A month before San Francisco's last mayoral election, when Ed Lee's rivals struggled to raise funds, Lee was helped along by independent committees like San Franciscans for Jobs and Good Government, a group funded by Ron Conway and Sean Parker. In one quarter alone, they raised $364,000, half from Conway and $100,000 from Parker.
When questioned by the Times' Willy Staley about his transition from housing rights advocate to bestower of "Twitter tax breaks," Lee betrays a fondness for tech workers, proactively reassuring Staley that tech people are people too.
And now the redevelopment of a part of downtown called Mid-Market, spurred by the so-called Twitter tax break, is a centerpiece of your mayoralty. What changed?
If you looked at Mid-Market five years ago, all you saw were vacant buildings, abandoned storefronts, five or six strip joints and bars at night. All seedy, no lights, check-cashing centers, that kind of condition. Twitter wanted to move, and they told me: we're going to have to leave the city because you have this payroll tax that punishes us for growing. So we created a tax break for a certain part of the city. Now people are competing for the vacancies.
For its side of the community-benefit agreement that came with the tax break, Twitter gives out promoted tweets to local nonprofits.
What I learned with tech companies is I gotta give people room to experiment, and also to make what might later on be a mistake. This is the attitude I want to build within San Francisco — give some time to the tech community. At the end of the day, tech workers are not robots: they feel, they think, they have values.
You meet with them a lot?
Every Tuesday I go out and meet a company — most of the time it's tech, sometimes it isn't — to just talk with them, find out what their crazy name means, like Indiegogo, Yammer. They tell me the history of the name. Half I remember, half I don't. Then I spend time meeting the employees, asking them, "What do I need to do to keep you in the city?"
As we reported during the Twitter IPO, even staunch tenant advocates, like Randy Shaw from the Tenderloin Housing Clinic, agree with Lee about the improvements to Mid-Market. Rising eviction rates are a problem and the Ellis Act needs to be repealed, he said, it's just not relevant to what's happening in Mid-Market.
But Lee's indulgent and attentive attitude toward the startup industry goes beyond just revitalization issues. He seems personally investing in making sure everyone knows they're good people too.
The industry has sometimes shown a rather careless attitude toward the homeless — turning them into walking Wi-Fi hot spots, for example.
I'll be the first one to tell you it's not true. There are individuals that will say, "Can you get rid of the people that are pretty aggressive?" In the same meeting, another person will say: "What if they have a problem? We should be helping."
There's a concern that, because of all the in-house perks, tech companies don't help local economies that much.
I feel the opposite. We have done two studies, and both verify every tech job that is created in San Francisco creates or sustains five other jobs. Yes, in the daytime, they get covered as much as they can, but at night these folks are going out, they're shopping, they're meeting people.
Where exactly those five other workers can afford to live? That's another question.
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