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Politics As Usual PDF Print E-mail
Written by Jack King, BT Contributor   
April 2017

Musical chairs in District 2 and thoughts on Airbnb

CPix_JackKing_4-17ity of Miami District 2 Commissioner Ken Russell ran quite a wonderful campaign for election to the city commission back in 2015. He had a youthful and dynamic team that did just about everything right. However, winning an election is quite different from effectively operating a commission office.

So it’s no surprise that Russell has replaced some of the staff who helped get him elected. Rebecca Wakefield, who was the chief of staff for former Miami Beach Mayor Matti Herrera Bower, has been named the new chief of staff for Commissioner Russell.

Wakefield comes with a diverse background in both politics and journalism. She was a staff writer for New Times (hired there by our own editor), a columnist for the now defunct Sun Post, and most recently working for SEIU, the Service Employees International Union.

I think she’s the right person for the job. You have to be intelligent and dynamic, and content to stay in the background. I spent some time with her recently, but it was too short a time and too early to quiz her about her plans.

• • •

The argument about whether we should have Airbnb in Miami blew up at the March 23 city commission meeting, with commissioners voting to prohibit short-term rentals in private homes or apartments.

For those of you who’ve been living under a rock the past few years, homeowners use Airbnb’s online platform to rent their houses, or even just rooms in their houses, for mainly short-term stays. The hotel industry definitely does not like Airbnb. But it seems to be working pretty well, though you wouldn’t think that if you listened to city commissioners.

They voted 3-2 to support existing laws that effectively ban the service in Miami. The reason is unclear, but on one side or the other, you can bet money is involved.

Mayor Tomás Regalado, who has no vote on the commission, led the charge to pass the resolution against Airbnb, which makes me think that Miami is not a tourist-supported area.

Four of the five commission districts in Miami probably will have little or no need for Airbnb. I don’t believe there’ll be too many calls for vacation rentals in Flagami, Liberty City, West Flagler, or Allapattah. I could be wrong, and don’t take that the wrong way. I’m just looking at the economics.

Using the politics/money logic, it seems that four of the five commissioners would vote against Airbnb and in support of the hospitality industry. Not so. In Commissioner Ken Russell’s waterfront district, the home-sharing service is already entrenched, so no surprise that he voted in favor of Airbnb.

Francis Suarez, who also supported Airbnb, has already announced that he’s running for mayor. He needs all the campaign cash he can get, so why not sign up for a potentially great new source of money as soon as possible?

One of the arguments I see all the time is that our civic leaders want to save us from wild parties that will invade our neighborhoods if Airbnb is allowed in. That likely has happened in some places (a few residents at the March meeting did complain about noisy “party houses”), but Airbnb sets firm guidelines for guests’ behavior.

I haven’t had any experience with Airbnb or other private home/apartment/room swap or rental services -- except for once. I was coming home on my bike after an early evening ride on Douglas Road. A Metro bus coming from the airport stopped in front of me, and a family of four got off with their luggage.

They looked lost. I asked if I could help, and they handed me a piece of paper with an address. It was right down the street, so I guided them to it, wondering why they were going to a neighbor’s house, someone I knew. When we got there, one of the children, who spoke perfect English, told me they were doing a house swap with my neighbor. He was staying at their house in Paris, and they were staying at his house in the Grove.

As I biked back to my house, I thought that this was an amazing idea that had no downside. When I got home, I started telling my wife the story. She stopped me mid-sentence to tell me that our neighbors right behind us do the same thing all the time.

Feeling somewhere between really perplexed and really dumb, I began to ask other neighbors if they had ever participated in house swaps or used Airbnb, and the answers were a resounding Yes. Everybody had heard about these services and many were using them.

I didn’t hear a single complaint. Most said they enjoyed the experience. It just might be time for the City of Miami to come out of the dark ages. You’d think the local politicians would see this as a win-win.

 

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