defendants, including Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow, and homes and businesses in San Francisco and across the Bay Area raided by federal officials who found, among other things, a marijuana grow operation. This afternoon, Yee, Chow and 17 other defendants appeared before Magistrate Judge Nathaniel Cousins for an initial hearing to determine if they would be detained pending further hearings.

Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow (picture, left) was in the first group of twelve defendants for today’s initial hearing in a criminal complaint brought by U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag’s office. Friends and family of the accused were joined in the courtroom by dozens of journalists and attorneys, eventually requiring an overflow room to accomodate the crowd.  The 133-page complaint was unsealed by Judge Cousins shortly after the hearing began. The charges, in brief, were read aloud in the court room.

Chow stands accused of money laundering and conspiracy to traffic in stolen cigarettes. Charges against the other eleven defendants, including Keith Jackson (pictured, right), a political consultant and longtime ally of State Senator Leland Yee, included gun running, narcotics trafficking and a murder-for-hire conspiracy. Each count of the money laundering charges alone could bring 20 years in jail and a $250,000 fine.

Based on the affidavit in the complaint, the Federal Bureau of Investigation has spent years investigating Chow, whom it claims is the “Dragonhead” of the Chee Kung Tong, having infiltrated the organization with an undercover agent posing as a member of La Cosa Nostra—Mafia members with connections in New Jersey. However, at the hearing, Elizabeth Faulk, Chow’s court-appointed federal public defender, argued for his release citing over a decade without being accused of any crime after Chow spent much of the 80s in 90s in prison on multiple criminal convictions including racketeering.

Five of the first twelve defendants were eventually released, with the rest having their bail hearings pushed ahead to Monday and Tuesday. Shortly thereafter, Leland Yee was among seven more defendants brought before Judge Cousins, and stands accused of gun trafficking and six counts of wire fraud. Yee was somber but alert in a faded windbreaker and only slightly tousled hair, replying only “yes” when eventually asked if he understood and agreed to the terms of his release, which includes a $500,000 unsecured bond and a ban on travel outside of California.

Yee is scheduled to appear for a follow-up detention hearing at the San Francisco Federal Courthouse on Monday, March 31st at 9:30am. Jackson is scheduled for 11am that same morning. Chow will have to wait until Tuesday, April 1st. Yee’s attorney has indicated that Yee will plead “not guilty.”

As for the complaint affidavit, the pretty compelling account was written by FBI Special Agent Emmanuel Pascua. After listing the targets of the complaints and the statutes allegedly violated, Pascua begins to describe the investigation.

At some point in the last five years, an undercover FBI agent (herein “UCE 4527”) was introduced to a high-level member of the [Chee Kung Tong]. As a results of this introduction, in may 2010, another undercover FBI agent (herein “UCE 4599”) was introduced to target subject Raymond CHOW. CHOW then introduced UCE 4599 to many of the target subjects…during a meeting with UCE 4599, while seated in a booth in a karaoke bar, CHOW whispered into UCE 4599’s ear that although CHOW was no longer involved in criminal activity, CHOW knew of and approved all criminal activities within his organization.

In October of 2012, local law enforcement conducted raids on two locations which turned up two marijuana grow operations, a loaded weapon and cocaine in locations connected to multiple defendants. Meanwhile, UCE 4599 was laundering millions of dollars in drug proceeds between 2012 and 2014 along with purchasing weapons and drugs directly. Ultimately, Chow introduced UCE 4599 to Keith Jackson as a consultant for CKT. Jackson and his son Brandon Jackson, along with another suspect, allegedly sold UCE 4599 multiple weapons and bullet proof vests, fake credit cards and agreed to a murder for hire scheme suggested by the undercover agent.

In his role as principle at Jackson Consulting, Keith Jackson was busy raising money for Leland Yee’s mayoral campaign in 2011 and even hit UCE 4599 up for donations in excess of the $500 maximum allowed by law. UCE 4599 declined, but introduced Jackson to another undercover agent posing as a real estate developer, UCE 4733, who did make a $5,000 donation to the campaign. After losing the mayoral race but with $70,000 in debt outstanding, Jackson and Yee again went to UCE 4733 for money and promised to call and write the California Department of Public Health on behalf of a fictional client of the agent’s in exchange for a $10,000 donation. More requests were made by Jackson of more undercover agents, with checks made out to “Leland Yee Secretary of State” in exchange for political favors.

Yee and Jackson also promised to introduce UCE 4599 to an arms dealer who could arrange to have a specific type of weapon imported through Newark, New Jersey. Yee later explained that he had connections for weapons in the Phillipines, and introduced UCE 4599 to another defendant, Dr. Lim, who could help make a multi-million dollar arms deal, including shoulder-fired rockets, a reality. In exchange, Jackson and Yee repeatedly requested more funds for Yee’s Secretary of State campaign—which they would then break up into smaller donations in order to avoid the appearance of impropriety.

At one point in 2012, UCE 4599 asked Jackson to call Yee and as the senator to help out Chow because, according to Jackson (in transcripts of what was presumably a warranted wire tap), “somebody, maybe the FBI, had Chow ‘by the balls.’” Yee expressed concern about connecting himself to Chow because of the latter’s puported book and movie deals, and because “[y]ou know, some poeple still think he killed that Allen Leung guy.” Referring to money offered by UCE 4599 in exchange for Yee’s support of Chow, Yee lamented “shit, as much as I want that five thousand, I can’t do that man. Shit. Fuck. Shit.”

In 2013, Yee reportedly took meetings with another undercover agent, UCE 4180, posing as a businessman who wanted to become “the Anheuser-Busch of medical marijuana” and was looking for help changing the law in California to make it easier to do business.  Yee said that only a ballot initiative could get UCE 4180 what he wanted, and that if elected Secretary of State, Yee could help with that. Jackson then met with Yee and later provided his account information so that UCE 4180 could make a “good faith” donation in exchange for “deliverables.” In June of that year, Yee, Jackson, UCE 4180 and another undercover agent and another (unnamed) state senator all met for a coffee at a Starbucks near the state capitol in Sacramento where Yee reportedly explained that “I’m just trying to run for Secretary of State, I hope I don’t get indicted.”


Of course, this is just a summary of the most egregious charges against Yee and the connections between Yee and Chow through Jackson. Dozens of weapons, millions of dollars and kilo after kilo of drugs - all together, it sounds like the plot to some sort of violent video game that Yee wants to protect your children from. Whether or not Yee is found guilty, with Democratic party leaders asking him to resign immediately, it looks like it’s game over.


Senator Leland Yee, Raymond "Shrimp Boy" Chow Arrested in Federal Corruption Indictment [Updated]

This morning, the FBI searched the office of San Francisco Democrat and State Senator Leland Yee while Yee was handcuffed and driven to the federal building as part of a corruption indictment.

Search warrants are being served across the Bay Area, including the Gee Ting Kong Free Mason clubhouse in Chinatown. Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow, President of the Supreme Lodge of Chinese Free Masons, has also been arrested in connection with the investigation. The infamous Chow has spent decades in prison for his role in violent, organized crime and connections to Hong Kong triads.  Of course, that didn’t prevent Mayor Lee from honoring “Shrimp Boy” for “working ‘in the trenches’ as a Change Agent” in 2012:

No details about the nature of the indictment have been released yet, but the Chronicle claims from “sources” that the raids “stemmed from a shooting about five years ago.”

Former San Francisco Supervisor and Yee campaign volunteer Ed Jew has been in, then out, and now back in jail on federal and state corruption charges since being arrested in 2007, though there’s no indication the cases are connected. Chow has publicly distanced himself from his criminal past since last being released from prison in 2003, while Yee continued serving in the state senate after losing the 2011 mayoral election in San Francisco to Ed Lee.

Yee himself has a history with legal troubles:

In 2000, Yee was arrested in Hawaii on suspicion of boosting an $8.09 bottle of suntan oil by putting it in the front of his shorts.

A year earlier, Lee was pulled over twice by San Francisco police officer who suspected him of cruising the Mission District in search of prostitutes. In both cases, police questioned Yee at the scene of the stops on South Van Ness Avenue and let him go on his way.

Yee is currently a candidate for California Secretary of State.

Update: As the search continues this morning, the SFFD was called in to help crack a safe at the Gee Ting Kong clubhouse. Investigators are also searching the Bay Steel warehouse on Davidson Street in the Bayview according to KGO’s Jenna Lane, who reports “All’s quiet at Leland Yee’s home in the Sunset.”

[Photo: John Martinez Pavliga]

The Town Bicycle

Public Bikes Bails On the Mission

Public Bikes are two wheels of pastel twee, but they sure are popular.  In the four years since the company opened their first warehouse on Harrison Street, we’ve seen their lumbering clunkers all over town—in fact, the company claims that 35% of their bikes are sold in the Bay Area alone.

Thanks to their popularity, the company opened a second shop at 17th and Valencia two years ago just as they closed their Mission warehouse.  But now their Valencia shop is closing too, as the company looks to grow into a larger shop in Hayes Valley.  Their spokesman shares the news:

We are opening a new location at 549 Hayes Street and plan to close our Valencia location in the near future. We don’t have any definitive date but likely there will be a period of time when both locations will be open until we establish ourselves in Hayes Valley. We also plan to close our South Park location. We love the Mission neighborhood, but we’re moving to Hayes to have a bigger space of our own centrally located in the city. We’re currently promoting a big Moving Sale with special in-store only deals to clear out last year’s bike inventory in our Valencia and South Park locations.

So Valencia’s loss is your opportunity to save!  Or something.  Either way, the Mission will continue to be well served by its gazillion (plus or minus) other bike shops.

[h/t Hoodline]

For the Children

San Francisco Declares Victory Against Dark Forces of Four Loko

Just in time for you to have forgotten that Four Loko still existed, especially since any memories of drinking it are probably pretty hazy, San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera has made a settlement announcement with the manufacturer following his 2010 campaign to ban the drink. Chicago-based Phusion Products has agreed to stop marketing its fruit-flavored, formerly caffeinated and extra-strength malt liquor alcopops known as Four Loko to minors:

One innovative clause in the agreement obliges Phusion to monitor its social media pages to crack down on and delete posts showing irresponsible behavior. Prior entries from users on Four Loko social media sites include “My baby boy is a result of my drunken Four binge of wonder,” and, in response to the question “What Loko Starts the Perfect Saturday Night?” the answer “The one in the 17 year olds hands [sic].”

Phusion also agrees to stop “promoting the drinks on college campuses, avoiding depictions of underage drinkers in their advertising, and ending marketing practices that promote rapid or excessive consumption of alcoholic beverages.” The company will also abstain from “depicting Santa Claus in its advertisements, depicting anyone driving a motor vehicle while drinking alcohol, and depicting the consumption of their products by persons exhibiting clear signs of intoxication.”

So whichever ad agency creatives already mocked up a campaign for the Vice holiday guide with an animated takeover of Santa slamming a can of Four Loko while stumbling out of his sleigh to deliver cases to children really has their work cut out for them.

[Photo: Dana]