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News + PoliticsThe alarming agenda of the big-money folks trying to take over SF

The alarming agenda of the big-money folks trying to take over SF

New report tracks the anti-union, anti-tax, pro-police program that a small number of very rich people want to impose on SF in the name of "moderate" politics.


I don’t think it’s even remotely fair to say that every billionaire tech leader in San Francisco embraces a style of overt political repression. But some of them seem to have an affinity with a person who does.

In an article in The New Republic, Gil Duran describes the vision of a guy named Balaji Srinivasan. This has been making the rounds on social media.

Big donor Garry Tan has a pretty scary agenda, new report says.

He is promoting a techno-utopian vision where the privileged wear gray shirts, and the liberals (and presumably poor people) have to wear blue, and aren’t allowed in the “gray zones.”

“What I’m really calling for is something like tech Zionism,” he said, after comparing his movement to those started by the biblical Abraham, Jesus Christ, Joseph Smith (founder of Mormonism), Theodor Herzl (“spiritual father” of the state of Israel), and Lee Kuan Yew (former authoritarian ruler of Singapore). Balaji then revealed his shocking ideas for a tech-governed city where citizens loyal to tech companies would form a new political tribe clad in gray t-shirts. “And if you see another Gray on the street … you do the nod,” he said, during a four-hour talk on the Moment of Zen podcast. “You’re a fellow Gray.”

“Grays should embrace the police, okay? All-in on the police,” said Srinivasan. “What does that mean? That’s, as I said, banquets. That means every policeman’s son, daughter, wife, cousin, you know, sibling, whatever, should get a job at a tech company in security.”

Everyone would be welcome at the Gray Pride march—everyone, that is, except the Blues. Srinivasan defines the Blue political tribe as the liberal voters he implies are responsible for the city’s problems. Blues will be banned from the Gray-controlled zones, said Balaji, unlike Republicans (“Reds”)

“Reds should be welcomed there, and people should wear their tribal colors,” said Srinivasan, who compared his color-coded apartheid system to the Bloods vs. Crips gang rivalry. “No Blues should be welcomed there.”

Here’s the scary thing:

In 2013, a New York Times story headlined “Silicon Valley Roused by Secession Call” described a speech in which he “told a group of young entrepreneurs that the United States had become ‘the Microsoft of nations’: outdated and obsolescent.

“The speech won roars from the audience at Y Combinator, a leading start-up incubator,” reported the Times


Last October, Balaji hosted the first-ever Network State Conference. Garry Tan—the current Y Combinator CEO who’s attempting to spearhead a political takeover of San Francisco—participated in an interview with Balaji and cast the effort as part of the Network State movement. Tan, who made headlines in January after tweeting “die slow motherfuckers” at local progressive politicians, frames his campaign as an experiment in “moderate” politics.

In other words: Some powerful people take this guy seriously. I don’t see anything “moderate” about that agenda.

In fact, the Phoenix Project has just released a detailed report about the political agendas of the folks who are pouring millions of dollars into electing and promoting “moderate” candidates in San Francisco. You can get the report here.

The study looks at five people who together have donated more than $8 million to candidates and political committees in San Francisco in recent years: Michael Moritz, Bill Oberndorf, Chris Larsen, John Kilroy, and Garry Tan.

From the report:

Not only are they setting the agenda, they are directing how right-wing corporate interests do politics in the city. Driven by an obsessive need to protect — and increase — their enormous wealth, the city is just another financial bet, one that promises a handsome return on investment.

Should they be successful, the consequences would be devastating for the average San Franciscan. Unions would be weakened. Living wages and workplace protections would be lost. Rent control would become a thing of the past and residents who have long called the city their home would be swept out in favor of the more prosperous.

Taxes on the wealthy and corporations would be slashed, shifting the burden to the middle class and making it all but impossible for the city to deliver services to those who need them most.

One thing is guaranteed: The wealthy will become ever richer and the rest of us will become ever poorer. San Francisco will be a city for the one percent.

We have talked about this before. The Phoenix project has a chart that shows what the folks funding the “moderate” candidates have done in the past, which is an indication of their future agenda.

Most of them have given money to Republicans (and these days, that means to Trump supporters). Moritz and Kilroy have opposed efforts to increase taxes on the rich (which, frankly, is the only way to save society and democracy.)

Some have opposed rent control. Some are anti-union.


Although they label their politics as “moderate” and their policy proposals as “common sense,” these mega-wealthy donors lean into failed right-wing solutions. They advocate for increased incarceration, less civilian oversight of the police, shifting the tax burden from the wealthy to the middle class, eliminating rent control, reducing funding for schools and community colleges, and a free-market approach to housing that lines the pockets of the real estate industry without providing affordable housing.

People with this kind of money donate because they have an agenda. A lot of the money will come through “independent expenditure” groups, which candidate can try to distance themselves from.

But it’s important to know what the tech and real-estate folks want. Because they are supporting candidates they think will largely fall in line.

48 Hills welcomes comments in the form of letters to the editor, which you can submit here. We also invite you to join the conversation on our FacebookTwitter, and Instagram

Tim Redmond
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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