Airbnb bans ‘party houses’

ORINDA – Airbnb’s chief executive officer said the company was taking actions against unauthorized parties in the wake of a deadly shooting at a Halloween party held at an Airbnb rental home in California.

In a series of tweets, Brian Chesky said Saturday the San Francisco-based company is expanding manual screening of “high risk” reservations and will remove guests who fail to comply with policies banning parties at Airbnb rental homes.

He also said the company is forming a “rapid response team” when complaints of unauthorized parties come in.

“We must do better, and we will. This is unacceptable,” he tweeted.

Five people died after a Thursday night shooting that sent some 100 terrified partygoers running for their lives in the San Francisco suburb of Orinda.

The four-bedroom home had been rented on Airbnb by a woman who told the owner her dozen family members had asthma and needed to escape smoke from a wildfire, a person with knowledge of the transaction informed local and national news agencies. A fire burning in Sonoma County about 60 miles (97 kilometers) north of Orinda earlier in the week fouled the air over a wide area.

The owner was suspicious of a one-night rental on Halloween and before agreeing reminded the renter that no parties were allowed, said the person with knowledge of the transaction, who was not authorized to publicly disclose the information and spoke only on condition of anonymity.

The owner, Michael Wang, said his wife reached out to the renter Thursday night after neighbors contacted them about the party. The renter said there were only a dozen people at the home but Wang said he could see more people on video from his doorbell camera.

“We called the police. They were on the way to go there to stop them, but before we got there the neighbor already sent us a message saying there was a shooting,” he attested.

No arrests had been made and there was no immediate word on a motive for the attack. Two guns were found at the property, authorities said.

Three people, all from the Bay Area, died at the scene and a fourth died at the hospital, authorities initially said. The Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Office identified them Friday evening as Tiyon Farley, 22, of Antioch; Omar Taylor, 24, of Pittsburg; Ramon Hill Jr., 23; and Javin County, 29. The sheriff’s office identified a fifth victim, 19-year-old Oshiana Tompkins of Vallejo and Hercules, late Friday night, saying she died at a hospital.

Taylor’s father, Omar Taylor Sr., said his son was hired to play music at the party.

“Wrong place, wrong time,” he said.

Other people were wounded by gunshots or injured in the panic that followed, authorities said.

The party at the four-bedroom house apparently was advertised on social media as an “Airbnb mansion party.”

Orinda, with a population of about 20,000, requires short-term rental hosts to register with the city annually and pay an occupancy tax. The maximum occupancy is 13 people.

Orinda city documents show officials issued violations in March for exceeding the home’s maximum occupancy and illegal parking. City Manager Steve Salomon said the homeowner had resolved previous complaints lodged in February over occupancy and noise and in July over overflowing trash.

Airbnb is “urgently investigating” what happened, spokesman Ben Breit said in an email.

Airbnb has banned the renter from its platform and the home has been removed as a listing, he said.

One attendee said he was enjoying the music and watching people dance when he heard shots and people started running.

The screaming seemed to last forever, said Devan, who asked that his last name not be used because he feared for his safety.

“Everybody started running, scrambling,” he said. “People were just collapsing and friends were helping friends. It was a scary situation and then as everyone is panicking and stuff, there were more shots.”

Devan shot a video posted to Instagram that showed a wounded man on the ground and a police officer standing over him and a woman saying she needs to go to the hospital “because my hand’s been blown off.”

On Friday, police tape surrounded the block as people came to collect their cars and other belongings. One woman in tears told reporters the father of her child had been killed. She left before giving her name.

Romond Reynolds picked up the car of his son, 24-year-old Armani Reynolds, who he said was left comatose by the shooting.

“All I know is that he’s a victim and was at the wrong place at the wrong time,” Reynolds said.

Neighbor Shahram Saki, 61, said in a phone interview that some fleeing partygoers hid in the bushes in his front yard and others begged to be let into his home.

“They were screaming for help. I told them, ‘You gotta get out of here,'” Saki said. “I was scared to death, anything could have happened.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

President Trump signs memorandum to stem counterfeit goods trafficking

WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump signed a presidential memorandum on Wednesday to rein in what the administration calls the “Wild West” of online trafficking in counterfeit goods.

The memorandum is aimed at stopping the sale of counterfeit products on sites like Amazon, eBay and the People’s Republic of China’s e-commerce leader, Alibaba.

“This president has decided that it’s time to clean up this Wild West of counterfeiting and trafficking,” said Peter Navarro, director of the White House National Trade Council.

“The central core of the problem is that right now, third-party online marketplaces … have zero liability when it comes to trafficking in these counterfeit goods. That simply has to stop. We are going to attack that on numerous fronts.”

In a statement released on Wednesday, Amazon said that it “strictly prohibits” the sale of counterfeit products and welcomes more coordinated support from law enforcement to stem the problem. Amazon said that last year it spent more than $400 million fighting counterfeits, fraud and other forms of abuse.

“We have built industry-leading tools like Brand Registry, Transparency and our newly launched Project Zero to protect our customers and help rights owners drive counterfeits to zero,” the company said. “With these and other tools, we ensure that over 99% of the products that customers view on Amazon never receive a complaint about counterfeits.”

Navarro said discussion of possible actions the administration will take to deter online trafficking in counterfeit merchandise is premature. He says the directive orders the Department of Homeland Security to work with other agencies on a report identifying the scope of the problem. The report also is to identify the origin of the fake goods and recommend administrative, regulatory, legislative or policy changes to stem the problem.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development estimates that the value of trade in counterfeit and pirated goods is about a half trillion dollars a year, with roughly 20% infringing on U.S. intellectual property, according to the directive.

The U.S. is engaged in a trade dispute with the People’s Republic of China after the Trump administration made several complaints, including that the PRC was stealing U.S. trade secrets and forcing companies to give them technology to access its market. Trump imposed tariffs on $250 billion of Communist Chinese imports, about half what the United States buys from that country. China retaliated with tariffs on about $110 billion of U.S. items. Trade talks are ongoing.

Navarro told reporters in a conference call, however, that the new memorandum has nothing to do with the U.S.-PRC trade talks or Trump’s criticism of Amazon owner, Jeff Bezos. Trump has accused Amazon of not paying its fair share of taxes, harming the U.S. Postal Service and putting brick-and-mortar stores out of business.

A recent Government Accountability Office report examined four categories of frequently counterfeited goods, and, based on a small sample of these goods purchased through various online third-party marketplaces, investigators found that more than 40% were counterfeit, Navarro said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

US investigates seizure risk with electronic cigarettes

WASHINGTON – U.S. health officials are investigating whether electronic cigarettes may trigger seizures in some people who use the nicotine-vaping devices.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said Wednesday it has reviewed 35 reports of seizures among e-cigarettes users, mainly in young people. Regulators stressed it’s not yet clear whether vaping is responsible. But they said they’re concerned and encouraged the public to report information about the issue.

These cases warrant “investigation into whether there is in fact a connection,” FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in a statement. Gottlieb is stepping down on Friday after nearly two years heading the agency.

Cases go back to 2010 and were reported to the FDA or poison control centers around the country. Regulators said they detected an uptick in reports beginning mid-2018. While they represent a tiny fraction of Americans who have used e-cigarettes, many safety issues with foods, supplements and other consumer products can go unrecognized because reporting is voluntary.

Most e-cigarettes heat a flavored nicotine solution into an inhalable vapor. The battery-powered devices have grown into a multi-billion dollar industry though there are few standards, including how much nicotine they deliver. Additionally, many refillable e-cigarettes can be used with nicotine formulas of varying strength.

Nicotine poisoning can cause seizures, convulsions, vomiting and brain injury. The FDA has previously warned of potentially fatal nicotine poisoning in infants and children who accidentally swallowed nicotine solutions.

Seizures usually last a few seconds or minutes and rarely cause permanent injury. But they can be a sign of underlying neurological disorders that need medical attention.

The agency said the handful of seizure reports often lack information about the brand of e-cigarette or whether users had a medical condition that might have contributed. In some cases, e-cigarettes were being used with drugs like marijuana and amphetamines. Some seizures were reported after just a few puffs of the device, others after a day of use.

The FDA is asking consumers to report problems to an online site. The agency is seeking details about vaping brands and models and whether users who have experienced problems were also taking medications, supplements or other drugs.

It’s not the first time the FDA has flagged a potential health hazard with vaping devices—the agency has warned of rare burns and explosions related to overheating of batteries that power the devices.

The latest concern comes amid a nationwide push to fight underage use of e-cigarettes, which have surged in popularity among high school and middle school students. Last month the FDA outlined new restrictions on retail and online sales of most flavored e-cigarettes. Meanwhile, local and state officials are considering age restrictions, taxes and flavor bans to keep the products away from teenagers.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.