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Wednesday, September 22, 2021

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UncategorizedWhat's Ron Conway up to? And why is SF...

What’s Ron Conway up to? And why is SF still (almost) broke in the tech boom?


By Tim Redmond

DECEMBER 8, 2014 – There’s not a single elected Republican in San Francisco government (the last GOP member to hold any elective office from this Democratic city, BART Board member James Fang, lost his job in November).

But the most powerful person at City Hall, some would argue, was a Republican for most of his life, has a Republican consultant running his political operation, and gave $50,000 to the presidential campaign of George W. Bush, who may go down in history as the worst president of the post-War era.

His name is Ron Conway. He’s a pal of Mayor Ed Lee, he played a key role in electing David Chiu to the state Assembly – and he’s not afraid to throw his political weight around.

Now the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project has put together a detailed profile of Conway’s financial, business, and political connections in an easy-to-use format. You can track his investments, his political contributions, his lobbying efforts, and just about every major story that’s been written about him and his close ties with the mayor.

This guy really thinks he runs San Francisco. He needs to be watched and held accountable the same as any politician.


So San Francisco has $22 million more money than the city expected. That’s good news, I suppose; we live in boom times, and one would think that a tiny bit of the vast wealth in this town would trickle down to the public coffers. In fact, with all the money that the tech companies are making, and all the impacts that they’re creating on the city, one might think that $22 million is, well, a pretty dinky sum.

It will, for example, just barely cover the cost of Sup. Scott Wiener’s measure to link Muni funding to population growth. The cost of Muni goes up when more people move here and developers build more office space so more people come here during the day, even if they live somewhere else.

In theory, one would think that the developers who are making great gobs of money from new housing and office space would have to pay the costs of additional Muni service, instead of sticking the rest of us with that tab. (Oh, and if the extra property taxes from new development were enough to cover all the costs, how come we have only $22 million, which covers just Muni – not water and sewer, not police and fire, not affordable housing needs or anything else?)

I think what we see in these figures is proof that the added revenue that comes from growth in San Francisco doesn’t pay the cost of servicing that growth. If it did, we’d be awash in cash right now, with a surplus allowing us to fund Muni and a few thousand affordable housing units and more ambulances and everything else we need to meet the needs of an expanding population.

Instead, we’re going to scramble to figure out which of the multitude of needs that money can go to (partially) fill.

I think Sup. David Campos is right – while Muni’s critically important, the number one need right now is affordable housing. Again, the facts before us, the real data, shows that the private-sector housing market has utterly failed to provide for the city’s needs:

From 2007 to the middle of this year, 19,267 new units were built, 12,726 of them for the rich. Only 1,213 were priced for the middle class and 5,328 for the poor.

That means only six percent of new housing is affordable to middle-class workers.

Building affordable housing is expensive. What if we took the $22 million and used it to buy existing rent-controlled housing and take if off the private market forever? That might be more efficient.

In the meantime, let us remember: The only ones who are really coming out ahead in San Francisco today are the tech companies, the landlords and the developers. The city’s getting a pittance.

But I suppose that’s the way Ron Conway, our Bush-loving plutocrat, likes it.


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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  1. This is incredible. One thing to take into account is City/County. LA is probably the closest comparison since it’s also a City/County which has added costs like a Sheriffs department etc

  2. That’s one intelligent post, SfRentier. Very much in line with your usual astute contributions.

    And Sam… I just find it odd that you’d want to live in a city that by your own admission has so many problems. It can’t be your imaginary real estate empire, because if you’re really the astute real estate investor you claim to be, then surely you can make money in a low-tax, non-rent control city like Indianapolis just as easily as you can in San Francisco.

    Unless of course the real reason you live in San Francisco is that this is where your mother’s basement happens to be, and you get to live here rent-free and raid the fridge too.

  3. Erin McElvoy is her name. She’s part of the SFTU and I don’t believe they take city money.

    But as long as Erin has someone else’s money, if only her socialite plutocrat parents, then she’s happy drawing pictures all day long.

  4. No, Greg, I love SF because my tenants pay all my local taxes, so the over-funding is their problem, not mine.

    You are the one who perennially hates this nation and who should therefore move to some basketcase banana republic.

  5. Horsecrap, Greg.

    If Sf spends ten times per capita what Indianapolis does AND SF has worse problems (which it does) then something is horribly wrong.

    Most of this massive spending goes on unsustainably high pay and benefits for city workers whose purpose defies belief.

    Get the budget until control and then, and only then, we’ll take about what kind of city we want.

  6. David, you often make some salient points, but this post is really beneath you. Your list is cherry-picked, omits important facts, and includes irrelevant data that bolsters your point but is really not relevant.

    Comparing other countries which have different costs, some of which provide few services, and where service distribution may be very different than here -that isn’t relevant. Even then… why include Istanbul and not London? Delhi and not Amsterdam?

    Even within the US, I don’t think it’s useful to compare us to places like Jacksonville and Indianapolis. I don’t think those are the kinds of places we aspire to be. Or San Jose for that matter -San Jose is woefully lacking in city services.

    New York, Boston, and Seattle are the only real relevant comparisons. An here is where you omit the one huge, relevant fact that San Francisco is both a city and a county. Add county and borough budgets into New York’s, Boston’s, and Seattle’s budgets, and then get back to us with a more fair comparison.

  7. Conway vs SEIU.

    Two self serving types with no interest in anyone but themselves. Conway doesn’t pick my pocket as much as SEIU. The purpose of the SEIU is self perpetuation and enlargement of their government union base. As someone who has had first hand dealing with the Kafka like SF government… Making SF’s government bigger and more powerful, not to mention more wasteful and intrusive… SEIU is a slow motion disaster.

  8. If labels have any meaning at all, then it matters what you stand for. If I said was a democrat who opposes abortion and gay marriage, and I want to see massive supply-side tax cuts and unions abolished, you’d probably question my affiliation.

    I think Salaverry figures he has to be liberal or else he gets no votes at all in SF. But by running as a Republican, he picked up the 10% or so of SF voters who are registered republicans, but in reality his policies are leftish.

    He fooled me too although the reality is that he never stood any chance anyway, except as a spoiler.

    But ironically, if we had a three-way race in November, then he would have drawn more votes from Chiu thereby letting Campos win. Good thing we have primaries

  9. Easy enough for readers to see you are wrong, since every post is date/time stamped and Salaverry’s post was from early today, when there were already about 30 posts in this thread.

    Most of the subsequent ones are by you or I.

  10. No they weren’t Sam. Most posts here reflect well-worn talking points that should be given a rest. I like Salaverry because he seems to put some thought into what he’s saying.

  11. I did vote for him in June, although I have to say now that he is probably the most left-wing republican in the country, based on some of his writings here.

  12. jch, almost all the comments that you refer to were made BEFORE Salaverry’s post.

    But he is absolutely correct – the numbers for SF public spending are stunning. Do our supervisors even know how out of whack those numbers are?

  13. Since SEIU members entire income comes from “sucking” money from the rest of us residents, the amount spent locally doesn’t change. It just means that city workers spend it rather than those who create wealth.

    It’s a wash, except that the city’s public spending black hole is out of control. And would be even bigger but for wealth creators like Conway.

  14. This thread is amazing. Salaverry highlights an eye-popping per capita spending figure by SF City government and no one follows up on it. Instead we get mostly mean-spirited trivia about standard subjects: Gonzalez, Campos, Daly, rent control etc. These threads are getting tired and tedious.

  15. SEIU members spend their money in their community (damn those union members with their families!); Ron Conway sucks money out and throws it around for political gain. Guess who contributes more to the city coffers.

  16. City

    San Francisco


    New York




    San Jose



    Los Angeles

    Fort Worth









    Aberdeen-212.1 Thousand





  17. Amen to the comment about calling one’s opinions “reality.” The asshole quotient from the “conservatives” on this stream is as usual, very high.

    As for what goes into the SF budget, I began a project with an 6 week intern to decode the budget but had to put it off… making a living took priority after my intern moved on.

    However, we did discover the sheer size of the SF budget relative to similar cities. The numbers are ASTOUNDING.

    If you take raw budget and divide it by number of inhabitants, SF is a gigantic outlier.

    With 837K people and a budget of $9.53 billion, SF spends $11,384 per capita. Simlarly sized Indianapolis spends $1,194 per capita. Much larger Los Angeles (with huge tranches of poor, minority, immigrants, etc.) spends $2,077 per capita.

    Only Boston– another city with entrenched one party Democratic governance for decades– comes close to SF. Boston with 636K inhabitants spends $6.87 billion, or $10,685 per capita.

    City Pop Budget Cost/Citizen
    San Francisco 837,400 $9,533,000,000 $11,384
    Boston 636,479 $6,801,000,000 $10,685
    New York 8,400,000 $69,000,000,000 $8,214
    Seattle 615,000 $4,400,000,000 $7,154
    Austin 842,600 $3,500,000,000 $4,154
    Detroit 715,000 $2,500,000,000 $3,497
    San Jose 995,000 $2,900,000,000 $2,915
    Charlotte 745,000 $2,100,000,000 $2,819
    Denver 620,000 $1,640,000,000 $2,645
    Los Angeles 3,900,000 $8,100,000,000 $2,077
    Fort Worth 746,000 $1,400,000,000 $1,877
    Madrid 3,200,000 $5,600,000,000 $1,750
    Indianapolis 834,000 $998,000,000 $1,197
    Jacksonville 837,000 $983,700,000 $1,175
    Columbus 790,000 $807,000,000 $1,022
    Memphis 648,000 $626,000,000 $966
    Moscow 12,100,000 $4,400,000,000 $364
    Shanghai 24,150,000 $8,230,000,000 $341
    Istanbul 14,000,000 $4,224,000,000 $302
    Bejing 21,150,000 $4,900,000,000 $232
    Tokyo 9,070,000 $1,230,000,000 $136
    Dehli 17,800,000 $1,420,000,000 $80
    Seoul 10,388,000 $665,700,000 $64

    Bottom line: SF is an incredibly wealthy city that squanders huge sums of money on god knows what. Given our budget relative to physical size and population, we should have a world class transit system, beautifully paved streets, parks, etc. and still have plenty left over for our small population that needs social services.

  18. Clarification on Daly. I heard the condo is a BMR. That’s a home that could have housed one of those poor families he’s always bitching about getting kicked out of the city. You know, those families who don’t have the money to buy their own bar and two foreclosed homes.

    The two foreclosures he bought were apparently side-by-side homes. He evicted one family and moved his family into their home and then rented out the other home to become that vilest of creatures, a landlord.

  19. Progressives like to cite the “success” of doing this but in fact the SFCLT has bought all of five buildings. There is no evidence that the idea scales even if the money were there, which it is not.

    But if the city had a slush fund to buy rent-controlled buildings, then the only owners who would sell are those with the very worst of buildings, full of low-rent ambitiousless lifers, who are happy to cash out.

    So the city would end up with the worst possible portfolio of properties, which of course it would then mis-manage in much the same way it did with the city projects.

  20. Love the idea of the city also being an entrant in the private landlording biz. More competition for the few bldgs available for sale means future bldg values even higher. Hope they can manage them effectively though.

  21. Gonzo? That tool? RU shittin’ me?

    What about Chris Daley then, the guy that owns and rents out a NON RENT CONTROLLED condo in SOMA…after evicting a poor family in Vallejo, a foreclosure he also picked up on the cheap during the recession. The sheer magnitude of his hypocrisy is impressive, so I’d say he’s prime time ready for more local-jokecal SF politics.

  22. Doesn’t the AEMP get money from him inadvertantly? They take corp donations so what’s her name of the AEMP can stay living in Bernal Heights, and they have grants from SF for their “non-profit” which is actually just lining what’shername’s pockets of the AEMP’s CEO. I have to google her name again. She was from somewhere else, the East Coast.

  23. Why is it OK for unelected SEIU to exert money and influence but not Conway?

    At least Conway generates wealth. SEIU just consume it.

  24. Tim may have many qualities, but “nuanced” isn’t one of them. Not even a mention of the gaping 8 billion dollar unfunded liabilities on the city’s books. and yet he talks about buying low-rent housing – a doomed strategy that will municipalize our most loss-making housing, leading to deficits forever.

  25. JP, it’s 8 billion if you include both retiree obligations and healthcare obligations. In that context Tim is right, 22 million is “dinky”. But it’s a start and it should be put towards that massive black hole in SF’s future finances, rather than squandered on yet more social engineering prijects

  26. Ideally this stunt by the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project will attract the attention of Ron Conway. He should be putting resources and energy into reforming the city’s most obvious housing policy failure: Rent Control.

  27. The budget grew by 2 B because labor costs grew – and capitol investment needs grew- tech didn’t ‘create’ an additional 2B – (their tax revenues help fund the City budget – which is why the City aggressively courts new investment in SF growth). The City still has an ongoing deficit and unfunded retiree health benefits hovering around 4 billion.

  28. “I think Sup. David Campos is right – while Muni’s critically important, the number one need right now is affordable housing.”

    It’s the number one need alright, but only when considering the best interests of David Campos’ career and those of his fellow progressive politicians.

  29. The budget numbers need more clarification than Tim or the article gave; your comments and Fazal Majid’s are interesting in substance. I’d like to see a full view of what goes into the budget, not just a cherry-picked view. There’s more money now than before, but this comes after many years of cuts, cuts, cuts.

    The lack of affordable housing, while filling up available land with luxury housing, is another point which can and should be hammered at on an election year.

    I don’t like Conway, but that’s just me. A good election consultant can use any of the zillion public photos of Lee with the unelected Conway at his side and very easily convert Conway into a liability. No one says it would be easy to topple an incumbent who isn’t downright hated, but I hope someone tries, because a politician of this rank should be closely evaluated in public during election years. I believe that’s a major part of what constitutes democracy.

    This “reality trumps the way that you wish things were” talk is really annoying. I know you have opinions which you strongly believe in, so do all of us. Calling yours ‘reality’ as opposed to everyone else’s doesn’t add anything, except perpetuate comment boards’ bad reputation.

  30. LOL. So Tim was only, oh, somewhere over 600 percent off the mark – and a rather ill-placed mark, at that. But what’s a hundred million, or billion, among friends?

  31. In 2009, the City budget was around $6B. This year, it is around $8B. Thus the tech boom has bought in around 2 billion dollars, give or take. Sure, the added demand for services offsets some of that, but nowhere close to $2B. There’s a heck of a lot you can do with $2B, question is, where did this extra money go?

    As for buying rent-controlled housing, the City would have to provide maintenance for those, as any responsible landlord would, and a necessary first step would be a ground-up overhaul of the SFHA. Anything less would be a prescription for failure.

  32. Re: “It would not be easy for Lee to duck these two issues—anemic city budget, and Conway’s influence—in a head-on mayoral contest. It’s amazing to me that no opposition seems to be willing to take him on, despite these obvious vulnerabilities.”

    I can explain. Those two ‘obvious vulnerabilities’ don’t exist in the real world. The city budget is not anemic, Tim got his facts wrong. There was a $22 million surplus in the budget. That doesn’t mean that tech only added $22 million. “Most of the city’s local taxes reached historic levels,” Rosenfield said. “The year before had been the new high, and we beat that for each of those.”

    And just because you don’t like Ron Conway doesn’t make him an ‘obvious liability’. Regarding Lee’s popularity with the electorate:

    “And yet, he’s considered pretty much unbeatable in the November mayor’s race. That determination is largely what led political consultant John Whitehurst and his partners to tell Leno, a longtime client, they wouldn’t run his campaign if he challenged Lee.”

    Sorry, but reality trumps the way that you wish things were.

  33. Right on.

    SF should be right now pretty much as rich as it’s ever going to get, short of evicting every middle class and poor resident out. Either we declare that the middle class can no longer support a city, even with a huge influx of high income on top, or something is very askew.

    Indeed, SF has not had any nominal Republican politicians for a long time, but the politics of the city—weaken the public sector, privatize, attempt to cure everything with tax cuts, hand public resources to the rich, demonize the homeless—follows the Reaganist path. The grooming and positioning of puppet mayors (Newsom and Lee) parallels the setting up of GWB, a charismatic puppet president.

    It would not be easy for Lee to duck these two issues—anemic city budget, and Conway’s influence—in a head-on mayoral contest. It’s amazing to me that no opposition seems to be willing to take him on, despite these obvious vulnerabilities.

  34. FWIW, when Tim says “So San Francisco has $22 million more money than the city expected” he got it wrong. Here is what the article that he linked to actually said

    “The city, whose economic fortunes have gone up and down since the Gold Rush, finished last fiscal year with an annual operating surplus of almost $22 million.”

    So Tim somehow got confused and started implying that the sum total effect of the tech boom was only $22 million. In fact, the article went on to say:

    “Riding a tech, tourism and healthcare boom, the city brought in almost $1.2 billion in property taxes in the last fiscal year, up 5 percent from the year before, and $563 million in business taxes, up 17 percent, according to draft figures from the report.”

    The 5% in property tax equates to $57.1 million and the 17% in business tax is $81.8 million so the year over year increase between the two is $138.9 million.

    But that’s just year over year; it isn’t an estimate of the effect of the tech boom. Although that is obviously part of it. But the points that Tim was trying to make did not have any basis in, um, you know…reality.

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