Airbnb tried to make some jokes, but San Francisco just wasn’t laughing. Earlier this week, residents of the short-term lodging company’s hometown started noticing some very passive-aggressive billboards signed “with love” from Airbnb. As in, “Dear Public Library System, We hope you use some of the $12 million in hotel taxes to keep the library open later. Love, Airbnb.”
Confused? The backstory on the billboards is that earlier this year, Airbnb paid a whole lot of money in back taxes to the city of San Francisco. The record of how much they paid is private, but it was probably in the $25 million range. The reason for the backlog was the company’s failure to pay the city’s 14 percent hotel tax. Because, you know, private renters aren’t exactly hotels. At least that was the argument Airbnb made.
As you can imagine, the company wasn’t exactly thrilled with the fact that they were going to have to start regularly shelling out more tax money to the city of San Francisco. Add to that a new ballot initiative, Proposition F, that they’ve spent $8 million campaigning to defeat (Medium did a good job of breaking Prop F down piece-by-piece last month), and you’ve got a grudge-holding company that wants taxpayers to know just who is funding their city services.
Cue the ill-advised ad campaign, and the social media explosion it caused, including this letter to Airbnb, posted on Facebook with a picture of the above-quoted library billboard by San Francisco State assistant professor Martha Kenney:
I’m happy to hear that you paid your taxes this year. I did too! Isn’t it awesome? However, I’ve crunched some numbers and I have some bad news for you. Out of your $12 mil of hotel tax, only 1.4% percent goes to the SF Public Libraries. So that’s $168,000. Divided by the 868 library staff, we have $193 per person. Assuming each employee works 5 days per week minus holidays, this is $0.78 per employee per day. Since that’s significantly under San Francisco minimum wage ($12.25/hr), I doubt that your hotel tax can keep the libraries open more than a minute or two later. However, had you donated that $8 million you spent fighting Proposition F directly to the public libraries you love so much, that could have made a bigger difference. Oh well. Hindsight is 20/20!
Martha Kenney (San Francisco resident)
Other billboards spotted around town:
The extreme snark of the billboards was enough that many residents actually thought they were a prank, but Airbnb quickly confirmed that their company was indeed responsible for them. Which only served to add fuel to the angry SF residents’ fire.
Airbnb finally apologized publicly for the error in judgment yesterday (which you can see in the tweet above), and stated that the billboards are going to start coming down immediately.
Dear Airbnb, we hope you learned from your mistake.