- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Oct. 31

Los Angeles Times on rent-control apartments being used for Airbnb and short-term stays in L.A.:

For more than three years, the city of Los Angeles has been developing an ordinance to permit but regulate short-term rentals as advertised on Airbnb, VRBO and other websites. It’s taken so long because it’s difficult to strike the right balance, allowing people to earn extra money by renting their homes to visitors while not letting them create local nuisances or take too much badly needed housing off the market.

Although city leaders squabbled over how many days per year hosts should be allowed to rent out their homes (120 under the current proposals) and whether property owners should be permitted to rent out second homes (the current proposal says no), they quickly seemed to settle on one particular prohibition: Short-term rentals should be banned in rent-controlled buildings, both by tenants and landlords.

Such a ban would have a big effect - 85% of Los Angeles’ rental housing stock falls under the city’s Rent Stabilization Ordinance, which limits annual rent increases in buildings built before October 1978. City staff said the prohibition was necessary to reduce the incentive for landlords to evict long-term tenants and convert apartments or buildings into de facto hotels.

Recently, however, Mayor Eric Garcetti and the Planning Commission, whose members he appoints, changed course and backed a version of the ordinance that would allow home sharing in rent-controlled units. It wouldn’t be fair, Garcetti’s aides argued, to exclude lower-income people from participating in the new sharing economy.

But in promoting the benefits of the sharing economy, Garcetti is ignoring the real-world economy and the city’s housing crisis. Tenants with rent control enjoy a unique government protection that’s meant to provide stability over the long term, not to create an opportunity for profit. And there are already examples of landlords pushing out long-term tenants in order to convert the units to vacation rentals.

The proposed ordinance seeks to curb that sort of abuse with rules declaring which properties can be rented out and for how many days per year. Nevertheless, tenant advocates warn that there is so much money at stake that shady landlords will look for opportunities to break the rules and evade detection. Even city staffers have voiced concern about whether they will have enough manpower to catch and crack down on fraud.

In a city with an extreme housing shortage, the top priority has to be preventing the loss of affordable rental units. For now, rent-controlled apartments should be banned from short-term rentals at least until the city can provide enough enforcement to ensure that tenants are protected and that scofflaw property owners can’t turn their rent-regulated units into illegal hotels.


Oct. 30

Appeal-Democrat on the newspaper not taking sides on not making political endorsements:

Right up front, we want to make it clear that we’re writing about a recent campaign mailer, but are taking neither side in the race concerned.

There has been some confusion and we’ve taken some calls about a campaign flier produced by the Committee to Elect Dennis Hauck Sutter County Sheriff. The single sheet handbill, printed on both sides, was inserted into the Appeal-Democrat on Monday. Additionally, the content of the flier is chiefly snippets of news stories authored by Appeal-Democrat reporters and published in past print and electronic editions.

The material refers to a hazing incident in which a Yuba County deputy was attacked by other deputies. The victim is quoted as he refers to Hauck’s opponent, Brandon Barnes.

The victim sued and was awarded $430,000. Barnes, it is reported, was required to pay $7,500.

A series of reports by the Appeal-Democrat are referred to. There’s no doubt the incident and lawsuit were reported and the stories quoted from are among those archived on the Appeal-Democrat’s website.

But we’d like it to be clear to readers that the Appeal-Democrat did not participate in the production of the flier. The stories quoted are ours; but that’s as far as it goes.

The Hauck publicist also dummied up representations of Appeal-Democrat front pages, featuring big headlines over the stories quoted from our archives. Those are not actual front pages. They are illustrative. Permission was not given to use our nameplate or be represented in the flier.

That doesn’t mean we’re against Hauck. Doesn’t mean we’re for or against either candidate.

Like it or not, management of the Appeal-Democrat has mandated that we not make endorsements. We’re not working, from the editorial and news side of the A-D, for any candidate or issue. That all gets tricky to understand … we don’t make editorial endorsements; we’re not printing letters from people endorsing or criticizing candidates; but endorsements can be made in paid advertisements. And we do allow people to write about election issues, but not about specific candidates.

We reserve the right to conduct research and reporting on any issues that rise to the level of an actual news report - the question comes down to whether the issues raised are important and provable and truly revelatory.

But so far, most of the back-and-forth we’ve seen is just that - the back and forth you’d expect from candidates who want to make themselves look good and their opponents less good. It’s possible readers might see more reporting on the above issue … but it won’t entail the endorsement of one candidate over another.


Oct. 25

Sacramento Bee on city protecting kids without putting tobacco shops out of business:

One side says the health of Sacramento’s children is at risk. The other side says the survival of small businesses is at stake.

Both sides have dug in their heels, so it’s difficult to find a common ground. But it’s still the City Council’s duty to try, as it debates new limits on tobacco retailers, including a ban on all sales of flavored tobacco to adults, in addition to children.

After hearing an hour of impassioned testimony from supporters and opponents, the council’s Law and Legislation Committee voted last Tuesday to send the proposed changes to the ordinance to the full council.

But the panel was right to also ask city staff for some crucial information before the council votes as early as next month:

? What would be the impact on Sacramento’s economy and tax revenue?

A convenience store group claims that a ban would cost the city a projected $55 million a year in taxable revenue, equal to $1.1 million in local sales taxes. Local vape businesses record $111 million a year in sales, according to their trade association.

? What have been the results of restrictions in other California cities?

While some cities have limited access to flavored tobacco, San Francisco became the first in the nation with an outright ban after voters in June overwhelmingly upheld an ordinance that supervisors approved last year.

? Can a ban be phased in to lessen the impact on businesses?

Here’s another issue that needs to be fleshed out: Is it possible to draft the ordinance so it doesn’t completely shut down vape bars and shops? Owners warned the committee that all vaping products are flavored - even to taste like tobacco - so they could all be covered.

According to the city, there are 386 stores that sell tobacco. Under the proposal, no new city licenses would be issued and no existing licenses would be renewed for a retailer within 1,000 feet of another, unless they meet other conditions. Potentially, that could force numerous shops to shut down, since more than 300 of them are that close together.

The focus, however, is on the ban on flavored tobacco, including vape cartridges, menthol cigarettes and hookah. A violation would lead to license suspensions; a fourth within five years would mean revocation.

Proponents of the ban, including the American Cancer Society and American Lung Association, argue that tobacco companies are clearly marketing these products to young people to create a new generation of nicotine addicts.

While a 2009 federal law prohibits cigarettes with candy and fruit flavors, non-cigarette flavored tobacco is still legal. According to the state Department of Public Health, more than 80 percent of tobacco retailers, including those near schools, sell such products. And while a 2016 state law raised the legal age to buy tobacco products from 18 to 21 and fewer youths are smoking cigarettes, use of other tobacco products, especially e-cigarettes, is rising.

In September, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration announced new enforcement to cut sales of e-cigs to minors. Late last month, the agency seized sales and marketing documents at the San Francisco headquarters of JUUL Labs, which controls nearly three-fourths of the e-cigarette market and whose products are popular in high schools.

Opponents, including convenience store owners, assert that retailers are doing a good job of checking IDs to prevent sales to minors, and that young people who want these products will buy them online. They also say that adults will go to a neighboring city to buy flavored tobacco there instead, and that a ban will devastate their businesses since these customers also buy gas and snacks.

Instead of an outright ban, retailers are suggesting more enforcement and stiffer penalties for selling tobacco to minors, or a ban on anyone younger than 21 entering a tobacco retailer. Those are ideas worth exploring; the age limit could shield vaping establishments, where all the products are supposed to be for adults only.

In reconciling these competing interests, council members should put the health of children first. But they should also try to limit the collateral damage to small businesses.

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