I had a chance to speak to the president of ride-sharing company Lyft a couple of months ago. The whole Lyft - Uber business model and the disruption these companies are bringing to the taxi business is unfolding in front of our eyes. The same can be said to a lesser degree for one of the top B'game sources of bread and butter: our hotel business. The Transient Occupany Tax (known as the 'TOT') is a major source of revenue for B'game given our proximity to SFO and the number of hotels we have on the Bayfront. Think $18 million in 2013 per page 37 of the CAFR found here -- higher than either property or sales taxes.
Both new businesses got me thinking about B'game's solvency and liability. I checked with the City about taxi company revenues and they are pretty minimal. Specifically:
The business license is $100 + $25 per taxi. Finance collects the fee and the insurance certificate of automotive liability of $350,000 (naming the City of Burlingame as the certificate holder), then waits for BPD to do the background check and fingerprinting. Once that is complete, the City sends the business license.
The TOT threat from VRBO and AirBnB and the like is a bit different and some cities are starting to ask the question. The San Mateo Times noted last week that
Some members of the Palo Alto City Council are calling for an in-depth examination of online booking services like Airbnb that allow people to rent their homes to travelers on a short-term basis.
On Monday, Vice Mayor Liz Kniss -- along with council members Karen Holman, Larry Klein and Gail Price -- is expected to ask the council to schedule a study session no later than March 31, 2015, to discuss whether such businesses need to be regulated in Palo Alto.
One of the chief concerns raised in a colleagues memo by the four council members is the potential loss of transient occupancy tax. Palo Alto has 300 to 400 Airbnb listings per night and stands to lose $210,000 in the coming year.
Aside from the financial impact there are potental liability issues, code enforcement (or non-enforcement) issues and, as we are seeing in some neighborhoods in B'game, parking and neighbor concerns. One really has to wonder if addressing this issue trumps things like fretting over affordable housing as the City is apparently doing here
As a means of promoting affordable housing policies contained within the Burlingame Downtown Specific Plan as well as the City’s Housing Element, the City of Burlingame is issuing a Request for Proposals (RFP) seeking qualified developers interested in partnering with the City to develop City-owned Parking Lots F and N, located in the southern portion of Downtown Burlingame, with affordable housing.
I'll leave aside the question of whether the City has or hasn't learned it lesson about "partnering" with developers from the Post Office fiasco ("What? Our preferred developer didn't win the bidding?) and just question whether staff time is better spent on more immediate and more solvable issues?