MONEY Autos

Why Your Toyota Prius Could Make You a Theft Target

JAPAN-AUTO-TOYOTA
KAZUHIRO NOGI—AFP/Getty Images An employee fixes a main battery of the hybrid system in Toyota Motor's Prius.

Hint: A Tesla Model S driver wouldn't have this problem.

Hybrid cars are increasingly the target of theft, thanks to lightweight batteries that are easy to steal—at least for thieves who know what they’re doing.

Toyota Prius drivers in San Francisco seem to be getting the worst of it, a California ABC affiliate reports, with several thefts across the city in recent months.

Though there’s a serious risk of electrocution, thieves in the area have succeeded in quickly cutting cables attached to the 200-volt batteries, then removing them within about 20 minutes.

Prius batteries can go for as much as $1,000 on Craigslist, a tidy profit given the speed of the job.

Unfortunately for Prius drivers, replacing a stolen battery can cost about $3,000—and once you account for the cost of other repairs, like replacing broken windows, the final bill could be as high as $10,000. Buying a used battery online might be cheaper, but then you can’t be sure of just how used it is (or whether it was come by honestly).

Despite the risks involved, what makes the theft relatively easy is portability: The battery in the Prius weighs only about 150 pounds. Compare that to the Tesla Model S battery, which weighs more than 1,000 pounds.

If you own a Prius, there are a few steps you can take to prevent theft, including replacing the bolts fastening down your battery with tamper-proof ones.

MONEY Wages

Los Angeles Just Raised Its Minimum Wage to $15

May Day Rally Held in Los Angeles
Sandy Huffaker—Getty Images Protesters chant during a May Day rally in downtown Los Angeles, California.

The increase will kick in by 2020

The Los Angeles City Council has voted to ramp up the city’s minimum wage to $15 an hour from $9 over the next five years.

The urban center is the largest among several cities—including Seattle, San Francisco, and Oakland, California—that have moved to increase pay for their lowest-earning workers. Once signed by the mayor, the L.A. law could affect as many as 800,000 workers, reports the Los Angeles Times.

Other cities, including New York and Washington, D.C., are still considering laws that would also set the local minimum wage at $15. (See this map of places where local minimum wage increases have been enacted or proposed.)

The first pay bump would occur in July 2016, increasing wages in Los Angeles to $10.50 per hour.

Read next: These Are the 25 Best U.S. Cities for Jobs

TIME housing

Report Finds Airbnb May Contribute to San Francisco’s Housing Woes

San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge
Getty Images

Fights over privacy and business continue to plague the popular home-sharing platform in the City by the Bay

A report released on Thursday found that about 15% of San Francisco’s vacant housing may have been removed from the market so it could be rented out on sharing economy platform Airbnb. This comes at a time when the company is waging legal battles in several cities—and when renting out one’s home for less than 30 days has just been banned in Santa Monica, Calif.

San Francisco Board Supervisor David Campos held a news conference Thursday, asserting that the report proves Airbnb is a “significant contributor to the housing shortage” that is pushing low- and middle-income families out of the city. While no one denies that the City by the Bay is in the midst of a housing crisis, the company and at least one economist believe that the report and that politician overstate the role that Airbnb plays.

The study was conducted by the city’s independent budget and legislative analyst’s office, at the progressive lawmaker’s request. Campos has proposed legislation that would change a new law that legalized short-term rentals in San Francisco. Residents at the moment are allowed to host Airbnb guests in their units for unlimited days per year and to rent them out 90 days per year when they’re not present. Campos’ proposal would limit all rentals, hosted or un-hosted, to 90 days per year.

“The Mission is a community in crisis,” Campos said of the neighborhood that has become ground zero for working-class activists protesting gentrification fueled by booming tech companies. “This practice is exacerbating an already terrible situation.”

Airbnb countered, as local loyalists have in city council hearings, that those struggling to make ends meet can benefit from the added income that sharing a home affords. “Home sharing is an economic lifeline for thousands of San Franciscans who depend on the extra income to stay in their homes,” Airbnb spokesperson Christopher Nulty said in a statement, responding to the report. “Supervisor Campos’ proposal would make it even harder for middle class families to stay in San Francisco and pay the bills.”

The report’s author admits that the attempts to quantify Airbnb’s impact are a best guess, relying on webscrapes and assumptions about residents’ behavior. Airbnb continues to guard data about their users and financial situation that would allow for more precision. Though the company is submitting monthly anonymized data to the city to prove that hosts are remitting hotel taxes, officials have said they need more data in order to effectively enforce limits on rentals.

“I think the bigger picture questions to focus on are: How can cities pass effective legislation in the absence of accurate data about Airbnb?” Karen Chapple, professor of city and regional planning at the University of California—Berkeley, writes in an email. “Would it not be in Airbnb’s interest to share its data openly and collaborate with cities in designing and implementing fair laws?”

Arun Sundararajan, an economist who reviewed the report, believes that Airbnb and its data are something of a red herring. While the site may lead to some units being taken off the market and to disturbances among neighbors who don’t like sharing their buildings with tourists, he says the housing options provided by Airbnb are likely drawing more tourists—and more revenue—to the city. The responsibility of Airbnb in yielding the current lack of housing in the city is “sort of like a rounding error when you compare it to the population growth in San Francisco and the number of units that are rent-controlled.”

As Airbnb stands firm on protecting users’ data and refusing to fork over the names and addresses for every booking, Nulty points out that these short-term rentals are contributing around $469 million in revenue to the local economy and that more than 80% of users in San Francisco share only the home in which they live.

“Any sort of creative disruption tends to have winners and losers,” Sundararajan says. “I just don’t see a scenario in this case where the losses are going to outweigh the wins.”

TIME Crime

Prosecutors Charge 33 in Alleged Criminal Enterprise

The conspiracy spread across Ohio, Minnesota, California and Puerto Rico

(San Francisco) — Nearly three dozen people have been charged in California as part of a criminal network that illegally sold millions of dollars in prescription drugs and engaged in bank fraud, money laundering and racketeering, federal prosecutors announced Thursday.

Prosecutors alleged a widespread conspiracy that included numerous companies and activity in California, Minnesota, Ohio and Puerto Rico.

The group — some of them family members with ties to Southern California — got prescription drugs from unlicensed sources and resold them to unwitting customers, prosecutors said.

According to a grand jury indictment, David Miller, 50, ran a drug wholesale business called the Minnesota Independent Cooperative. The business bought about $157 million in drugs from Mihran Stepanyan, 29, and Artur Stepanyan, 38, even though Miller knew they were not licensed to sell drugs and obtained them illegally, the seven-count indictment says.

Ara Karapedyan, 45, another key figure in the enterprise, sold several hundred thousand dollars of drugs, including the antidepressants Cymbalta and Abilify and the cancer drug Gleevec, prosecutors said.

Karapedyan and the Stepanyans were among 32 people arrested Wednesday, according to the U.S. attorney’s office for the Northern District of California. Miller remains at large.

The U.S. attorney’s office said it did not know whether any of the defendants had attorneys who could comment on the allegations. Most of them appeared before federal judges Wednesday but did not enter pleas.

In addition to illegal prescription drug sales, the enterprise is accused of preparing fraudulent tax returns that relied on an unlicensed mailbox business for addresses. Karapedyan and his associates negotiated more than 500 fraudulent checks worth more than $5 million between 2012 and 2014, according to prosecutors.

Karapedyan and another defendant, Gevork Ter-Mkrtchyan, are also accused of paying $1,500 to have someone killed, though prosecutors said the hit was never carried out.

TIME Baseball

The San Francisco Giants Could Become the First MLB Team to Ban Chewing Tobacco

Minnesota Twins v San Francisco Giants
Brace Hemmelgarn—Getty Images A general view of the exterior of AT&T Park following the game between the San Francisco Giants and the Minnesota Twins on May 23, 2014 in San Francisco, California.

Players have been dipping for as long as anyone can remember, but that could soon change

A San Francisco city ordinance could make the Giants the first team in Major League Baseball to ban chewing tobacco on the field.

City supervisors voted unanimously on Tuesday to ban smokeless tobacco in playing fields throughout the city and specifically targeted baseball—a sport infamous for the player’s use of tobacco, according to a statement from the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, which pushed for the law.

The ordinance must pass one more vote and, if San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee signs, the rule will be implemented on Jan. 1 2016—in time for the MLB baseball season.

Jess Montejano, a legislative aide for the ban’s chief sponsor, Supervisor Mark Farrell, told TIME that legislators began working on the ordinance in the beginning part of 2015 because “it’s a serious health issue” in which “kids are seeing their athletic heroes chewing tobacco on the baseball diamond.”

Montejano also added the San Francisco Giants “are fully aware of the intention” and that proponents of the ban believed the team would support MLB’s stance on the issue of chewing tobacco.

After the law was initially proposed in late Feb., MLB issued a statement saying that it “has long supported a ban of smokeless tobacco at the Major League level” and that it had been seeking “a ban of its use on-field in discussions with the Major League Baseball Players Association.”

A study published April 10 from the University of California San Francisco suggested that seeing players chewing tobacco was akin to product endorsement. It found that “modeling of smokeless tobacco use by…elite athletes is strongly associated with smokeless tobacco initiation among adolescent males.” The study also cited an NCAA statistic that found that 52.3% of collegiate baseball players tried smokeless tobacco at least once in 2012 to 2013.

When asked if the ban would essentially force players to quit, Montejano cited former MLB pitcher Curt Schilling, who blames tobacco for his mouth cancer. “Schilling said it was the worst thing about his life and if he could change one thing from his younger years it would be to quit.”

TIME Crime

UberX Driver Arrested for Trying to Rob Woman’s Home After Taking Her to Airport

Mobilitäts Apps
Britta Pedersen—Picture-Alliance/DPA/AP Images An iPhone user is seen using the Uber app as Taxis queue

The incident is the latest to raise safety concerns regarding the hugely popular ride-sharing app

Police in Denver arrested an UberX driver Tuesday on suspicion of attempting to burgle a woman’s house after he dropped her off at the airport.

According to the Denver Post, 51-year-old Gerald Montgomery was taken into custody on suspicion of attempted second-degree burglary, a felony. Montgomery allegedly tried to break in through the backdoor of the woman’s home but fled when her roommate noticed.

“Upon learning about this incident from our valued rider, we immediately deactivated the driver’s access to the platform, pending a full investigation. We remain committed to supporting Denver law enforcement in any way we can,” Uber spokesman Taylor Patterson says in a statement to TIME.

Uber performs a three-step screening process that includes a county, federal and multistate background check. However, according to the Post, Montgomery had no criminal history in Colorado. Uber says they work closely with the police department to facilitate the arrest of individuals accused of crimes.

UberX is a low-cost version of the wildly successful ride-sharing program. Based in San Francisco, the firm has been the subject of numerous legal challenges — including from a Philadelphia woman who accused an UberX driver of rape a little over a week ago.

Montgomery is due to appear in court on Friday.

[Denver Post]

TIME Crime

America’s Largest Death Row Has Run Out of Room

San Quentin Prison shown on July 10, 2013, in Larkspur, Califo.
George Rose—Getty Images San Quentin Prison shown on July 10, 2013, in Larkspur, Califo.

708 out of 715 death row cells at San Quentin are occupied

California has not seen an execution for nearly a decade and, with an anticipated 20 new arrivals per year, the largest execution system in the U.S. has run out of room.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Governor Jerry Brown has requested $3.2 million in special funding to expand death row at San Quentin State Prison by 97 cells — utilizing facilities that have become free thanks to an overall drop in the state’s inmates following voter approval last fall of Proposition 47 (which reclassified most nonviolent drug crimes as misdemeanors).

Official documents obtained by the Times say “it is not feasible to delay the approval and implementation of this proposal.”

But because California’s death row has been embroiled in litigation for years, the expansion plans for San Quentin could be a stopgap solution at best.

On July 16, 2014, Orange County federal Judge Cormac J. Carney deemed the state’s death penalty to be unconstitutional. The last California inmate to be executed was Clarence Ray Allen in 2006 and since then 49 inmates have died from other causes.

“Until the litigation is resolved, this cost-effective proposal allows [the state corrections department] to safely house condemned inmates going forward,” corrections-department spokeswoman Terry Thornton told the Times.

San Quentin, just north of San Francisco, can house 715 condemned inmates and currently 708 prisoners reside in the cells. Twenty women are housed in the Central California Women’s Facility (near Chowchilla, Calif.) and another 23 prisoners are held at locations throughout the state due to various extenuating circumstances.

Governor Brown’s proposal is scheduled for a hearing in late April.

TIME politics

San Francisco Lawmakers Propose Tougher Restrictions on Airbnb Rentals

Airbnb
Airbnb

The proposal would take a trailblazing regulation measure passed last year and make it more restrictive

At a meeting of San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, a local lawmaker returned to an issue that sparked long and contentious hearings in 2014: regulation of the city’s short-term rentals facilitated by Airbnb and similar companies.

“This law is a mess,” David Campos, one of the 11 board members, said of a measure passed last year that legalized short-term rentals. “It’s a mess that needs to be cleaned up. And we need to clean it up as soon as possible.”

Campos introduced legislation that would place stricter limitations on how often people can rent out rooms or homes, putting a “hard cap” of 90 days on every property, regardless of whether the host is present. It would also require companies such as Airbnb to share data about rentals, ban rentals in certain neighborhoods that have been zoned for no commercial use and give disturbed neighbors—like ones living next door to people who rent out units illegally—the right to sue for damages.

A spokesperson for Airbnb said in a statement to TIME that the new proposal is just creating tension over an issue that was settled in 2014.

“Elected officials spent three years debating all aspects of this issue before passing comprehensive legislation, but some folks still don’t think you should be able to occasionally share the home in which you live,” said Christopher Nulty. “We should all be striving to make the law work but these ad hoc rules and this new bill just make things more confusing.”

Campos’ measure has been co-sponsored by two other members of the board.

Under the law passed last year, residents in San Francisco are allowed to rent out their properties an unlimited amount of days if the host is present, while there is a 90-day cap on un-hosted rentals. The different limits were aimed at maximizing the economic potential for residents who depend on sites like Airbnb for income, while making it impossible for landlords to put rental units on those sites full-time. Before the law passed, all short-term rentals were technically illegal; rentals shorter than 30 days were banned.

MORE: 5 Things You Never Knew About the Sharing Economy

The problem, Campos says, is that the city planning commission, which is charged with enforcing the law, says there’s no method of determining when hosts are at home sleeping in their own beds, meaning they cannot monitor whether people are respecting the limits. Campos called the law a “paper tiger” that is “unenforceable” because it has no teeth.

Local lawmakers have pushed for limits on short-term rentals to make sure the sharing economy doesn’t cannibalize existing housing stock. “The concern is you take your unit off the market,” says Supervisor Jane Kim, who supports a 90-day cap.

In recent years, San Francisco has been in the midst of a housing crisis, with the amount of people wanting to live in the city exceeding the apartments that are available—which has sent rental prices skyrocketing. The law was partly aimed at stopping landlords from taking much-needed units off the market because renting them out every night on sites like Airbnb was more valuable than collecting a monthly check. It also legitimized a business popular with tourists and locals.

Kim points out that 90 days per year breaks down to about a week per month, or could be the length of a summer when a college student is out of town. It’s sufficient for what one might consider “regular” hosts who use Airbnb, she says. “If you’re doing more than 90 days, you’re running a business,” she says. Kim believes that people in that camp should apply for a bed-and-breakfast license, which requires hosts to meet more requirements like installing exit signs.

With the aim of making oversight more feasible, Campos’ proposal would require platforms like Airbnb to give the city data about how often properties are being rented through their sites. “Without that data, there’s simply no way of knowing,” Campos says. He adds that Airbnb has responded to previous requests for such data by demanding the city subpoena them and notes that Airbnb has fought such subpoenas in states like New York.

Under the current law, which went into effect in February, all hosts must register with the city before listing a property on a site like Airbnb. Campos says that as of two weeks ago only a few dozen residents have registered, while there are “thousands” of rooms and units being listed on short-term rental sites. In an attempt to incentivize compliance with the law, the proposal would also fine hosting platforms that list unregistered units in San Francisco to the tune of $1,000 per day.

“All of us support short-term rentals,” Campos said of the board members during Tuesday’s meeting. “We know that short-term rentals are part of San Francisco, that they are here to stay … That said, I think that those of us that have been talking about this believe there should be reasonable, fair regulation of this industry,” he continued. “The law that was passed last year does not constitute what we would like to see.”

Read next: Baby, You Can Drive My Car, and do My Errands, and Rent My Stuff…

TIME justice

Lawsuit Claims Instacart ‘Personal Shoppers’ Should Be Classified as Employees

Kaitlin Myers a shopper for Instacart studies her smart phone as she  shops for a customer at Whole Foods in Denver.
Cyrus McCrimmon—Denver Post/Getty Images Instacart shopper Kaitlin Myers navigates through the aisles at Whole Foods in Denver.

A case filed in California's Northern District Court claims that the grocery delivery service owes workers for expenses

A new lawsuit alleges that Instacart, an on-demand grocery delivery service valued at $2 billion, misclassifies its workers as independent contractors to avoid paying expenses like overtime, reimbursements for gas and workers’ compensation.

The class action complaint, which was filed on Jan. 9th but has not been previously reported, describes Instacart’s business practices as “unethical, oppressive and unscrupulous” and seeks damages for anyone who has worked as a “shopper delivery person” for the company since 2012.

The complaint, which contains allegations similar to those in two ongoing lawsuits also pending in California’s Northern District Court against ride-app companies Uber and Lyft, is the latest potential legal hurdle for the surging on-demand economy.

“Instacart does all it can to distance itself from the employer-employee relationship,” says Bob Arns, whose San Francisco-based Arns Law Firm brought the suit on behalf of workers including Dominic Cobarruviaz, who was injured in an accident while delivering groceries for Instacart. “Why does a company want to do that? It’s to keep the bottom line lower, to unfairly compete against other companies. That’s the crux of our case.”

The suit contends that Instacart, which is two-and-a-half years old and operates in 15 markets around the U.S., has violated labor laws due to the workers’ “misclassification, unpaid workers’ compensation insurance, unpaid tax contributions, unreimbursed expenses, and related misconduct.” The complaint also claims that the company has committed fraud, knowing workers should be classified as employees, and used unfair business practices.

“[There is] this narrative that I think companies like Instacart and Uber and Lyft want to become more mainstream,” says Jonathan Davis, another lawyer for the plaintiffs, “that somehow these antiquated laws don’t apply to these types of work relationships. And frankly it’s ludicrous. Just because a worker is directed and controlled by an algorithm that comes through a phone as opposed to a foreman doesn’t do anything to change the fundamental relationship of employment.”

Instacart has not responded to requests for comment. The case names the company as Maplebear Inc., which does business as Instacart.

Instacart customers order groceries through a smartphone app, choosing items they want from their preferred store. The app then relays grocery orders to workers, who shop for the products and deliver them using their own vehicles in as little as an hour or two. The company takes a cut from a delivery fee and gets an undisclosed amount from retailers that customers buy groceries from through the app.

In late February, the case was assigned to District Judge Edward Chen, who is also hearing the Uber case, which claims that Uber drivers are employees rather than independent contractors and should be reimbursed for expenses like gas, insurance and vehicle maintenance. On March 11, Chen denied Uber’s request for a summary judgment ruling that drivers are independent contractors, saying that a jury would have to decide whether the drivers are employees or “partners,” as the company calls them. In his ruling, the judge said Uber’s claim that it is a “technology company” and not a “transportation company” is “fatally flawed.”

Instacart’s CEO Apoorva Mehta has likewise said that Instacart is a software company, not a grocery delivery company.

Arns believes that the terms the company sets out, which customers must agree to, could pass liability along to the person ordering groceries. If Instacart is “solely a communication platform” for facilitating a connection between the customer and the shopper, he says, damages from an accident or injury like the one Corbarruviaz had could be the responsibility of the customer who started the communication.

The suit rejects the idea that Instacart is simply a middle man, claiming that the company “is in the business of providing online grocery shopping and delivery service.” The suit seeks to define the class as everyone who “performed grocery delivery service” for Instacart from Jan. 1, 2012 to the present. As of June 2014, about 1,000 people were reportedly registered to shop and deliver groceries for the company. Arns estimates that the size of the class could be 10,000.

The growing independent-contractor workforce is a key reason that companies like Instacart and Uber have been able to grow so quickly. In January, Forbes put Instacart at the top of its “America’s Most Promising Companies” list. The cost of organizing independent contractors is much less than hiring employees. The companies who operate this way don’t have to pay unemployment tax or overtime, or ensure that workers are making at least minimum wage. They don’t have to pay for their own fleet of vehicles or costs associated with operating them since the workers use their personal cars. In many cases, they don’t have to pay for the smartphones or data plans workers need to do the jobs.

Arns and Davis say that after the costs of being a worker for Instacart are added up, many of them are not making minimum wage. Unlike drivers on platforms like Uber and Lyft, who can log in to work and log out at any time, personal shoppers for Instacart set their own hours in advance and work in shifts.

“We can’t sacrifice the gains that have been made over time in this country to create good, solid middle-class jobs simply at the altar of expediency and technology,” Davis says. They contend that the lawsuit is beneficial for companies in the sharing economy in the long run, even if it ends up costing them millions. “We want to see Instacart succeed,” says Arns, “and it can succeed by complying with the law.”

Corbarruviaz v. Maplebear, Inc.

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TIME Apple

Apple Unveils 12-Inch Retina MacBook

The company just introduced its lightest laptop ever

Apple on Monday unveiled a svelte new addition to its lineup of laptops: the 12-inch MacBook. At a press briefing in San Francisco, the electronics giant introduced the long-anticipated update to its MacBook line.

CEO Tim Cook touted the device’s light weight and thin enclosure. It weighs 2 lbs. and, at its thickest point, the MacBook is 13.1 millimeters thick, 24% thinner than the 11-inch MacBook Air. It also features the company’s ultra-high-resolution Retina display. And unlike previous models, the device will be available in multiple colors, silver, grey and gold. Introducing the computer, Cook joked with the audience, “It is unbelievable! Can you even see it?”

Marketing chief Phil Schiller said the device represents the company’s vision of the future for notebooks. Rather than a multitude of ports, the device will have one connector, dubbed USB-C, to provide power, video output, and device connectivity. Schiller said the standard was being adopted across the computer industry. On stage, Schiller called it “the world’s most energy efficient laptop.”

The base model MacBook comes with a 1.1 Ghz dual-core Intel Core M processor, Intel HD 3500 graphics, 8GB of memory, and a 256GB SSD hard drive. It begins at $1,299 and will be available next month. The company also announced several moderate upgrades to its other laptops.

CEO Cook said during the presentation that while the notebook market shrank 2% last year, Apple’s MacBook business grew 21% during the same period. Ultra-light notebooks like the one Apple introduced today have been the lone bright spot as personal computer sales have sputtered over the past few years. According to researcher Gartner, sales of so-called ultra mobile premium computers like the new MacBook are expected to grow to 85 million annually, up from 39 million last year.

Read next: HBO’s Streaming Service Launching Next Month Exclusively on Apple TV

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