If You Can’t Beat ‘em, Hack ‘em

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Editor,

A few days ago, Stu News ran an online poll asking, “Do you favor allowing Laguna Beach homeowners to have short term (30 days or less) rentals?” Last Thursday, after the poll had been active for several days, the results were 81% opposed versus 19% in favor.  More than 4 to 1 opposed.

Then, in a matter of minutes, the “yes” votes jumped from 60 to 738. Hmmm… Shortly thereafter, Stu discovered the poll had been hacked!

If someone is willing to cheat on something as innocent as a Stu News survey, just imagine what they will do to cheat on whatever well-meaning regulations the city would come up with if we open the door a crack to short-term lodging and if there are a few bucks on the line for the short term lodging operators.

We already know that Airbnb and the other platforms do nothing to cooperate with cities, and do nothing to try to self-regulate, which they could easily do.

We know their own public spokesmen are quoted as saying that “they operate in so many places they cannot possibly get into the specifics of local policy.”  Gosh – they just can’t be bothered.

We know local short term lodging operators “coach” their paying transient “guests” to try to foil local enforcement.

We know that Airbnb and other short term lodging internet platforms provide their clients with sophisticated tools and support to advance their own program. See http://www.stradvocacy.org

We know that the Airbnb propaganda machine has the capability to stuff online ballot boxes. A recent online poll designed to show support for short term lodgings showed 166 people saying they support short term rentals, but 43% of those who identified themselves were not from Laguna.

Even using all the tools and resources available to them, this group couldn’t muster enough responses in Stu’s poll to make it look like a majority supported them, so “someone” simply hacked Stu’s source code and added nearly 700 phony votes with a mouse-click.

In the face of this, it is simply unrealistic for our elected officials to believe that they can allow what is intended to be a limited amount of short term lodging in residential zones and that the city can dream up restrictions that will control widespread abuse.

The compromise ordinance unanimously recommended by the Planning Commission is more than fair and offers the best chance for regulation and enforcement. Restricting new permits to the commercial zones will make it clear whether someone is offering short-term rentals inside or outside a physical boundary line.

John Thomas, Laguna Beach

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