1. A first!
After three years in office and reportedly turning down several requests, socialist city council member Kshama Sawant will be speaking at the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce.
One topic at next Tuesday morning’s regular chamber member breakfast discussion will be: mitigating the impacts of construction on Seattle businesses. Sawant helped beleaguered 23rd Avenue businesses get money from the city to mitigate the impact on local businesses from the street redesign.
Sawant will talk in general about her policy priorities, including her proposed plan for policies affecting small businesses.
New Office of Planning and Community Development director Samuel Assefa is on the bill after Sawant.
And on the follow up panel? Sawant’s former campaign rival, Urban League head Pamela Banks. The two were allies on this issue, though.
I noted earlier this month that Sawant seems to be moderating her political approach a bit.
2. At this week’s hearing on mayor Ed Murray and council member Tim Burgess’s proposal to regulate Airbnb and other short-term rentals, I reported that short-term hosts pitched an alternative (and surprise) idea: Tax Us!
Murray and Burgess’s proposal is aimed at nudging rentals at hosts’ secondary properties off the short-term market (by making it less profitable with a hard cap on the number of days the unit can be booked.) Murray and Burgess would rather have those units on the long-term rental market to ease the affordable housing crisis.
Arguing that the cap would crush their business, the hosts of off-site short-term rentals pleaded with the city to simply tax them instead and use the money for affordable housing.
During the council briefing, it came to light that Airbnb is paying the special seven percent convention center tax.
But Airbnb’s own website indicates that they do pay tax.
Special Hotel/Motel Tax, Convention and Trade Center Tax, Regional Transit Authority Tax, and Tourism Promotion Area Charges: All locally imposed taxes on transient lodging will be collected on reservations in Washington. The Special Hotel/Motel Tax is typically 1-5% of the listing price including any cleaning fees for reservations 29 nights and shorter. Other local taxes vary and are only applicable in certain cities and counties.
The tax only applies to hotels with over 60 rooms, though, so Airbnb tells me none of their hosts operate that kind of site.
However, as council member Rob Johnson pointed out at the hearing, Airbnb’s website itself functions like a virtual hotel business with thousands of rooms.
Airbnb argues, though, that only individual hosts with 60 or more listings are required to pay the taxes. “Airbnb is just the platform,” a spokesperson says. “It is the hosts who owe the tax. Airbnb has voluntarily agreed with DOR to collect it on their behalf.”
For what it’s worth, King County is already banking on using $48 million in expected revenue from the tax to build affordable housing.
It's also worth noting, that the city didn't have any record of other room sharing companies such as VRBO paying any taxes at all—even the basic sales taxes that Airbnb is paying.
3. In other “sharing economy” news: Zipcar, the car share company that only allows roundtrips (as opposed to Car2Go and ReachNow’s point to point model), is going to introduce a one-way option. Staring next Wednesday, 100 cars from its 500-car fleet will be able to make one-way trips from one Zipcar to lot to another Zipcar lot. They have 200 lots around the city, each with several parking slots.
Car2Go and ReachNow’s point to point model allows you to use city on-street parking spaces.
4. Finally, given this week’s urgent news on gun control, a reader emailed me a column I wrote 10 years ago about Republicans, assault rifles, terrorism, and gun control. 10 years ago.
It's worth pointing out that U.S. senator Maria Cantwell (whose opponent I challenged in that old column over his opposition to the assault weapons ban) was one of the Democrats that participated in this week's filibuster to force a gun control vote in the wake of the Orlando massacre.