Guest Commentary: Two years ago, after the Seattle City Council voted 9-0 to cap the number of UberX, Lyft and Sidecar drivers on our streets, I wrote that the City Council might consider other caps on technology to protect the legitimate interests of Seattle residents. Even though the city eventually removed caps on ridesharing companies, thankfully we didn’t have to wait long for our intrepid city leaders to suggest another new cap on disruptive technology.
Mayor Ed Murray and City Councilman Tim Burgess are now proposing to cap, at 90, the number of nights that some property owners can offer on sites like AirBnB, HomeAway and VRBO to address the shortage of long-term rentals for families, improve housing affordability and support our hospitality industry.
[Clarification: The proposed 90-day rule wouldn’t apply to all homeowners, just those that are renting out a second property. In other words, if a property isn’t the primary residence of its owner, it could be rented for no more than 90 days per year on short-term rental sites.]
Frankly, I don’t understand why the City Council would stop at just limiting the number of nights Seattle property owners can supply online, when there are so many other pressing issues we could solve by regulating new technology.
Let me suggest a few other proposals the city might entertain.
1. To solve the traffic problem on our freeways, we should limit the number of online searches residents can make for new cars to one per month. If we make it more difficult to buy a new car, residents will be forced to own older cars that they won’t want to drive as much. Those citizens will then be more likely to take the bus or perhaps rent a bike from Pronto, the bike-sharing program the city just purchased for $1.4 million.
2. To cure overcrowding at SeaTac, we should limit the number of online reservations that Seattle travelers can book. If we make it more difficult to book travel, Seattleites will stay home longer and frequent local businesses during vacation time, increasing our tax revenues. With this plan, we would not need to build a new airport, which could save many millions of taxpayer dollars.
3. To curb obesity in our city, we should limit the number of OpenTable reservations Seattleites can make to one per month. People in our city eat out too much at fancy restaurants that use too much butter in their recipes. By regulating online reservations, we can force our citizens to adopt a more healthy lifestyle and limit the number of emergency room visits.
4. To improve the test scores of our Seattle Public Schools, the city needs to limit the amount of time Seattle public school students spend on Twitch to three hours per week. Students who watch or play video games are less likely to be doing their homework. By limiting their screen time, we are likely to see test scores rise dramatically.
5. To lower the divorce rate in Seattle, we should cap the number of Tinder swipes within city limits to 15 per month. When Seattle residents find it too easy to date, they are less likely to settle down or stay married. Not only does divorce create undue hardship on families, but it also leads separated couples to move into two dwellings, exacerbating the housing shortage the city thought it might fix by regulating AirBnB, HomeAway and VRBO.
6. In addition to limiting new technologies, the City Council also might consider regulating new technology companies. For example, to address affordable housing in the downtown corridor, the city could simply force Amazon to stop paying its employees so much money. Regulating the amount Amazon pays its Seattle employees would have two beneficial effects: (1) Amazon employees would not be able to afford higher rents, forcing landlords to adjust their rates to reasonable levels, and (2) fewer people would want to work for Amazon, opening up housing for other residents. Of course, we wouldn’t want to single out Amazon. This salary regulation should apply to all companies that are innovating and hiring high-priced MBAs and engineers.
Problems like traffic, SeaTac, health, schools and divorce are important, like the long-term rental shortage in our city, and we can solve these issues so easily by regulating innovation. Please contact Mayor Murray and Councilman Burgess to signal your support before it’s too late.