Tech leaders must engage their critics

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EDITORIAL It's time for San Franciscans to have a public conversation about who we are, what we value, and where we're headed. In the increasingly charged and polarized political climate surrounding economic displacement, the rising populist furor needs to be honestly and seriously addressed by this city's major stakeholders.

Whether or not the technology industry that is overheating the city's economy is to blame for the current eviction crisis and hyper-gentrification, it's undeniable that industry and it's leaders need to help solve this problem. They are rolling in money in right now, including tens of millions of dollars in city tax breaks, and they need to offer more than token gestures to help offset their impacts.

As we were finalizing stories for this issue on Dec. 9, the Guardian newsroom was roiled by our rollercoaster coverage of a protest blockade against a Google bus, which has become a symbol for the insulated and out-of-touch nouveau-riche techies in the emerging narrative of two San Franciscos.

Our video of an apparent Google-buser shouting at protesters "if you can't afford it, it's time for you to leave" went viral and burned up the Internet (and our servers) even as we discovered and reported that he was actually a protester doing some impromptu street theater.

But there was a reason why his comments resonated, and it's the same reason why The New York Times and other major media outlets have been doing a series of stories on San Francisco and the problems we're having balancing economic development with economic security, diversity, infrastructure needs, and other urban imperatives.

Rents have increased more than 20 percent this year, the glut of new housing coming online now is mostly unaffordable to current residents, even that new construction has done little to slow real estate speculators from cannibalizing rent-controlled apartments, and the only end in sight to this trend is a bursting of the dot-com bubble, which would cause its own hardships.

We need this city's political leaders to convene a summit meeting on this problem, and Mayor Ed Lee and his neoliberal allies need to bring tech leaders to the table and impress upon them that they must engage with their critics in a meaningful way and be prepared to share some of their wealth with San Franciscans. Not only is the future of the city at stake, so is its present, because the housing justice movement won't be ignored any longer. The good news is that San Francisco has a golden opportunity to test whether democracy can help solve the worst aspects of modern capitalism, offering an example to others if we succeed. But if our political leaders don't create good faith avenues for meaningful reforms, San Francisco may offer a far messier and more contentious lesson.

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