City policies are encouraging a new tech boom — but have we learned any lessons from the last one?
Yet when asked why the city doesn't consider its costs or the impacts of rising rents and living costs, Chiu spoke only in generalities, saying that he's been engaged in many recent meetings "to make sure we do heed the lessons of the last tech boom and make sure a rising tide lifts all boats."
One of the most obvious negative impacts of the last tech boom was residents, nonprofits, and small businesses being hurt by rising rents and other costs, and there are some indications that's already happening again.
The director of a venerable local nonprofit in the mid-Market area that is in the process of renewing its office lease told us their landlord is trying to nearly double the rent of $18 a square foot. "There's all this venture capital now and people are willing to pay $33 per square foot, so landlords are just seeing green," said the director, who asked not to be identified because negotiations are ongoing. "The speculation is hitting us big time. The neighborhood is all aTwitter, and they're treating us like junk mail."
Egan said he predicted those rising rents, but he didn't think they would happen so quickly. "In principle, it doesn't surprise me, but it does surprise me that it's happened that far and that fast," Egan said. "The idea was to create employment, rather than rising rents."
Chiu said he was also surprised. "Jane Kim and I very much want to monitor the situation. We will look into city policies that will mitigate this trend," he said. When asked what the city can do, he made several vague statements before saying, "If we're serious about diversity, we may want to talk about rent subsidies at some point."
That would be one more cost to the city, adding to a toll that Donohue and others say is being ignored. Chiu, Egan, and other city officials seem to think growth is the only way forward. As Egan said, "If we don't do development in a city like San Francisco, what happens?"
But others say San Francisco should take care of its own first to maintain the city's diversity. Asked what the city's approach to economic development should be, Donohue said, "I'd presume you want to serve the people who live here already."
It was an idea echoed by Chris Daly, who was a housing activist during the last dot-com bubble before being part of wave of progressive politicians its backlash propelled onto the Board of Supervisors. He is now political director for SEIU Local 1021, which represents city workers.
"If your priority is to care for the fabric of the city as it's been built, you invest in what's here now," Daly told us. "My view is when the city courts the high-tech industry to try to jumpstart the city's economy, there are significant ramifications to what kind of city you're building."
Local progressive activists, people who often work to counter the impacts of those who see San Francisco as simply a place to make money, agree that there is a perverse logic at play these days.
"We already have more jobs than people," said Marc Salomon, a computer programmer and longtime community activist, noting that the city has about 800,000 residents and about 1.3 million people who work here. "And we have lots of unemployed San Franciscans, and we have a budget deficit."
Tom Radulovich, executive director of Livable City, said the simplistic rhetoric coming out of City Hall masks the more complex realities that the city faces. "When they say 'jobs,' everyone's critical thinking sensibilities are supposed to shut off," Radulovich said
Rather than focusing solely on whether a proposal creates private sector jobs, he said that a more complete analysis involves what he calls the "three Es: equity, environment, and economy." In other words, does the proposal have broad, leveling benefits (equity), what are its impacts to the natural and built worlds (environment), and what are its fiscal implications (economy).