Ignore the technical nayayers – San Francisco is not dying

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The TransAmercia building at the end of an empty Columbus Street in San Francisco, California, USA, on Monday, December 7, 2020.

David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images

If you believe what you read, San Francisco is dying.

Over the past few months, there has been a steady stream of investors, executives and companies traveling to places like Miami and Austin, Texas. Many have fired farewell shots on their way out the door.

Investor Joe Lonsdale pointed out San Francisco’s population of transient and outdoor addicts, the state’s practice of condensing rolling outages during windy weather to prevent broken power lines from starting fires and restrictive zoning laws that make new homes expensive and difficult to build. Venture capitalist Keith Rabois called the city “massively improperly driven and administered.”

Tesla CEO Elon Musk smacked local Covid rules that stopped production at the company’s plant in Fremont and compared the state to a sports team that has won for too long and is becoming complacent.

Palantir CEO Alex Karp wrote in the company’s IPO prospect, which the company felt out of step with Silicon Valley’s morals and rhetoric, wrote: “Software projects with our country’s defense and intelligence agencies, whose mission is to protect us, have become controversial, while companies built on advertising dollars are common . “The company moved its headquarters to Colorado during the summer.

Launch of security software Tanium moved to a suburb of Seattle. CEO Orion Hindawi – a former lifelong resident of the Bay Area – criticized his “real government issues”, noting that the work of the pandemic from home had allowed many Tanium employees to relocate to other cities where they tend to be “a very happier. “

Rental property in San Francisco throws himself, housing the inventory increases after years of extreme scarcity, and the region’s unusually aggressive shutdowns have not stopped coronavirus. California now has one of those worst new infection rates in the nation, and hospitals are close to overwhelmed, while destroy local businesses.

In the midst of all this, local authorities are indulging in headline (not in the good way) symbolic proposals such as renaming more than 40 schools named after such diverse people as Senator Dianne Feinstein and Abraham Lincolnand judgmental the fact that Mark Zuckerberg’s name was added to the local public hospital after Facebook CEO donated $ 75 million.

A personal perspective

All these criticisms are valid. Many are shared by many people in the city, including me.

But before dismissing San Francisco’s and California’s continued relevance to the technology industry, consider the following thoughts based on my historical knowledge of the area, my personal perspective, and conversations with many lifelong residents and newcomers.

(Because some people will reject this essay if I do not present my bona fides: I have now lived here exactly a third of my life, 17 years. I went through with my parents in the early 1970s, moved here after college in 1992 and got through most of the dot-com boom before it got too expensive, then finally returned for the third time in 2010. My wife and I own our home and our kids have grown up in public schools in San Francisco , where my wife has spent thousands of hours leading local PTA chapters and dealing with any kind of political conflict and bureaucratic barrier that you could imagine.)

So some outsiders should know:

The biggest technology companies have deep roots here. Google’s parent company, Alphabetand Sales force employ about 30,000 workers in the Bay Area and has built hundreds of thousands of square feet of office space in San Francisco alone. Alphabet is making a major redevelopment of downtown San Jose and has done so committed 1 billion $ To build more affordable housing in the area while Apple spent billions on a space age office complex in Cupertino and has put down $ 2.5 billion against affordable housing.

Facebook may allow employees to work from home forever when the pandemic is over, but it has also spent billions on building a massive campus in Menlo Park and is signing of new leases over the bay of Fremont, where TeslaMain factory is located. These companies may try to expand elsewhere in the future, but it would be financially insane to wind up activities here in the short term after investing so much.

It is not to mention dozens of smaller and recently public companies like Twilio, Zoom, Airbnb, Doordash, Pinterest and so on, many of whom have said they plan to stay. As long as they are here, they attract at least some employees who are entrepreneurial enough to strike out alone. They will seek funding from all the venture capitalists whose offices are still located in South Park in San Francisco and Sand Hill Road, up the street from Stanford.

Speaking of Stanford and UC Berkeley, both are world-class higher education institutions with strong local networks and connections to the technology industry.

Tech has appropriate, but limited, political power in San Francisco. One of the strangest complaints from the outgoing crowd is that the technology industry has not been valued and unable to exercise political power to change the city.

This is a bizarre claim. In 2011, San Francisco voters elected Mayor Ed Lee, as it were supported by the technology industry as investor Ron Conway and future Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer (then at Google). People like Conway and Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff are longtime San Franciscans with deep social and political connections and capital. Benioff in particular was a great spokesman and contributor to a proposal from 2018 to tax large corporations on their gross income and use the tax to mitigate homelessness; the current mayor and many other technical leaders came against it. (It went, but was held up in legal challenges, like that the city finally beat this year.)

Under Lee, the city introduced a payroll tax vacation to businesses that moved to the neighborhood in the middle of the market, with drawing Twitter, Uber, Zendesk and a handful of others. It reshaped an entire area of ​​the city, but did not solve the violent homelessness and street crime in the area.

Lee also bowed to the technology industry’s view on minor controversies, such as Whether bus companies for tech companies should be allowed to park at the city’s Muni stops in the morning. Lee died in office in December 2017 and was replaced by London Breed, a similar technologically receptive mayor who grew up in the city’s public housing.

The power of the mayor of San Francisco is limited by the Supervisory Board, a city council of 11 members, each elected from a discreet geographical area, giving neighborhood voters extraordinary power over how the city is run. The regulators oversee most of the city’s governments, and they serve a number of very powerful constituencies, including public workers’ unions, neighborhood groups, the huge local health industry, homeowners, tenants and local “progressives” – who, despite their name, vote most for new developments. and growth and to preserve what they perceive as old San Francisco. The city also allows voters to take initiatives for the vote, leading to more bizarre and often conflicting laws, which are often challenged in court, not enforced, and so on.

Working within this diversity of opinions is challenging. It’s easier to have cities put up with incentives every time you threaten to travel. But that’s also why San Francisco is a city worth living in for many of the people who live here, including the young creative workers who flock here in search of not only a paycheck, but also adventure. and news.

The area’s crunching problems precede the technical industry. Technical critics point to San Francisco’s inability to “solve” its homeless problem over the past decade, but the problem stretches back well before the dot-com boom. When I first moved here in 1992, Mayor Art Agnos was dealing with the fallout from letting (i.e. not actively opposing) hundreds of homeless people live in the park in front of City Hall. The last seven mayors have it all tried different approaches law and order that depends on services, “clean-up” in different parts of the city, shelters, more financing for housing and so on. It is the kind of problem that resists simple algorithmic solutions.

The roots of the problem include widely popular zoning and housing laws that make it difficult and expensive to build new homes, a reduction in mental health care in the 1980s that has never been restored, historically permissive attitudes toward hard drug use, and many other factors. (Kim-Mai Cutlers 2014 longread on housing policy and Nathan Hellers piece whether homelessness during the pandemic are great places to start if you are really interested in learning what’s going on, instead of just repeating speeches from national politicians and tourists who cannot understand why all hotels are next door the hardest neighborhood in town.)

The same goes for most of the other issues that the tech deporters cite. Power outages? Let’s go back to the early 2000s when one planned deregulation plan and market manipulation contributed to rolling blackouts, which led voters to remember Democratic Gov. Gray Davis and replace him with Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger. Forest fires? What about 1991 firestorm in the Oakland hills that killed 25 people and burned thousands of homes? Corruption? Has been running in more than a century (as with many large cities).

These problems are real. It stinks of having to deal with them. No one blames anyone if they are tired and want out.

But for people in the technology industry to somehow believe that their presence or absence has any bearing on these problems is the height of arrogance. Technical companies and workers flocked to the Bay Area as the economy flourished despite these problems. There is no reason to believe that the same problems will keep them away when the economy flourishes again.

San Francisco is not New York

Maybe some of the misunderstanding comes from people who expect San Francisco to be like New York. People are moving to New York to make ends meet.

People are moving to San Francisco to find themselves.

Sometimes finding yourself also means finding wealth, but San Francisco has historically drawn the maladaptations, the outcasts, the refugees from places filled with intolerance and hatred. This outsider’s mindset is embedded in the culture. (David Talbots “Season of the Witch“offers an excellent historical perspective.)

These outsiders, who sometimes ally or overlap with anti-growth “progressives”, have long opposed “pro-business” or “downtown” forces that believe the city is unnecessarily hostile to business.

The technology industry may think it’s special, but in this place it’s just another manifestation of the same pro-business forces fighting for the same battles and making the same complaints.

Whatever page you are on is sometimes enough and you move on like I did in 1999. That’s OK. You can always visit. We love tourists here. We value your business. And we hope one day you return.

San Francisco is going nowhere.



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