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Wednesday, September 22, 2021

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UncategorizedHow SF Weekly and C.W. Nevius got the tech...

How SF Weekly and C.W. Nevius got the tech protests all wrong

48hillsgoogleprotest1

Actually, protests are good. And they work.

By Tim Redmond

FEB. 24, 2014 — I don’t have any bad feelings for SF Weekly these days. The era when the dickwad owners of that particular publication were trying to drive my paper out of business are over. We won the lawsuit, got the T-Shirt, and both the Weekly and the Guardian are now under new owners – the same new owners – and I don’t work for them anymore. I wish the best to anyone trying to survive publishing a newspaper these days, and the Weekly does some great work; Joe Eskanazi is one of the best reporters in the city.

So as they say in The Godfather, this isn’t personal.

No: It’s just business. So with all due respect to the people I used to share office space with, the latest SF Weekly story by Rachel Swan made me want to vomit.

That’s the first time I read it. When I read it again, and again, and tried to make sense out of it, vomiting seemed like a fairly mild response.

Combine that with Chuck Nevius warning that if the activists “win,” tech will leave town and we’ll become like Detroit, and we’ve got some media outlets that have completely misunderstood what the protests in the city are about.

Swan and Nevius ought to try a little harder. It’s not that hard to understand, when you stop to think about it. The people who, in various ways, from blocking Google buses to holding conventions and rallies, are fighting back against the tech-boom-fueled displacement are making a critical statement about this city, and every city.

They are saying that San Francisco is, first and foremost, a community, a place where people live and interact and fall in love and make friends and write poetry and have dinner parties and do all the things that social human beings do … and the completely artificial construct of a hyper-capitalist economy run amok shouldn’t be able to destroy that.

Tim Redmond
Tim Redmond has been a political and investigative reporter in San Francisco for more than 30 years. He spent much of that time as executive editor of the Bay Guardian. He is the founder of 48hills.
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6 COMMENTS

  1. I’m not going to lie – TL;DR for the most part.

    I guess I’ve never seen you lament the loss of affordable housing in, oh, I don’t know, the Castro? over the last 30 years. Why was it no problem for wealthy white people to one neighborhood from other white people, but not to do it in a different neighborhood? And why do San Francisco’s bankers and doctors and lawyers and executives – who have been doing the bulk of the pushing out since the tech workers you attack were in elementary school – escape your scrutiny?

  2. So what are you proposing? How do we actually transition from the world today to a world where “our fabulous network economy grows not entirely wild and free but under careful human control”?

    How would that actually work?

  3. The “larger question” is not: “Do we want to be the tech center of the world? Do we want to be the bedroom community for Silicon Valley?” because that ship has left the station. That’s why the protests are choosing the wrong target. Google is here, google employees already live in the city, shuttles already take 30,000 people to work. There’s no undoing this, there’s no uprooting these families, taking their kids out of schools and putting them in Sunnyvale.

    These protests are symbolic and go for where the media (SF Weekly, Nevius, you!) will lap it up. But they are chasing windmills. [on a similar note, Mark Leno just proposed changes to restrict Ellis evictions, because 16 people flipped their buildings within one year. Sixteen! If it passes, then exactly NOTHING will have changed in the big picture. Symbolic, media-attention-grabbing, but not exactly effective policy.]

    But it’s easier to demonize google employees (who participate in the community in SF like you and me) than to address the structural needs to change the situation. And the structural needs are: housing and public transport.

    For housing, the solution has been: rent control to provide affordable housing, which means that the subsidy of affordable housing comes from mom-and-pop landlords as much as big rental corporations. Rent control was passed to punished Sangiacomo/Trinity but guess what: if you own only one building (most SF landlords!) and have a bad tenant, you can’t average out so you sell for condo conversion. Also rent control has created a YES/NO response to the question: should we allow current people to stay here/should we allow new people to move in. In other word, structurally, we build a system that creates incentives to deplete the affordable housing stock while answering YES/NO to where you want YES/YES.

    Transportation: everybody cries about the shuttles, but Caltrain ridership has shot up since they introduced the bullet and is probably more to blame. But it’s again structurally designed for creating a sleeper community in SF. Look at the schedule: it’s designed to move people at rush hours. But it is not designed to get people to the city for a night out. If there was an easy way to go to SF from Sunnyvale and back, then many people wouldn’t mind living there. As a proof of concept, it does work for Giants game (due to the stadium location and the synchronized train schedule).

    Oh, but changing housing and transportation policy would require actual leadership, and you know, actual money. We got the rent control mess we’re in because, guess what, it costs nothing to the city (except some light enforcement). Mark Leno wil tighten up the Ellis act, which will cost nothing (and do nothing but get him good press). Building affordable housing should be the city’s priority, but instead we’ll get people misguided protest at shuttle windmills and politicians ineffective grandstanding.

  4. Nevius really has embodied a revived “yellow journalism” at the Hearst Empire. Only now instead of driving Spain out of Cuba as dictated by Manifest Destiny, it is directed to economic cleansing in the Bay Area as dictated by Venture Capital.
    When the Chronicle gave Nevius a Page One article crowing about the closure of the recycling facility at Market and Duboce, I cancelled our subscription (after three generations of pre-Hearst Chronicle readership). The opposition to the facility was not from local residents, but from the developers of the three massive condo developments at that intersection, shared with Dolores. Clerks and customers I asked at the Market Safeway operating the facility had no idea what the problem was.

  5. How about the salaries that tech people are getting? They appear to be much greater than most make. I asked one software coder recently what he and other coders were getting paid, and he said $60-70/hour. This is so much more than most other workers make, and something most of us, unless we’re in a highly specialized and well-paid profession, can’t compete against, economically, for housing, etc.

  6. First, if your beef is with the overall issue of income inequality, then you shouldn’t be targeting employee buses with regular people. Instead, you should be targeting upper management and C-whatever-Os.

    Next, if your beef is with the overall issue of income inequality, then you shouldn’t be targeting tech specifically. Instead, you should be targeting anyone with “sufficiently high” income. If your target are tech workers making 100k, why not doctors or lawyers making 100k as well? Or even better, day traders on Montgomery who makes God-knows-how-much.

    Since regular-salaried tech workers (yes they’re on the higher end of pay scale, but it’s not enough to make them the millionaires, and they still rent and save just like any other regular folk) are the targets of protest, I can only imagine that the energy behind the protests are misguided at best, or discriminatory at worst. Somewhere in here is the sentiment that newcomers deserve LESS than people who are already here, and especially less because they’re “techies” who apparently are boring drones without contact with reality. This is the part I hate the most about it. It’s full of stereotypes and prejudice, and reminds me of nerd bullying back in grade school.

    The truth is, you’re right. Newcomers don’t deserve to live here any more than existing people do. But the reverse is true as well. As long as you’re both renting, you don’t deserve to live here any more than newcomers do. The United States doesn’t have restrictive borders within its boundaries. Equality should also be for everybody, not just the people whom you deem cool, and just because you’ve rented here for a decade doesn’t mean you’re more equal than the new guy who is excited to be relocating to this city full of culture.

    Ultimately, we need to figure out a way to accommodate EVERYONE (that is, existing residents and newcomers ALIKE) without any form of discrimination, because discrimination is bad, exclusivity is bad, regardless of whether it’s exclusive to the rich, or exclusive to the existing, or exclusive to the cool. We need to be breaking down barriers of entry for everyone, regardless of whether you’re a tech worker or a starving artist. “Not if it will push someone out” means nobody can evict you while you’re on a legal rental contract (yes Ellis Act evictions are an issue), but it doesn’t mean if your contract is extended, your landlord isn’t allowed to raise rent, or that you’re guaranteed to affordable homes on your next rental.

    Meanwhile, we have a huge shortage of housing supply in the city, and across the city buildings tend to be mostly 3 stories tall on average. For this to be the centerpiece of an urban area with 7.15 million people, in an age that has already learned that sprawl is bad and density/concentration is good, I think the solution is obvious.

    And no, it won’t turn us into Manhattan. Even if we start developing like mad, we’re still safe from that conclusion for at least 50 years. The difference between us and Manhattan is just too huge for it to be a concern.

    Lastly, culture is a very diverse and messy thing. San Francisco doesn’t have one clear image, it’s a vague collection of many different things mingled together where different people can easily have different interpretations on what it is. Aside from certain iconic stereotypes and imagery, San Francisco culture as a whole is not that much different to the cultures of other large and diverse cities in the world. Because culture is not a clear, but a muddied, diverse thing open to interpretation, there are no dangers to SF’s culture as long as it can keep the diversity. The real problem is maintaining diversity, and you don’t do it by constraining on size and scale (it would have the opposite effect). To me, the biggest threat to SF’s culture is not newcomers coming in, but the existing residents constraining SF’s growth for their own narrow and shortsighted interests, like their house’s view being blocked, for instance.

    And this isn’t a problem specific to the city. It’s a regional thing. Housing constraints and prices are both high all across the Bay Area, so all across the Bay Area, we need to densify in smart and sustainable ways (this means we need better transit too), and we need to do it fast. In the end, picking on innocent little tech boys while ignoring the real problem is not the right thing to do.

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