tech bubble

I've been thinking a lot about this both because my company is the public target of a lot of the protests, and because I have a lot of friends who live in San Francisco who are negatively impacted by housing costs. There is a lot of discussion within Google about the problem also, although I would say a significant part of the discussion does not seem to be practical-solution-oriented.

Here's my thoughts (only mine, not those of my company, and these very likely have their own problems and faults which I am no doubt ignorant of):

1. I'm not thrilled about subsidized housing or below market rents because it enables people to live places that they probably can't afford to live. But the reality is that these rental controls have been a big part of San Francisco's culture, economy, etc., so I respect that status quo and that's not going away.

2. Even if we end the Ellis Act (which would take a state law change), the number of absolute Ellis Act evictions is very small and is unlikely to move the needle much. There might be negative repercussions of ending Ellis Act outside of San Francisco (it's a big state and SF is not representative of landlord/tenant issues everywhere). More thought required.

3. What we can do is make it more expensive for landlords to evict rent-controlled tenants by requiring higher payouts. I think Campos (or maybe it's Wiener) has proposed this. This would discourage some evictions, and perhaps enable those who are evicted to better sustain themselves without having to leave their home city. This might change a few people's lives for the better but I don't think this is going to result in a big "fix".

4. San Francisco is going to have to get over itself and realize that a decade-long near-complete moratorium on housing development has resulted in significant problems, and those choices weren't healthy. Judging from the number of construction cranes in San Francisco it looks like City Hall is getting that message.

5. The tech companies are going to have to get over themselves and realize that they're causing a disruption for a lot of people, and this isn't just a PR problem. I think there's a lot that the employees who live in the affected areas, and the companies themselves can do, and aren't doing. This is actually one of the easier things to implement (because the cash is available). I haven't thought through a list of what it is that this should look like - it's one thing to throw money at a problem (funding community centers and such) but this is a very specific problem and taking actions that actually address the problem, rather than just PR stunts, would be important. I admit I haven't been able to think of what exactly would be the best use of resources to actually impact the problem (fixing public transit? see 5a and 6 below).

5. Private busses, including the tech companies, Academy of Art University, and UCSF, should be allowed to use the roads in the same way as any other private vehicle, but that means not stopping in MUNI stops or otherwise blocking traffic. If employees choose to live far from where they work (ugh), they can take the existing public transit to a hub, and private busses can do what they want from there. This is what I do when I walk to the Park and Ride Lot, and then take a private bus up Hwy 85 to work. Employees can take MUNI to Google's SF Office, and busses can ferry them back and forth to Mountain View from there. Risks: This might result in more cars being on the road, worse traffic for everyone, and might not move the housing problem needle. But I don't think an ever-expanding private network of busses is the answer (I've seen the bus situation on Van Ness during the evening commute and it just looks comical).

5a alternative: Change state law, and allow Muni to charge a more reasonable cost (more than $1 per stop) for using a smaller number of Muni stops (maybe a dozen or two dozen locations in the city?). Use the funds to improve Muni services (cleaning the busses more, installation of WiFi, GPS tracking, etc.).

6. Pushing more people to take public transit (see #4) will hopefully cause the city improve the public transit system (and perhaps the tech companies can help MUNI put the bus technology onto the MUNI busses). Perhaps all these companies could form a coalition to look at how BART and Caltrain are run and suggest improvements. Caltrain's annual operating budget is around $150M a year - would throwing some money, engineers, and project managers (lol) at the problem make things any better? (I don't know).

7. Wait for the bubble to burst. Because it will.

I'm sure I'm completely off-base on some of my suggestions (and I freely admit that my socio-economic situation does not enable me to appreciate the problem, and therefore work towards real solutions), but that's what's been rattling around in my head for a while.

I unfortunately think that number 7 is the likely outcome.

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