FlightCar, an airport startup that allows people to rent out their personal cars, is being told it must shut down operations in the city of Millbrae over a number of code violations.
Basic code violations the city noted included inadequate response to issues such as lack of background checks of its renters, unwarranted electrical generators, poor maintenance of shrubs, fire code violations among other concerns.
Emily Charley of the city attorney’s office said it is only just now that FlightCar has limped into compliance.
“There’s no indication why FlightCar started building before they received their first building permit,” she said. “They (FlightCar) said revocation was akin to anti-business. We approached them with an open mind, but Millbrae does not welcome businesses that don’t abide by the rules.”
At its meeting last night, the City Council abided by the Planning Commission’s vote last week to recommend the FlightCar’s conditional use permit be revoked and decided to close the business. FlightCar came to defend itself at the meeting, saying it’s corrected its issues.
“This is a company finding it’s way, it’s on the cutting edge of the carsharing economy,” said FlightCar representative Dave Hyames. “For those mistakes we apologize.”
Members of the council disagreed with FlightCar. It appears there was blatant disregard for the permit and there are still violations, said Mayor Gina Papan.
“The safety concerns are very, very important to us,” Papan said. These are more than just trivial concerns, said Councilman Robert Gottschalk. “Unfortunately, this is not sustainable as it’s been conducted so far,” Gottschalk said.”
FlightCar’s primary service is renting out people’s cars through its website while traveling, giving them a share of the proceeds, free airport parking and a car wash in exchange. Customers are taken by limousine from a nearby airport parking lot to their flights at the San Francisco International Airport, while the company says renters get a cheaper price.
Issues with the city of Millbrae include three FlightCar rentals being stolen since the company moved into the 14,159-square-foot 480 El Camino Real site on two parcels of the former Daland Nissan, according to the police department. The company’s claim that one can’t report a stolen car for five days is not true, police said. The suspects in the cases have criminal records and this invites crime into the city, police said.
In addition to issues with Millbrae, the company ran into trouble this summer with the San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera, who wanted to shut it down until it complied with the regulations, including conducting pickups and dropoffs at a special area, paying 10 percent of gross profits to the airport and paying a $20 per rental transaction.
Other noncompliance problems included the fact that FlightCar hasn’t paid the city’s airport parking tax or obtained a business license. A tax should be paid, said Councilwoman Marge Colapietro.
“They’re adults trying to do an adult business,” she said. “There is a history of noncompliance. It appears to me that they were trying to get away with as much as they could possibly get away with. I don’t want to set a precedent for businesses who come into this community and refer back to the FlightCar matter and say look what you did for them, do that for us.”
City officials found a number of other issues with the business.
On Aug. 15, the Fire Marshal Jim Allan observed two electrical generators on the site and a neighbor on Hermosa Avenue reported to staff that a generator had been operating 24 hours a day. The use of the generators was never approved, according to a staff report. He also observed a makeshift exhaust for the temporary generator attached to a portable toilet enclosure. The downspout/exhaust stack was unprotected and was very warm to the touch and could have potentially reached a temperature capable of burning skin, according to the report.
Additionally, there was an empty fire extinguisher and no smoke detector in the temporary office structure, unauthorized curb painting and stored vehicles present a potential Class B fire hazard. Dead plants observed on the property also violated the requirement that the landscape must be maintained in neat, healthy and growing condition, according to the report.
The use of the property becomes a violation of city’s zoning code if FlightCar continues business following the revocation, said Tim Fox of the San Mateo County Counsel’s Office.
(650) 344-5200 ext. 105