From the Trenches: SF Rips Airbnb a New One

“From the Trenches” is a battle cry. In a globalized world that criminalizes the rebellious in spirit, it’s easy to forget that change-minded activists and organizers are tallying up tiny victories against sociocultural and economic oppression on the regular. The column will serve as a weekly reminder that we not only can win, but we do, often. So hasta la victoria siempre and all that.

In case you hadn’t heard, San Francisco has rapidly become a steaming pile of shit over the course of the last decade or so, thanks in part to the colonizing efforts of wave after wave of tech workers, hell bent on building an empire fashioned from co-workspace desks and Google buses on the ashes of the Bay Area. Tech companies and workers are notorious for all sorts of heinousness, from tax-dodging to trashing public parks. Neighborhoods rapidly gentrify in their wake, leaving behind a homogenized, soulless San Francisco all but devoid of its trademark offbeat charm.

The generally decent sector of population has grown ever more disgusted with the situation–punctuated with space station-high rents and cost of living, alongside evictions, displacement and a public schools crisis–with each passing month.

It is in this climate that Airbnb, a “tech hotel without a middleman,” decided to publicly congratulate itself last Wednesday–for finally paying towards the $25 million it owed the city in back taxes. Needless to say, the strategy did not go over well. The SF Examiner reports:


Airbnb’s ads touted all the uses for its tax dollars by telling parking enforcers how to do their jobs, public works to build more bike lanes and for all of San Francisco to go “buy burritos.” …

Airbnb’s tone-deaf ads were shamed locally, and quickly escalated in the national media: New York Times, The Washington Post, Business Insider, LA Times, The Guardian, Fortune, and CNN Money, just to name a few. The Post’s headline read “Sorry Airbnb, you don’t get a gold star for paying taxes.”

Red-blooded San Franciscans, giddy with revenge, posted their own versions of the ill-advised ads, attacking the company for its hubris, as well as its $8 million campaign to kill the city’s Proposition F, an initiative that would prevent landlords from converting apartments into hotel rooms, a practice that may have already cost the city up to 2,000 housing units.

By Thursday, the signs had been taken down and Airbnb had apologized (on Twitter, of course). But the Examiner article posed an interesting question: Will outraged San Franciscan’s  decide to take the housing crisis seriously, knock Airbnb off of its high horse and vote yes to Prop F on November 3?

As Magic 8 Ball would say, “Ask again later.”

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