Seething San Franciscans fear tech wealth razing city’s soul
As the center of the technology industry shifts north from Silicon Valley to the city by the bay, resentment simmers as income disparities widen and housing prices soar.
The New York Times
SAN FRANCISCO — If there was a tipping point, a moment that crystallized the anger building here toward the so-called technorati for driving up housing prices and threatening the city’s bohemian identity, it came in response to an online diatribe posted in August by a young Internet entrepreneur.
The author, a startup founder named Peter Shih, listed 10 things he hated about San Francisco. Homeless people, for example. And the “constantly PMSing” weather. And “girls who are obviously 4s and behave like they’re 9s.”
The backlash was immediate.
Fliers appeared on telephone poles calling him a “woman hatin’ nerd toucher.”
CheapAir offered him a free ticket back to New York. Readers responded that what they hated about San Francisco were “entitled” technology workers like him.
Shih, who said he received death threats after the post, deleted it and apologized. But a nerve had been struck.
As the center of the technology industry shifts from Silicon Valley to San Francisco and the tech largesse has flowed into the city — Twitter’s stock offering unleashed an estimated 1,600 new millionaires — income disparities have widened sharply, housing prices have soared and orange construction cranes dot the skyline.
The tech workers have, rightly or wrongly, received the blame.
Resentment simmers, at the fleets of white Google buses that ferry workers to the company’s Mountain View headquarters and back; the code jockeys who crowd elite coffeehouses, heads buried in their laptops; and the sleek black Uber cars that whisk hipsters from bar to bar.
Late last month, two tech millionaires opened the Battery, an invitation-only, $2,400-a-year club in an old factory in the financial district, cars lining up for valet parking.
For critics, such sights are symbols of a city in danger of losing its diversity — one that artists, families and middle-class workers can no longer afford.
More and more longtime residents are being forced out as landlords and speculators race to capitalize on the money stream.
Mary Elizabeth Phillips, a retired accountant, is fighting eviction from the rent-controlled apartment where she has lived for almost half a century.
If her new landlords have their way, she will have to move in April, shortly after her 98th birthday, because they want to sell the units.
“I can understand it from an investment standpoint,” she said of her landlords’ actions. “But I don’t think I’d ever be that coldblooded about this.”
While the technology boom has bred hostility, it has also brought benefits. Mayor Edwin M. Lee credits it with helping to pull the city out of the recession.
The industry is “not so much taking over but complementing the job creation we want in the city,” Lee said while giving a tour of middle Market Street to show off its “renaissance” from a seedy skid row to a tech district where Twitter, Square and other companies have made their home.
Yet city officials must grapple with the arithmetic of squeezing more people into the limited space afforded by San Francisco’s 49 square miles. And it is the housing shortage that underlies much of the sniping about tech workers.
San Francisco has the least affordable housing in the nation, with just 14 percent of homes accessible to middle-class buyers, said Jed Kolko, chief economist at the real-estate website Trulia. The median rent is also the highest in the country, at $3,250 a month for a two-bedroom apartment.
“Affordable-housing projects are constructed, and the money set aside for that purpose is used, but the demand is just far greater than what can be supplied,” said Fred Brousseau of the city budget and legislative analyst’s office.