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.”

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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

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME medicine

Chain of Kidney Transplants Begins at San Francisco Hospital

Kidney donor Zully Broussard speaks at California Pacific Medical Center on March 4, 2015 in San Francisco
Leah Millis—AP Kidney donor Zully Broussard speaks at California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco on March 4, 2015

This is the largest kidney-donation chain in the transplant center's history

(SAN FRANCISCO) — Zully Broussard thought she was going to help one person by donating a kidney.

Instead, she helped six.

The Sacramento woman’s donation to a Benicia man set off an organ swap that resulted in five more sick people getting new kidneys at a San Francisco hospital. Three transplants were completed Thursday, and the remaining three will be done Friday.

“I thought I was going to help this one person who I don’t know. But the fact that so many people can have a life extension, that’s pretty big,” Broussard said.

Domino-like kidney swaps are still relatively new, but they are becoming increasingly common.

With a total of a dozen patients and donors, this week’s surgeries at the California Pacific Medical Center represent the largest kidney donation chain in its transplant center’s 44-year history, hospital spokesman Dean Fryer said. The patients at are between 24 to 70 years old, and most of them are from the San Francisco Bay Area.

Transplant chains are an option when donors are incompatible with relatives or friends who need kidneys.

In this case, six donors are instead giving kidneys to strangers found through a software matching program developed by 59-year-old David Jacobs, a kidney recipient whose brother died of kidney failure. Its algorithmic program finds potential matches using a person’s genetic profile.

Jacobs, of San Francisco, said he understands firsthand the despair of waiting for a deceased donor.

“Some of these people might have waited forever and never got the kidney,” he said. “But because of the magic of this technology and the one altruistic donor, she was able to save six lives in 24 hours.”

Fewer than 17,000 kidney transplants are performed in the U.S. each year, and between 5,000 and 6,000 are from living donors, considered the optimal kind.

Kidney swaps are considered one of the best bets at increasing live-donor transplants, and they are becoming more common as transplant centers form alliances to share willing patient-donor pairs. The United Network for Organ Sharing has a national pilot program underway.

In 2001, Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, performed a transplant chain that started as a two-way kidney exchange and grew to 30 pairs.

Jacobs’ kidneys failed in early 2000 from a genetic disease. In late 2003, a living unrelated donor provided an organ for a transplant.

A new chance at life got him thinking.

“I talked to my doctor about kidney-paired donation. He was excited about the idea but didn’t know how to do it,” he recalled. “I was a tech person. I’ve been in technology my whole professional career. I thought of it as an enterprise software problem I could solve.”

He said the two months he imagined it would take to take to develop the software stretched into six years.

The National Kidney Foundation reports more than 100,000 people in the United States are awaiting kidneys, and 12 people die a day while waiting.

Broussard said her son died of cancer 13 years ago and her husband passed away 14 months ago, also from cancer.

Asked why she volunteered to donate a kidney to a stranger, the 55-year-old said: “I know what it feels like to want an extra day.”

MONEY Census

Most Americans Are Crammed Into 3% of the Country

aerial view of subdivision
David Sucsy

We love cities. A lot.

If you’re reading this, odds are you’re living in one very small portion of the United States. That’s because, according to a new Census report, nearly 63% of the population resides in what’s known as an incorporated area—we know it as a city—and those cities take up just 3.5% of the country’s landmass.

In other words, more than half of the people in the country are crammed into an area a little smaller than the state of Montana.

Not only have most Americans shoehorned themselves into cities, but more people are moving in by the day. The population of incorporated places jumped by 24.1 million between 2000 and 2013, slightly faster than the country’s population growth as a whole.

That shouldn’t be too surprising, since we know there’s a general trend toward urbanization in society, and while not all cities are urban areas, there’s some serious overlap. The majority of incorporated places are actually relatively small, but 60% of city folk live somewhere with a population of at least 50,000.

That said, it’s worth taking a second to consider how 198 million people, the total number of city residents, are all essentially trying to live on a tiny sliver of the country’s total area. New York, the nation’s most populous city, alone holds 2.6% of the U.S. population, despite taking up one-fifth the space of Rhode Island, America’s smallest state.

So the next time you think your apartment is too small, just remember: there’s a whole lot of space out there in the rest of the country. You just don’t want to live there.

TIME Football

49ers QB Colin Kaepernick Launches Searing Verbal Attack on Fan via Twitter

"Get better at life!"

Colin Kaepernick, the talented but often criticized quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, lashed out at a fan on Twitter on Wednesday.

The outburst started after Kaepernick posted this on his timeline:

To which the fan, Stephen Batten, replied:

That was enough to prompt Kaepernick to let loose with a volley of tweets going after Batten.

It is unconfirmed if Batten indeed had eight followers when he sent out the first tweet, but as of publishing he now has over 1,500 followers — and that number is climbing fast.

Batten has yet to respond to Kaepernick’s broadside, while the quarterback retweeted the support he received from fans and media alike, including the famous sportscaster Erin Andrews.

This is the second time in two weeks that a controversial athlete has become embroiled with a fan on social media. Last Monday, embattled Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III got into a heated argument with a fan on Instagram.

TIME Chemistry

The Chemist Who Helped Develop the Pill Has Died

Carl Djerassi
Boris Roessler—AP Scientist and patron of the arts Carl Djerassi sits during an interview with the DPA German Press Agency at the university in Frankfurt Main, Germany, 29 October 2013.

His scientific work led to the world's first oral contraceptive in 1952

Carl Djerassi, a 91-year-old Stanford chemist who helped to develop the birth control pill, passed away from cancer Friday in San Francisco.

Djerassi’s scientific work led to the world’s first oral contraceptive in 1952, which gave women the option to control pregnancies. He developed a synthetic molecule called norethindrone, the effects of which simulated, in stronger form, those of progesterone. For his work, he earned an induction into the National Inventors Hall of Fame and received the presidential National Medal of Science, which only a few hundred scientists have received since its creation.

“Carl was interested particularly in individual freedom and self-determination, and believed that all of us, women included, should have that opportunity,” said Dr. Philip Darney, the director of UCSF’s Bixby Center for Global Reproductive Health. “He saw birth control and access to abortion as agents of that opportunity.”

Djerassi, a polymath, penned three biographies The Pill, Pygmy Chimps and Degas’ Horse, In Retrospect: From the Pill to the Pen and This Man’s Pill, and founded a free art residency program called the Djerassi Resident Artists Program, funded by earnings from the birth control pill.

[SF Gate]

TIME Crime

Man Arrested in Connection with Headless Torso Discovery

The victim is thought to be a light-skinned male

Police in San Francisco have arrested a man suspected of involvement in the case of a suitcase discovered earlier this week containing a headless human torso, plus other body parts in surrounding blocks.

59-year-old Mark Andrus was arrested today less than a mile from where the suitcase was discovered, reports NBC Bay Area.

An anonymous tipster called the SFPD and said that Andrus, allegedly shown in a photograph released by police, was staying at the Sala Burton Manor apartment building.

The suitcase was found in the city’s South of Market neighborhood, a block away from Twitter’s headquarters.

The victim has yet to be identified, but medical examiners have confirmed that the parts are from a light-skinned male.

[NBC Bay Area]

TIME On Our Radar

See San Francisco Before the Tech Boom

Take a trip to vintage San Francisco

Today, South of Market, a wedge-shaped neighborhood in northwest San Francisco, is home to tech giants such as Twitter and Airbnb, but for most of its existence it was a very different kind of place.

Once famous for its “factories, slums, laundries, machine shops, boiler works, and the abodes of the working class,” as writer Jack London noted in 1909, it changed dramatically in the 1960s when many businesses that called the district home moved out and a community of artists and gay men and women emerged in its place. In the late 1970s, in the face of then expanding dereliction and as part of efforts to remake the neighborhood, city authorities condemned many of the residential hotels that had become a hallmark of the area, displacing many residents and small businesses.

It was at this time that photographer Janet Delaney moved to the area, seeking cheap rent. Between 1978 and 1986 she captured a neighborhood at the cusp of change. One that was not salubrious — she was held up at knifepoint and had her camera stolen — but one where behind the rough edges, a small but strong community of families and businesses still thrived.

“In my first two years of college I spent a lot of time, like many people in the early 70s, thinking of formal issues, like structure, and how a photograph is constructed,” Delaney says, recalling the kind of aesthetically-driven photography she was making up until she moved to the area. ” [I was] responding to minimalism, and how photography addresses these concepts.”

Later, a six-month solo trip to conflict-riddled parts of Central America left a deep impression on Delaney, and saw her take a socially-conscious turn with her work. Upon returning, the often-tough lives of her neighbors seemed to take on a new significance and she felt the need to document them. Using a large 4×5 view tripod-mounted camera, she made portraits and architectural views and shot the interiors of local businesses, in an attempt to document life in the neighborhood.

Janet DelaneyPlanting Boganvia, Yerba Buena Gardens

The images that emerged are as frank as they are beautiful and are a testament to a once gritty, even vibrant neighborhood. Indeed, they bear an uncanny resemblance to pre-war documentary photography. It is perhaps all down to the camera, Delaney says: a bulky contraption that takes up a large amount of space but yields finely detailed images. And for the photographer, the ever obvious camera itself became an important part of the documentation process.

“The camera gave a sense of honor to a neighborhood that nobody ever considered, a neighborhood the city felt it could demolish,” Delaney says.

By 1988, with rents getting ever higher, Delaney, now a mother, moved across the bay to Berkeley. “I wouldn’t have left if that rent hadn’t been so high,” she adds, feeling that she was pushed out of her old neighborhood by rising prices. And that process doesn’t seem to be slowing as the neighborhood, now known as SoMa, continues to gentrify.

“I’ve continued to photograph South of Market,” Delaney says. “There’s more of a bustle, there’s more going on. But it’s really expensive. People are moving into high rises. It’s a more elegant, beautiful, [but] slightly alienating environment.”

Janet Delaney: South of Market runs until July 19, 2015 at the De Young Museum in San Francisco

Myles Little is an Associate Photo Editor for TIME

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