Shrimp Boy is innocent (say his attorneys), Airbnb comes clean, and Ellis Act reform advances
Who is Raymond "Shrimp Boy" Chow? In the 137-page federal complaint detailing charges that led to the high-profile arrest of Sen. Leland Yee, Chow, and 24 others two weeks ago (see "Crime and politics," April 1), Chow is described as the powerful "Dragonhead" of an ancient Chinese organized crime syndicate, "overseeing a vast criminal enterprise involved in drugs, guns, prostitution, protection rackets, moving stolen booze and cigarettes, and money laundering," as we reported at the time.
Not so, famed defense attorney Tony Serra told a crowd of reporters at Pier 5 Law Offices in San Francisco's North Beach, where he and fellow attorneys were joined by supporters wearing red tees bearing the slogan "Free Shrimp Boy" last week.
Attorneys Serra and Curtis Briggs described a five-year federal operation to target Chow and ensnare him in wrongdoing, insisting he had wanted no part in criminal activity. Serra said agents had "stuffed money into his pocket" despite his protests, and noted that his legal team was representing Chow pro bono because he has no money. (Rebecca Bowe)
AIRBNB COMES CLEAN
Airbnb came clean last week, sending out new terms of service drafted April 7 that customers must agree to before conducting further business starting April 30. The new agreements seem intended to address longstanding issues in San Francisco that the Guardian first raised in May 2012 ("The problem with the sharing economy," 5/1/12), and have been recently joined by other journalists in spelling out and highlighting.
In the opening of its new Terms of Service, Airbnb wrote (in all caps): "IN PARTICULAR, HOSTS SHOULD UNDERSTAND HOW THE LAWS WORK IN THEIR RESPECTIVE CITIES. SOME CITIES HAVE LAWS THAT RESTRICT THEIR ABILITY TO HOST PAYING GUESTS FOR SHORT PERIODS. THESE LAWS ARE OFTEN PART OF A CITY'S ZONING OR ADMINISTRATIVE CODES. IN MANY CITIES, HOSTS MUST REGISTER, GET A PERMIT, OR OBTAIN A LICENSE BEFORE LISTING A PROPERTY OR ACCEPTING GUESTS. CERTAIN TYPES OF SHORT-TERM BOOKINGS MAY BE PROHIBITED ALTOGETHER. LOCAL GOVERNMENTS VARY GREATLY IN HOW THEY ENFORCE THESE LAWS. PENALTIES MAY INCLUDE FINES OR OTHER ENFORCEMENT. HOSTS SHOULD REVIEW LOCAL LAWS BEFORE LISTING A SPACE ON AIRBNB."
It seems like a good first step. Next we'll see whether the company follows through with paying its local taxes and working with the city on legislation to legalize more of its business model in San Francisco. (Steven T. Jones)
NEW RIDESHARE REGULATIONS PROPOSED
Rideshare companies must provide their drivers with insurance. That was the gist of a public letter released last week by the California Insurance Commission, addressed to the California Public Utilities Commission, which regulates transportation network companies such as Uber, Lyft, and Sidecar.
"While smart phone technology is bringing new business opportunities to the marketplace and new transportation choices for consumers, our investigative hearing revealed serious insurance gaps in the current business model of Transportation Network Companies such as Uber, Lyft and Sidecar," Insurance Commissioner David Jones wrote in a statement to press. "As long as TNCs are encouraging non-professional drivers to use their personal vehicles to drive passengers for a profit, a risk which personal automobile insurance simply does not cover, TNCs should bear the burden of making sure that insurance is provided. Our recommendations will ensure there is insurance protection for passengers, drivers and pedestrians."