Chiu becomes City Hall's go-to guy for solving tough problems

David Chiu has become a more effective legislator since our last cover story profile of him on June 14, 2011.
Keeney and Law

At the start of this year, when I wrote a Guardian cover story profile of Sup. Scott Wiener (which SF Weekly and San Francisco Magazine followed shortly thereafter with their own long Wiener profiles), he seemed like the one to watch on the Board of Supervisors, even though I noted at the time that Board President David Chiu was actually the more prolific legislator.

Now, it’s starting to seem like maybe we all focused on the wrong guy, because it is Chiu and his bustling office of top aides that have done most of the heavy legislative lifting this year, finding compromise solutions to some of the most vexing issues facing the city (ironically, even cleaning up some of Wiener’s messes).

The latest example is Wiener’s CEQA reform legislation, which the board is poised to unanimously approve at today’s meeting, a kumbaya moment that belies the opposition and acrimony that accompanied its introduction. Rather than a battle between developers and the coalition of progressives, environmentalists, neighborhood activists, and historic preservationists, Chiu and board aide Judson True transformed the legislation into something that benefited both sides.

[UPDATE: For reactions to this post and another perspective on Chiu, read this.]

That effort comes on the heels of Chiu’s office solving another big, ugly, seemingly intractable fight: the condominium lottery bypass legislation sponsored by Wiener and Sup. Mark Farrell. To solve that one in the face of real estate industry intransigence, Chiu showed a willingness to play hardball and practice a bit of gamesmanship, winning over swing vote Sup. Norman Yee to get six votes using some hostile amendments to the legislation.

In the end, Chiu won enough support to override a possible veto by the waffling Mayor Ed Lee, who has always echoed Chiu’s rhetoric on seeking compromise and consensus and “getting things done,” but who lacks the political skills and willingness to really engage with all sides. For example, it was Chiu -- along with Sups. Farrell and David Campos -- who spent months forging a true compromise on the hospital projects proposed by California Pacific Medical Center, replacing the truly awful CPMC proposal that Lee readily accepted.

“It’s been a very long year,” Chiu told the Guardian. “It’s been important for me to not just to seek common ground, but legislative solutions that reflect our shared San Francisco values.”

Next, Chiu will wade into another thorny legislative thicket by introducing legislation that will regulate the operations of Airbnb, the online shared housing share corporation whose basic business model often violates local landlord-tenant laws, zoning codes, and lease conditions, in addition to openly defying rulings that it should be paying the city’s transient occupancy tax.      

“This challenge has been particularly difficult,” Chiu told us, referring the many hard-to-solve issues raised by companies such as Airbnb, who Chiu and board aide Amy Chan have been working with for several months. In fact, after originally predicting the legislation would be introduced before the board takes its August recess, Chiu now tells us it may need a bit more time to hammer out the details.

We’ll be watching to see how he sorts through the many tough issues raised by Airbnb’s approach, here and in other big cities with complicated landlord-tenant relations, which I will be exploring in-depth in an upcoming Guardian cover story. But if there’s anyone at City Hall capable of solving this one, it’s probably Chiu.


send a message that businesses are better off to relocate outside of SF.

But the problem with trying to control their competitors is that SF may have no jurisdiction over them.

AirBnB are just a go-between - they're not the ones actually doing the letting and (if you believe it at all) owing any tax.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 23, 2013 @ 1:28 pm

Chiu's research is into issues relating to shared rental housing by services like Airbnb. Specifically what are the effects on neighbors when housing is used as a hotel substitute. Steven is just fixated on AirBNB because Ron Conway is an investor.

If you are expecting journalist accuracy you came to the wrong site, sorry.

Also, Amy Chan of Chiu's office has specifically said they are NOT going to look at the occupancy tax issue, despite what Steven would like you to believe:

"“The new legislation would not touch hotel tax”, said Amy Chan, “this is settled by the City Treasurer and David agrees”. "

Posted by Guest on Jul. 23, 2013 @ 1:57 pm

Yes, "David agrees" that Airbnb owes the TOT to the city, as he has repeatedly said. Airbnb and its apologists are the only ones who think the tax obligation is still on open question. Airbnb execs have said publicly that they want clarity on the regulatory issues before paying the tax -- a position that would seem hard to defend, the argument that corporations can pick and choose the taxes they want to pay and that it's government's job to solve problems with their business models -- and that's what Chiu's legislation will do, so these issues are closely related. As far as why I've focused on Airbnb, it's because it is the biggest company of its kind, it led the unsuccessful lobbying effort against the city's tax law interpretation, it owes more money to the city than other competitors, it is a local company that has the resources to expand into a bigger office, and, lastly, because Mayor Ed Lee has sided with this multi-million-dollar corporation over the city that he was elected to represent, probably motivated to do so at least partly because of Ron Conway's influence. So, yeah, I can defend my decision to focus my fire on Airbnb and the sound journalistic basis for doing so.

Posted by steven on Jul. 23, 2013 @ 2:12 pm

You used Airbnb and had to pay the taxes yourself, and that you violated the terms of your lease yourself, and that you are looking to lash out at someone because of this "injustice." You are also forgetting the part where it was determined that both the renter of the unit and Airbnb were found to be jointly liable for the tax.

spare me.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 23, 2013 @ 2:51 pm

Yes, the tax commissioner said that it was a shared responsibility between hosts and the facilitator without specifying any percentages or anything. On that part you are correct

But Steven T Jones then issued an amendment saying that it was "AirBNB's tax", overriding what the tax commissioner originally said.

What would be helpful is if Steven could sunshine a single letter from the tax commissioner to AirBNB asking them to pay a specific amount. Now THAT would be journalism.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 23, 2013 @ 3:04 pm

As I wrote, only Airbnb and its apologists are disputing what the Tax Collector's Office made crystal clear when it issued Tax Collector Regulation 2012-1, which says, "A website company, or any other person acting as merchant of record who receives rent in connection with an occupancy transaction, is an "operator" who is responsible for collecting the TOT owed by the occupant and for remitting the TOT to the City. Any person receiving such rent shall provide a receipt to the occupant. Such receipt shall include a separate line item specifically identifying the TOT."

Airbnb clearly receives the rent, which it then passes on to the host, so it "is responsible for collecting the TOT owed by the occupant and for remitting the TOT to the City." End of story, for everyone but Airbnb and its paid lobbyists who troll these stories spreading lies and misinformation.

Posted by steven on Jul. 23, 2013 @ 3:49 pm

OPINION of the tax collector that they can go after the TOT if the host doesn't pay it. they haven't tried to do that and, if they did, would no doubt have to make their case to a judge, who may disagree.

At the moment, it is little more than sabre-rattling by a tax collector who clearly is too lazy to pursue the real person that received the rent and profitted from it - the host.

The city also doesn't collect property tax from the realtor who brokers a home purchase for me. AirBnB could co-operate by providing a list of their hosts but that is all. If an AirBnB competitor were based overseas, placing foreign guests with SF hosts, SF could not compel them to pay tax anyway. So why penalize local companies over foreign competitors?

Posted by Guest on Jul. 23, 2013 @ 11:03 pm

>"At the moment, it is little more than sabre-rattling by a tax collector"

That's true. Which is why Steven can't find any indication that the city has tried to collect any tax revenue from AirBNB based on the opinion that they stated well over a year ago. An opinion that they would be impossible to defend since Expedia, Orbitz, Priceline and the rest make it clear that they are not responsible for filing the tax and the tax commissioner has been silent.

All Steven would have to do is ask for copies of collection efforts to AirBNB based on the Sunshine Ordinance.

But let him have his fun...he's harmless

Posted by Guest on Jul. 24, 2013 @ 5:55 am

editor of a responsible news journal and yet he is spreading misinformation in order to try and smear a popular mayor. That shows a lack of journalistic honesty and integrity.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 24, 2013 @ 6:11 am

on 3/19/13 you wrote: "But almost a year later, Airbnb's website doesn't include the tax in its booking rates. And local hosts who are partially responsible for paying the tax are being given only vague information about their tax obligations." And: "In theory, the hosts could be paying that money..." And if it is Airbnb's responsibility, why did you pay the tax when you used their services? What has changed since March that this is now Airbnb's duty alone?

Even your BFF Chiu has called this a "legal grey area." So lets stop pretending that this is an open-n-shut case and that your interpretation of things is "The One."

So, it is clearly "not the end of the story" and feel free to call me a paid troll, or whatever else you want (which is a completely laughable charge, but whatevs, I know you are lashing out at people who have the nerve to question your beliefs")

Posted by GuestD on Jul. 24, 2013 @ 6:37 am

someone refutes his point, he dismisses them as a troll.

He only listens when someone above him tells him that, which of course was exactly Tim's problem - everyone who corrected him was a troll until of course the person correcting him was in a position to fire him.

Has Steven learned nothing from all that? Or has his "promotion" gone to his head and he has the same delusional sense of indispensability that Tim felt until he got kicked out into the long grass?

Posted by Guest on Jul. 24, 2013 @ 7:42 am

Only a paid troll/lobbyist would point out Steven's inconsistencies.

Posted by GuestDD on Jul. 24, 2013 @ 7:48 am

Maybe Steven has learned his lesson?

Posted by Guest on Jul. 24, 2013 @ 11:42 pm

God lord... He just sort of stopped responding after getting his bullshit put on the spotlight.

I bet you he starts deleting them.

Posted by Scram on Jul. 24, 2013 @ 1:01 pm

Nobody has written anything worth responding to since I cited the regulation.

Posted by steven on Jul. 24, 2013 @ 3:35 pm


1) Has that regulation ever been been enforced? Priceline, Expedia, Orbitz and several others all make it clear in their TOS that they are NOT responsible for filing TOT taxes. Can the city selectively enforce that regulation???

2) AirBNB finds rooms in 34,000 cities worldwide. Can you name one city that is actively trying to get AirBNB to pay the TOT tax?

3) Can you produce one letter from Cisneros office where they have attempted to collect an amount from AirBNB?

4) You have said that David Chiu has repeatedly said that AirBNB owes the TOT tax. Please provide one quote. Not a quote saying that Chiu feels that the city is owed the TOT tax somehow, but a quote saying, as you claimed, that Chiu said that AirBNB owes the tax. Shouln't be hard since this is something that he has repeatedly said, right?


Posted by Guest George I on Jul. 24, 2013 @ 4:08 pm

I won't play this game with you, but briefly: 1. Those online companies do pay the TOT when they book hotels, and the city is currently suing them because they are doing so based on a reduced rate; 2. Irrelevant, SF has always been a policy leader, but NYC and LA have each recently taken actions against Airbnb; 3. Taxpayer payment info is confidential and not subject to Sunshine requests; 4. I've quoted Chiu saying that a few times, casting it as a fair competition issue, find them yourself. BTW, it's the guests who should be paying, and Airbnb should be collecting it. Okay, if you want more from me on this issue, read the big story on it that comes out soon, I really have better things to do than repeat points that I've made in past stories.

Posted by steven on Jul. 24, 2013 @ 4:59 pm

If the condo lottery is an example of solving a problem I'm terrified for the future. David Chiu did not respond to the inquires of home owners and amended that legislation, line-by-line with the tenants union. Not figuratively, as in hearing public comment or sitting down with both sides, but literally red-lining at a table according to the tenants union's wishes. It reeks of corruption along the lines of ALEC. The legislation that passed is a disaster for all involved and will lock out lower income people from home ownership in SF for decades.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 23, 2013 @ 2:57 pm

Is the recent condo legislation now city law? Have the 2000+ TIC owners begun condo conversion?

Posted by Guest on Jul. 23, 2013 @ 8:16 pm

Act evictions, as property owners not already in the lottery know that a condo conversion in the future is either highly unlikely or impossible. And the prospect of eventual condo conversion is the main reason not to Ellis.

The law of unintended consequences strikes again.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 23, 2013 @ 11:09 pm


Posted by Guest on Jul. 24, 2013 @ 8:37 am

are not for cause. Can you honestly tell me that you haven't seen a rate of increase in Ellis evictions very recently?

Posted by Guest on Jul. 24, 2013 @ 8:55 am

Why isn't Chiu mayor? Oh. Right. Because some people can't keep their promises.

Posted by Alex B-Z on Jul. 23, 2013 @ 4:09 pm

I hink he'd be mayor right now if he hadn't voted for Ed Lee based on the total lie that he wouldn't run for re-election. That was messed up.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 23, 2013 @ 5:31 pm

Lee changed his mind.

Lee is a popular mayor so clearly Chui made a good decision.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 23, 2013 @ 11:05 pm

Steven: you ignored the participation of Sup. Jane Kim and scores of others who worked the CEQA issue, consulting with attorneys, lobbying supervisors. Chiu and True were key to the solution but Kim came to the rescue with alternate language when Wiener was immovable on important issues such as transparency and notification.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 23, 2013 @ 5:54 pm

Gutting CEQA is a great achievement? Still waiting to hear some examples of the problem this is supposedly addressing. Developers will like it, as will City Hall when it wants to rush through projects it favors.

Posted by Rob Anderson on Jul. 24, 2013 @ 10:27 am

Chiu and other supervisors are just making it harder for everyone to live in SF! Less Legislation is Better. Not more complicated laws around the already bloated Rent Control rules that only started in 1980.
We need Supervisors to help clear up government bureaucracy! Not add more reams and reams of paper to a clogged system.
Cut government. Not add to the mess.

Tackle real issues -- Crime, Homeless, Eliminate Public housing.

Posted by LessSupGovtLaws on Jul. 23, 2013 @ 7:51 pm

be relocated to if public housing is eliminated? Would not such an action make it more difficult for "everyone" to live in San Francisco as it would make vacancies even more scarce? How would less legislation make it easier for "everyone" to live in San Francisco? I am gathering that by "everyone" you are mean a wide range of social/economic groups.

If government services are to be cut, how can crime and the homeless be "tackled"?

Posted by Guest on Jul. 23, 2013 @ 9:04 pm

Many of the residents moved to Oakland, which is probably a better fit.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 23, 2013 @ 11:06 pm

They're not cutting it anyways.

(The disabled, the elderly also)

Anyone who earns less than $50 K per year, off to the work (I mean death) camp.

Posted by Neoliberal Guru on Jul. 24, 2013 @ 11:06 am

I heard it was bad over there but jeez, surely not that bad?

Posted by Guest on Jul. 24, 2013 @ 11:43 am

Will that include the bums hanging out along Stanyan?

Posted by Richmondman on Jul. 24, 2013 @ 12:36 pm

Less Regulations offers everyone -- in all fields and backgrounds and social/economic groups to operate w/o govt interference. Just ask any small mom and pop shop (of any kind of business, what more city and state govt does to their business (hurts it and hurts the consumer).

Ending dependence on Public Housing -- will also help everyone. Teach people how to live on their own, rather than providing handouts is better for society (teach someone to fish, rather than give them/dole out the fish)

Cutting services would help reduce both crime and homelessness. The current ways of spending Millions to have just more depts. and funds go to layers and more layers of govt and non-profits don't help. Why not try less govt and have churches and families help? It can only get better than it is now with a horribly bloated system.

Posted by CradletoGraveNannystate on Jul. 24, 2013 @ 12:40 am

This guy is such a totally disgusting trollop for the plutocrats! He never met park privatization legislation he did not enthuse about. :(

I can't believe the adulation here. Did the Chronicle buy you? Oh wait, it was some felon from Canada.... :(

Posted by GuesLon on Jul. 23, 2013 @ 9:01 pm
Posted by Guest on Jul. 23, 2013 @ 11:07 pm

I forget.. Is it Jane Kim or David Chiu that jump when Peskin says..
Oh that's right, they both do. Pretty easy to emerge successful when your boss is playing both sides of the argument.

Posted by Greg on Jul. 24, 2013 @ 12:19 am

unpredictable. That implies that they actually think about an issue rather than have a kneejerk response, either from the elft or from the right.

You always know how Avalos and Farrell will vote. But just when you think Kim and Chui are mindless lefties, they vote for the Twitter tax break or to nominate Lee as Mayor.

Long may that continue. SF needs pragmatists, not ideologs, and it is the Asian bloc (Lee, Chui, Kim) who are providing that.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 24, 2013 @ 12:38 am

I think Chiu and Kim broke with Peskin a Lon time ago.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 24, 2013 @ 11:01 am

Right and Jane Kim took an online correspondence course to learn all about CEQA - so she could completely write a competing plan which just so happens to strengthen the hysterical preservation commission. Yeah, they totally broke up...

Posted by Guest on Jul. 24, 2013 @ 7:42 pm

I think that Peskin did have some influence on Jane Kim on this one. Which speaks poorly for her.

But Chiu is different. When Chiu was elected Peskin assumed that he would be his complete lackey. But after a few months Chiu manned up and told Peskin to get lost. To his credit. All the Progressives were talking about how disloyal Chiu was because he refused to be a complete lap dog for Peskin.

At this point why would anyone need to curry favor with Peskin?

Posted by Troll on Jul. 24, 2013 @ 8:26 pm

Jason Grant Garza here in regard to David Chiu and the article with its fluff piece in regard to David being the go to man. When DPH broke the law (youtube under Jason Garza), I went to Mr. Chiu in regard to his civil gideon and was sent to the SF Bar Association who informed me that NO LAWYER would take the case. When I went back to Chiu's office I was not helped ... rather asked to leave. I had already warned them that DEADEND lead would be just that and after months and confirmation I went back to illustrate. Then I was further harmed when trying to pointing out the failure, mislead and inhumanity in regard to civil gideon and MEDICAL CARE. Please go to youtube ... type in Jason Garza and see the GAME, HARM and INHUMANITY.
So Mr. Chiu HOW DO WE solve the problem of DPH BREAKING the LAW, not being accountable and NO DUE PROCESS? What about the Sheriff and SFPD NOT enforcing MEDICAL LAW and its VIOLATIONS? Come on ... aren't you the go to man? Maybe the go to man for delay, further harm. more spin, no results and NO HOPE to hold accountable; however I am glad to see the fluff over corporations ... what about the CITIZENS? Don't believe the hype ask and demand answers for the REAL questions.
Interestingly enough I believe David Chiu was on the BOARD when in 2007 the city signed a settlement/confession with the OFFICE of Inspector General admitting fault and guilt for BREAKING medical law ? Where was the go to man? I still have not been told how this could happen after CCSF had my case (C02-3485PJH) dismissed in 2003 with FRAUD and TESTILYING ; however rest assured that DAVID is the go to man ... I wait EXPLANATION. Please explain to me how I can have an arrest record ... never having been arrested for a CRIME the city admits to in 2007 and the denial (medical care CONTINUES?

Posted by Jason Grant Garza on Jul. 24, 2013 @ 6:55 am

David Chiu failed to lead on the most important issue facing his District 3 constituents: the redesign of the Polk Street corridor to transform it Into a go-to shopping street. The proposed pedestrian and cyclist safety reforms that would have increased the numbers of people using the shops has been gutted to accommodate ignorant, fearful merchants who believe most of their business comes from those arriving by car. Despite studies showing only 15 percent drive to Polk and that similar do-overs have led to increased sales in New York and other cities, the mostly fat, greying merchants pressured Chiu and won. The rest of us - residents and transiting cyclists - lost, because Chiu failed to lead and caved to these NIMBYs. I voted gladly for Chiu in the past. Not again. He knew the science, but was afraid to take a stand.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 24, 2013 @ 10:54 am

Almost all SF voters now hate cyclists because of their arrogance, and Chui gets that.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 24, 2013 @ 11:14 am

David Chiu failed to lead on the most important issue facing his District 3 constituents: the redesign of the Polk Street corridor to transform it Into a go-to shopping street. The proposed pedestrian and cyclist safety reforms that would have increased the numbers of people using the shops has been gutted to accommodate ignorant, fearful merchants who believe most of their business comes from those arriving by car. Despite studies showing only 15 percent drive to Polk and that similar do-overs have led to increased sales in New York and other cities, the mostly fat, greying merchants pressured Chiu and won. The rest of us - residents and transiting cyclists - lost, because Chiu failed to lead and caved to these NIMBYs. I voted gladly for Chiu in the past. Not again. He knew the science, but was afraid to take a stand.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 24, 2013 @ 10:59 am

They can't whine about anything right now.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 24, 2013 @ 11:15 am

Your comment is unthinking and sadly predictable. I wish you and others would stop reflexively attacking those who sometimes bike in SF, and instead engage in the development issues that we in the Polk Street shopping/residential area face. We have (or had) an opportunity to redesign a vital commercial area and transit through way. A big win for everybody, merchants included. Instead we will be saddled with Polk as an old mare of a street, dangerous for my children 10 years from now when they will start navigating the City a bit more on their own. I am already voting with my feet/pedals/car/ keyboard. I rarely patronize the bike-hostile stores on Polk anymore, if I can conveniently shop anywhere else. I encourage others to do the same but keep your business with pro or neutral merchants -- like Harry at Polk Street Produce or Trader Joe's. I hope the dinosaur store owners along Polk will eventually close shop, and we'll get a more dynamic set of business owners who believe a safer Polk Street will arrow their revenues, not the other way around.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 24, 2013 @ 11:33 am

Sorry, that's "grow their revenues"' not "arrow their revenues".

Posted by Guest on Jul. 24, 2013 @ 11:35 am

Do you really not understand why the other 99% of us are done with your whining and bleating?

Posted by Guest on Jul. 24, 2013 @ 11:46 am

There is no "obsession" with one street; it is simply a case of working on one issue at a time, as they come up. For me, a resident of the Polk area, it has been an active issue, but a sadly futile effort. There will be many other local issues to participate in, and I am confident pedestrian and bike and transit advocates are and will be working on them. I would really appreciate it, however if you would adopt a more open and polite tone. Discussions at the sfbg most often devolve into mostly male passing contests, full of dismissals. I have no intention of being lured into that type of pointless mud- slinging. Fact-based opining is much more helpful to every reader willing to slog through the comments section.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 24, 2013 @ 2:41 pm