Tuesday, September 22, 2020
Uncategorized How SF Weekly and C.W. Nevius got the tech...

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

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Building community takes time and effort – you put energy into the city. Extracting wealth takes a different kind of effort – and all too often, you take life out of the city.

It makes no difference whether Google and Apple are changing the world, and giving us the ability to carry all of human knowledge around in our pockets. Other huge technological changes have transformed human civilization, and more will in the future.

Because humans continue to use oil, and Chevron is a mighty multinational corporation, is it wrong for people in Richmond to protest its leaky refinery? Seriously? The fact that tech companies are changing the world, for better and for worse, means we can’t push back against what they’re doing to our community in the process?

That’s crazy.

There have been industrial revolutions before, and there will be again. But through wars and industrialization and the first dot-com boom and so many other things, San Francisco remains – a community, a place with a soul, not just an economic unit.

At a forum on housing that I helped organize, Doug Engmann – an MIT-trained economist who is now a venture-capital investor, among other things, so hardly a radical commie — explained that San Francisco, like all great cities, has always, always accepted change. This is not the city it was in the 1940s, or the 1950s, or the 1960s, or the city that I knew when I arrived in the 1980s. Immigrants arrive; neighborhoods shift; industries come and go.

Nobody on the left has ever been against that.

What we have said, Engmann explained, is that disruptive economic forces need to be managed, slowed down just a little, to make sure that we as a society are not making costly mistakes – and to prevent the kind of massive collateral human damage that an untamed economy can cause.

Google and Apple and Facebook and Twitter and Ron Conway rule the universe today. Somebody else will rule it tomorrow. In the meantime, we have to be sure that San Francisco – and its diverse, welcoming community – has a chance to survive.

So when Rachel Swan insists that “Any human can stand in the way of a bus, after all. But he (sic) can’t stop the engine of progress behind it,” she is saying two stunning  and deeply disturbing things: That what’s happening in San Francisco right now is “progress” – and that there’s nothing we can do about it.

Allow me to dissent.

The economic changes we are seeing in America today, particularly in the Bay Area, are unprecedented in the post-War era, and quite possibly in the history of the United States. There have been great industrial shifts (from farm labor to manufacturing, from steam to electricity, from horses to cars and railroads, the rise and fall of domestic auto manufacturing, the emergence of the financial sector as a dominant player, globalization, I could go on forever) in this country, but I don’t think there has ever been a time (perhaps since the Medieval Era) when such a small number of people has become so much richer than everyone else.

You want statistics? The richest 20 individuals – not families, individuals – in the US now have more wealth than the bottom 50 percent of the entire population. I have to wonder if the Royal Family of England since the Magna Charta could actually claim that. Maybe; it’s hardly a standard we ought to be upholding.

And what’s happening to San Francisco represents pretty much everything that’s wrong with the American economy today.

There is “progress” – defined as anything new at all – and there is real progress, something that improves the human condition (and, I would argue, does so without destroying the environment we inhabit.) There are people today who argue that human cloning – the creation of a new race of bioengineered people, bred by the rich, who have abilities far beyond those of the rest of the plebians who will be their servants – would be “progress.” It’s cool science; pretty soon we’ll be able to do it. Why not?

Well, because it’s really creepy, is why, and that’s maybe not the future we want. Which is why pretty much every credible scientist thinks we ought to hold off for a while, so we can figure out how we want to control this technological genie.

Twitter hardly fits into that category – connecting the world in 140 characters isn’t a bad thing. Google has put the knowledge of all of civilization an instant away. Apple and Microsoft made possible the devices that make possible this online daily newspaper.

There is no doubt that society is better off from the incredible communications revolution that we’ve seen in the past couple of decades. (Of course, while Al Gore didn’t invent the Internet, the government –which so much of the tech world despises — actually did. Another story for another time.) Tech companies have created virtual communities, developed life-saving devices, transformed media (in a very good way) so that I can start a daily newspaper with a few hundred dollars in donations.

But it’s critical to separate what the tech companies do – some good, some bad – from the role they play, and should play, in a local community. And the tech ethos, which disparages the public sector – and, to be honest, old people, people with families, people who don’t learn to code, people who need stability more than disruption – right now is very much not aligned with what San Francisco community has been about for a half century.

I’m going to make what sounds like a radical statement, but is really pretty basic. What’s happening in the US economy right now — in part, although not entirely, because of the libertarian-style political clout of tech and finance leaders — doesn’t represent economic “progress.” It may offer progress in information sharing, communications, and consumer technology and entertainment – but as a macroeconomic phenomenon, taking social equality into account as a critical factor, it’s taken us backward, beyond backward, to an era of inequality that’s never before existed in this country.

Is it any wonder that San Francisco, one of the most progressive cities in the nation, is unhappy about that – and about its role as Ground Zero in a frightening social experiment where the gulf between the rich and the poor is at a level that might make Marie Antoinette gasp?

It doesn’t have to be this way.

The idea that “tech” – the development of new stuff and new ways of working and interacting – can exist and thrive only in a libertarian economic environment is utterly, completely wrong.

Other “disruptive” industries – railroads, oil, post-Depression finance, and cars, for example – grew and thrived even after the government regulated them. Automotive unions – protected and encouraged by federal law – made sure that the massive wealth of the industry was more equally distributed, and helped create the post-War middle class. Oil and financial barons between the 1930s and the 1960s paid taxes that topped out at 90 percent. That money was used, among other things, to finance the War on Poverty (which was in many ways a success) and the creation of what was once the greatest public education system (and thus social equalizer) on the planet.

Oh, and to build urban housing for low-income people.

Would Bill Gates have refused to create Microsoft if his marginal tax rate was equal to what his industrial peers paid between 1932 and 1980? Would these massive advances in technology have somehow disappeared if corporate tax rates were at the level they were in previous industrial boom eras?

Would there be no iPhones and no Google if the United States asked that a much bigger share of the massive wealth being created was more widely shared?

Somehow, I think Steve Jobs would have made his magic even if the taxman took 70 percent of his wealth. He’d have plenty left.

And if San Francisco didn’t offer the Twitter tax break, and raised fees on companies for affordable housing, and demanded that the tech titans pay for the impacts they’re creating on the city? I think we’d been doing just fine.

The mayor brags about the low unemployment rate – but what we don’t know is how many San Franciscans who were unemployed when he took office now have jobs – and how many left town, and were replaced with new arrivals who arrived to take tech jobs. I suspect the real numbers will show that residents of this city who were in tough economic circumstances four years ago are not, as a whole, better off today. If they are still here, which many are not.

Now let me tell you a little about San Francisco history.

In the late 1960s, when the rest of the country was really excited about the Interstate Highway System, a strange thing happened in San Francisco. People living in the Haight, where a proposed freeway would have gone right through the Panhandle and Golden Gate Park, decided they didn’t want that sort of “progress.” Around the same time, people who were watching highrise buildings spring up like Lincoln Logs downtown and on the waterfront started saying they weren’t sure this “progress” was a good thing either. Same for people in SoMa and the Western Addition, where urban renewal was destroying communities.

Not everyone out protesting had the same message, or the same understanding of the larger forces involved. What they knew was that they lived here, and their communities were being destroyed in the name of an economic experiment that nobody had asked them to accept.

Here’s what was happening: A group of powerful men (yes, they were all men) were meeting in back rooms, mostly the penthouse at the Fairmont Hotel, where owner Ben Swig lived, to plot out the future of the post-War Bay Area.

The plan eventually became clear: San Francisco was to become the West Coast Manhattan, the center of commerce for the Pacific Rim trade. Future development in the city would be mostly commercial highrise office buildings; the people who worked in them would live in the East Bay and on the Peninsula, and get to work on the freeways and a new rail system that came to be known as BART.

Problem is, nobody asked the people who already lived here – who had built a community – if that’s what they wanted.

I suspect if SF Weekly had been around, the writers and editors would have made snarky fun of the hippies and students and young activists who fought the freeways and the highrises. They were standing in the way of “progress.” In retrospect, the community activists (as is so often the case) were right.

Not always perfect, not always clear and on message, sometimes a little cranky or weird, some driven by anti-capitalist ideology, some by what today SF Weekly would call Nimby-ism… but the city is better for what they did.

Because what they were saying was that San Francisco, the community, is more important than San Francisco, the center of extractive wealth.

They stopped the freeways that would have cut up the city, they slowed the destruction of Urban Renewal (and forced the city to build some affordable housing to replace what was destroyed) and, by the 1980s, forced the construction of new office buildings to slow down, just a bit.

That didn’t wreck the economy. In fact, slower growth in the office sector saved the city: When places like overbuilt Houston crashed in the early 1990s recession, SF survived – with a more diverse, more resilient economy not based entirely on the commercial office sector.

And, although this is a part of history that’s long been overlooked, the folks on the left argued back then that instead of just offices, the city ought to be demanding housing – because the idea that San Francisco would be only the place where people worked, and not where they lived, was a bad approach to urban planning and community building.

The Chamber of Commerce and the business leaders (and the politicians who listened to them) had none of it. San Francisco wasn’t a community first; it was a commodity, a place to be sold, a center for commerce.

In 1968, Roger Lapham, Jr., the son of a former mayor, sat in a highrise office building and told a Bay Guardian reporter that the battle was over: San Francisco was going to be the next Manhattan, and that was progress, and there was nothing anyone could do to stop it.

People just like the ones in the streets today proved him wrong. The fact that we all think this is a really cool city is a testament to the progenitors of the people Rachel Swan is dissing.

 

Swan went on vacation after her story ran, so I couldn’t reach her. Instead I asked a simple question to her editor, Brandon Reynolds: Do you really think what’s happening in San Francisco today can be described as “progress?”

He sent me a screed of sorts, which is fine since I’m writing a screed of sorts, but it came down to this:

Our story isn’t an endorsement of the things that are happening, nor a condemnation. It’s a way of getting at the complexity of the issues, of suggesting that the old ways of raising attention are just not going to work. This is totally new territory, not just for SF, but for pretty much everywhere, since “everywhere” is exactly how far this industry’s reach extends.

Protests are good for short, punchy statements, whatever you can fit on a poster or a bedsheet. Getting at anything more involved is impossible, unless your message is “Now let’s all sit down and work this thing out,” which could maybe squeeze in if you write small. This just isn’t as binary as e.g. DOMA — you can be for gay marriage or against it. Having easy “sides” in what’s happening in the Bay Area now is a luxury we never had.

And if you try to boil it down, it gets absurd pretty quick. Consider the issue as having two components:

1) People who are already here should be allowed to stay.

2) People who are not here should be allowed to come.

If the answer is Yes to the first and No to the second, then you must pretty much build a big wall around the city and, whenever we hear anybody outside, turn out the lights and get real quiet. If the answer is No and Yes, then San Francisco becomes a Thunderdome of Conspicuous Wealth, in which citizenship is determined by Contests of Credit Limit where he who is outpurchased must submit to being the “underbro” for the victor or else drive his Hummer to exile in, gad, Marin, and in which a census-taker visits your underground casino to inventory your vintage collection of Nazi couches.

[me: Huh? What the fuck?]

If it’s No to both, then kindly leave your front door open as you make your way to the city limits that the rats might more easily transgress (long may they reign).

The goal should be to illuminate and explore and, if necessary, fight the unchecked consequences of this rising economic tide. That means discussion more than demonstration, which only ends up being about itself.

 

See, that’s the wrong way of looking at it.

The proper answer to those two questions is: Yes. And Yes – but not if it means pushing someone else out.

The people who come to San Francisco – and there are a lot of them – who are using this as a bedroom community for their Silicon Valley jobs have no more rights than the people who are already here. This is where so much of the anger comes from, so much of the disgust at the Google buses – the wealthier new arrivals seem to have no sense, no understanding that there were people living here before them, and that those people (by virtue of seniority, if nothing else) have more right to stay than the newcomers do to displace them.

There is no reason why Facebook and Google workers have to live in the Mission (except that the private bus lines are there). They, and any other group of immigrants, are welcome, and should be welcome, to this city – but not if they are throwing someone else out.

If there are no vacant apartments in the Mission, no way to move in without forcing someone to leave, too bad: Live closer to work, on the Peninsula. Take all your creative energy and turn Sunnyvale into a cool place. Move your startup toa depressed Central Valley town, where they really need to diversify beyond unsustainable agriculture.

Housing policy is complicated, but on a basic, social level, one thing is simple: Tenants living in rent-controlled apartments with a long tenure in the community have the right to stay here. That trumps any other housing rights that anyone else might claim. Including the right to buy a place cleared by eviction.

I’m glad to see that some tech leaders are (finally) talking about reforming the Ellis Act. But everyone who has a high-paying job and wants to move here needs to understand a basic mandate: It’s wrong to evict a tenant who was here first. That means it’s wrong to buy a TIC that was cleared by an Ellis Act eviction. Every one of you should demand to know why that cool place in the Mission or North Beach is available – and if it’s because the last tenants were forced out to make room for you, just say no.

Here’s Chuck Nevius:

Recently I was talking to a tech critic who has lived in the Mission for years. She said that an older woman, a longtime tenant, had recently been evicted from her apartment. The landlord turned the building into condos and a woman from one of the tech companies bought the place and moved in.

“So none of us talk to her,” the critic said.

Right. Because she’s the problem.

Actually, in some ways, she is. If she understood the impact her purchase would have on the community, she might have refused to buy a tainted apartment. Then the next longtime resident might not get evicted. Just a thought.

 

Here’s the larger question:

Maybe, just as many San Franciscans decided they didn’t want to be the West Coast Manhattan, that they didn’t want to have Los-Angeles-style freeways, we should have the chance to ask: Do we want to be the tech center of the world? Do we want to be the bedroom community for Silicon Valley? Because to do that, we have to give up a lot of what we are as a city.

And right now, the protesters who are blocking the Google buses are at least starting to ask that question. And if they don’t ask it, the “discussion” that the SF Weekly likes will never happen.

We need to have loud, angry protests, at every level – at City Hall, in the streets, in front of Twitter headquarters. Not because we want “tech” companies to leave, but maybe because we want the transformation they are bringing to happen a little more slowly and deliberately. Maybe we want them to pay more attention to the damage they are doing, share the wealth a little more, offer more than $1 to park in a bus stop. Donate a little more than a fraction of their massive tax breaks to local organizations. (Hey Twitter, you know what nonprofits need right now? Cheap office space. How about you make room for some of them in the building that tax breaks got you?)

When you have a place that’s only 47.5 square miles, that has a culture developed over decades, generations, it’s by nature fragile. When we, as a city, lurch into a fast, disruptive era that will change our community more than an earthquake, we have the right to ask: Why? Is this what we want for our city?

And if it isn’t, we have the right to say: No, thanks. Or, at the very least: Not so fast that our history, culture, and soul gets trampled in the process.

Because no matter how you define it, that’s not “progress.”

 

END NOTE:

Way back in 1997, on the cusp of the last dot-com boom, I wrote a piece for a long-defunct website called Rewired about how that generation’s Tech Elite viewed the world, and why it was wrong.

My focus was on a book by Kevin Kelly called “New Rules for the New Economy,” which lauded, as so many tech folks do today, the notion of disruption, of breaking things, of constant economic churn.

I suggested back then that maybe we were on the wrong track, that maybe we should stop and take a deep breath before we flung ourselves into the Network Economy he was promoting.

Rewired died and left no trace, not even on the Internet Archive, so I dug this out of my files and am posting it below. It’s fascinating what I got right, and what I got wrong, and how different the world looks 17 years later – and also, how similar the issues are.

They were talking then about disruption, and I was talking about community. Substitute a few phrases and companies, and I wonder: Didn’t we learn anything last time around?

Here ya go, vintage 1997.

 

“Promoting stability, defending productivity, and protecting success can only prolong the misery

–Kevin Kelly

 

Dec. 16. 1997 – Economics and ecology have a lot in common, starting with the fact that nobody really understands either one. The more scientists in either discipline claim to be able to explain how the essential systems work, the more they demonstrate how little they really know.

So it’s fun and perhaps even useful to apply an ecological model of constant, often brutal change – a sustainable disequilibrium – to a discussion of the coming economy. In fact, the description Kevin Kelly offers may turn out to be accurate. In the network economy, stability may be an endangered species: Businesses will start, expand, collapse. Jobs will be created rapidly, and just as rapidly destroyed.

But is that a future we really want, as a society, as human beings? Because for all the fun and interesting theoretical similarities, there’s an essential difference between ecology and economics.

We are all ultimately servants of nature, and despite out best (and worst) efforts, the ecological system of Planet Earth is bigger than all of us. But the economy that governs our interactions as people is fundamentally an artificial construct. Like a computer network, the economy exists to serve us; we don’t exist to serve it.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, rapid economic changes – driven not by the invisible hand of Adam Smith or the force of El Nino, but by political decisions made by conscious human beings – transformed the American economic landscape. Industrial cities like Detroit (in the Rust Belt) were devastated; white-collar office-park cities like Housing (in the Sun Belt) were booming.

Policy-makers and economic pundits divided into two basic camps. The conservative free-marketers argued that capitalism was a tough-love system, that cities and industries unable to adapt should die. Liberals argued that the innocent victims – the folks who lost their stable, union jobs in the factories – should get some sort of help finding new jobs, new training, new places to live.

Almost nobody asked the real question: Was Detroit worth saving, because it had value – not as an economic unit, but as a place where people lived, and built communities, and had backyard barbecues with aunts and cousins and grandparents?

Did the economy work for us, or did we work for it?

The question won’t go away when the next economic transformation takes place.

De we really want to live in a world where nobody knows what his or her job will be next year? Where life is a hectic, manic, stressful dash from job to job, where the most nimble and lucky buy nice homes with their stock options and the rest of us get evicted when we can’t pay the rent?

Is constant economic instability a socially acceptable condition?

Or would we rather take steps to limit the rapid churn, to temper the whims of our emerging economy, to decide, as a society, that it’s more important for people to be able to live happy, stable lives than for the computer networks we have created to turn us into manic rats in a never-ending maze? Can’t we evaluate the future, as sentient beings, and make our own choices?

Nature is brutal. Disequilibrium isn’t a pleasant thing to watch. Rapidly changing ecosystems are nasty, violent places. The creatures born with large, powerful bodies, perfect eyesight and hearing, legs and wings and fins that move fast, brains the process certain types of information at the proper speed – they survive. The small, the slow, the weak, the ones who approach the day-to-day survival problem with less than total dedication – they die young.

The ecologists teach us the human society has evolved beyond that point. We make decisions based on more abstract values. We give children born with limbs and nerves and brains that are less than genetically perfect a chance to live, too. And we find that sometimes, the ones who would not survive in a churning ecosystem add the most to our collective lives.

So we can decide what sort of economic system we want to use to control our interactions in the network age. And if we decide that what a lot of people in our society really want is enough stability to pay the rent, buy houses, plan families, take weekends off, save money to put the kids through college and have a little left for retirement … we can direct the economy we have created to make that possible.

If that means our technological knowledge advances a tiny bit more slowly, that our fabulous network economy grows not entirely wild and free but under careful human control, I’d argue that we won’t have lost anything all that valuable. And if that means that the young, brilliant, netizens like Kevin Kelly and his colleagues at Wired have to give up a little so the rest of the world can have decent lives too, I won’t be crying into my network terminal.

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.

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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Michelle E. Fillmore paints to connect—and manage pandemic emotions

The Oakland photorealist's work depicts mystery, transformation, and the identity crisis imposed by our moment.

The rich aren’t leaving SF — they own it

Developers cry crocodile tears to win political points -- but in the end, planners may have to admit they bungled the future of Soma.

The most important political story of 2020 that nearly every campaign is ignoring

The very rich stole $50 trillion from the rest of us in the past 45 years. Why aren't we all outraged?

From Herbie Hancock to Angela Davis: Monterey Jazz Fest comes to you

Moving online and back to its roots, the 63rd installment of the legendary fest focuses on history and support of Black community.

Screen Grabs: Keeping it together—and falling apart

Spotlight on mental health with Blackbird, Last Call, the Swerve, Rialto, and Oliver Sacks. Plus: The Beatles, Chuck Berry, Space Dogs

PUFF: How I got my high back

After months of isolation, it may be time to adjust your habits—with flower by Lolo, prerolls from Jack Herer, and some Kwik Ease

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